Financial Fitness Zone

How I shame myself into saving money

 

Saving is hard. I'm not trying to be funny — even I, who loves saving and makes a living writing about personal finance — find it challenging to stick to my savings goals sometimes.

This became quite clear last month, when I messed up a plan to buy a new bicycle. I absolutely love bicycles, so what did it say about me that I couldn't even save up for something I really, really wanted? That doesn't bode well for bigger goals like, say, buying a house or retiring.

My husband and I planned for me to buy a new bike at the end of March, but a series of poor decisions derailed that plan (all my fault, by the way). About midway through the month, I looked at the budget, scanned my transactions and knew I had no hope of cruising around town on a new two-wheeler. I'd have to continue my life as a pedestrian, sadly walking from place to place, sans bicycle.

How had this happened? Why did I allow my priorities to get out of whack? I could blame a barrage of email marketing (20 percent off if you order with our app! Warehouse blowout! Don't you want this awesome T-shirt?), but my lack of self-restraint was the real culprit. The discounts wooed me, and I was ashamed.

Sales are such sneaky money traps, because they make you think, "I don't need to buy this right now, but I'll buy it eventually, and I'll be upset if I miss out on a great deal."

Confessing Spending 'Sins'

I felt pretty guilty about spending my bike money on other things. Perhaps it's my Catholic upbringing, but I couldn't help but feel I needed to confront what I had done. I made a list of everything I bought instead of a bike and published it for the world to see (aka the five people who read my blog — four, if you don't include my mom).

I initially thought of it as a fun, cathartic exercise, but I soon noticed how it shaped my future decisions. The next time emails announcing discounts popped into my inbox, I thought, "I don't need that now," and deleted it. When working on shopping lists, I found myself removing some items because I figured the money I saved could go toward something more important. Without intending to, I shamed myself into budgeting better.

Someone considering the budget-shaming method could take the exercise further, which might be more effective. Instead of publishing purchases to a blog with a practically nonexistent readership, you can take to social media to hold yourself accountable. Some people take this approach to dieting: Announce your commitment to eating well (spending less), and if you have to tweet everything you eat (buy), you're likely to abstain from that doughnut (cool T-shirt) because someone might call you out on it.

I think it's worth trying whatever weird strategy you have in order to stick to your budget. I ended up getting my new bike in April — I was motivated to save money, too, and I spent about two-thirds of what I initially planned it. I'll call that a win for budget shaming.

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