Save More Money By Accepting That Life Is Cyclical; Meaningless

Turns out when it comes to saving, it’s better not to think of your life in terms of any sort of trajectory, per se, particularly an upwardly mobile one. Better to think of life in terms of the eternal, Sisyphean present. Assume things will never improve. This is your life.

If you don’t save for a vacation now you may never take a vacation.

According to a study published in Psychological Science, via Apartment Therapy of all things, we are somewhat counter-intuitively more likely to save money by being pessimistic about our financial situation and not focusing on the future:

In three studies they found that study participants who were encouraged to adopt a cyclical mindset with a focus on the present made plans to save more money and did save more money. In one of the studies those in the cyclical orientation group had a 70% higher estimate for how much money they planned to save in the coming two weeks and, afterwards, reported saving 82% more than those in the linear orientation group.

Why? When we feel optimistic about our future — our earnings and our ability to save— we are more likely to defer putting money in the bank until a time when we feel in a better position to save.

You know what, I kind of buy this. I don’t know when I stopped thinking of my life as something that hadn’t yet started, but I know it was FAIRLY RECENTLY. It was probably when I saw the movie Drive and all the gratuitous violence somehow made me keenly aware for the first time, in a way no one should be, that I will die. I didn’t ask to be born, and I will die.

*opens IRA*

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17 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I should be saving WAYYYYY more money if this is true.

ThatJenn (#916)

@EvanDeSimone Presumably there are a few exceptions if you are experiencing a temporary setback and working to improve things?

But yeah, in general when I stopped assuming I would make more/have better habits in the future, everything got way better financially and it’s been easier to make my goals, because they feel like something I should work on NOW, not wait until things improve.

ATF (#4,229)

I mean yes but also no. When I get freaked about how I have no money and I’ll never ever be able to afford to buy a place of my own, it does make me focus on saving more. But then it just seems to pile up so slowly that I convince myself that I’m never going to save up enough and this is all pointless and I should just spend it all on a trip to Bora Bora.

thegirlieshow (#5,285)

@ATF Unfortunately I think I have the same reaction. If I’m never going to be able to save up enough for a down payment (for example) then why not just say eff it and spend the money on trips/food/an overpriced one bedroom apt. et cetera

samburger (#5,489)

@ATF
@thegirlieshow

This seems truer to me. I was totally incapable of budgeting and saving money when I made crappy money. It all felt so self defeating, so much work to save $125/mo??? No amount of every-penny-counts cheerleading made that even a little satisfying.

Maybe this theory works better when you’re making, say, a living wage?

thegirlieshow (#5,285)

@samburger I’d say a living wage is definitely a key component. But at least in my case the problem is more with the savings goal itself i.e. the houses in Boston are too damn expensive.

ATF (#4,229)

@thegirlieshow I am right there with you. We have a hair under $30K saved up for a house. Which is a lot but not even 5% for most places in Boston. I do feel like we are *never* going to get to anything close to 20%. I don’t know how this is supposed to happen even though we (my fiance + myself) make good money, we don’t have any debt beyond my student loans (even our one car is paid off), etc. At the rate we’re going, we’ll have enough saved up in 5 years. But we plan to have kids before then (we’re mid-30s as it is) so I’m sure that’ll put a huuuuuuge crimp on our savings.

thegirlieshow (#5,285)

@ATF Well you’re about $28K ahead of me if that makes you feel better!

ATF (#4,229)

@thegirlieshow Ha. No, it does not. I wish for it to be easier for all of us to do these things in life.

PicNic (#3,760)

I mean, maybe. But when I get freaked out about not having money for the Future or ever being Financially Stable I usually just throw my hands up in the air and buy something cheap/unnecessary from Old Navy or extra lattes and get on a WHAT’S THE POINT kick. So maybe I’m doing it wrong.

RachelW (#2,605)

I think there is something to this. The moment I turned the corner with my finances (i.e. stopped digging myself into a hole and started ever so slowly digging out of it) happened when I was considering yet another impulse clothing purchase, realized I didn’t have much money in my bank account and thought to myself “well, I’ll just put it on my card and pay for it next month” never mind that I already had about $6,000 in credit card debt (some of it definitely related to impulse clothing purchases). And then I stopped and asked myself why next month would be any different. I realized that I could keep spending more money than I had, and waiting for some day when I had more money and could pay off all of the debt that I had racked up, a day that isn’t coming any time soon, by the way, or I could accept my financial reality and stop buying things I didn’t really need that I couldn’t really afford.

readyornot (#816)

This piece reminds me of the study showing speakers of languages where present and future tense are the same tend to save more. The less distance between your future self and your present self, the better care you take of that self. Here’s a summary from TED, the study’s by a guy at the business school at UCLA: http://blog.ted.com/2013/02/19/saving-for-a-rainy-day-keith-chen-on-language-that-forecasts-weather-and-behavior/

Optimism linked to higher hyperbolic discounting sounds pretty similar.

nutmeg (#1,383)

I’d be willing to believe this, if I didn’t spend my 6 months of unemployment suicidally depressed and HEMORRHAGING cash because who cares, I hate everything and myself and I have no energy to do anything but eat this $5 burrito that will maybe give me food poisoning. Let’s go out, Depression, and buy some clothes in the hope that I will want to jump off a bridge less! THE WORLD IS YOUR ROTTING OYSTER, EAT UP

Sorry, I have a lot going on right now

Poubelle (#2,186)

@nutmeg Otoh, saving money when you’re unemployed and depressed because you never ever leave the house is likewise bad. NOT THAT I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.

j a y (#3,935)

I’m sure it depends on the person, but my financial habits are largely based upon “OMG I NEED TO BE ABLE TO LIVE ON MINIMUM WAGE WHEN I LOSE MY JOB”

It worked for me… soo…. success?

this is how I think too. Life is cyclical as in I assume in a few years I will be as broke as I was at 23.

Poubelle (#2,186)

Every time I start to save I get a loan statement and throw extra money at them. This is overly emotional and unhealthy but probably better than trying to hide from my debt by ignoring my loans.

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