Personal finance books and articles offer many simple ways to save money — cut out a daily trip to Starbucks, turn down the heat by one degree, order water at restaurants — and all of these tips are useful, but we often ignore the fact that the best way to save money is not so simple. The best way to save money is to change your thinking so that you consistently focus on saving instead of spending.
To develop a saver’s mindset, be aware of your thoughts about money and possessions. When you catch yourself thinking like a spender (“Can I afford that?”), correct yourself by thinking a saver’s thought (“What can I afford if I don’t buy that?”), even if you don’t really believe it at first. Eventually, thinking like a saver will become natural, and it will be difficult to remember what it was like to be a spender.
Developing a saver’s mindset takes time and discipline, but one attitude that I have found most helpful in thinking like a saver is contentment. Learning to appreciate what you have — however little or much it is — helps you to want less. When you want less, it’s easier to spend less. When you are content with what you already have, you can go into a store to buy something you need and not even be tempted to make an impulse purchase.
Contentment isn’t something you can learn by following a certain method, but when you are feeling discontent, you can do a few things to help change your attitude. For one, take some time to make a list of what you have — not just material things, but also non-material things such as friendships and positive personal qualities. You may be surprised by how wealthy you are. Spend some time going through things you have put in storage (or have buried in your closets) and you may find a number of things to fill your current desires — maybe a vintage outfit that will seem like new to you or a pile of jigsaw puzzles to ease your boredom.
You can also cultivate contentment when you are shopping by looking at things you are tempted to buy and thinking about similar things you already own. Would the item you want to buy be a significant and materially different addition to your possessions or would it be redundant? Think about the last time you made an impulse buy. Was the satisfaction you received worth the price you paid? If not, why would this item be different? If you still want to make the purchase, consider whether you would you use the item until it wears out or whether you would tire of it quickly. When you start to recognize certain items as providing only temporary satisfaction, you will be less likely to give up money in exchange for them.
Learning to be content with what you have is not an easy process, but it is well worth the effort. Once you have learned contentment, saving will become much easier because you will have little trouble saying “No” to unnecessary expenses. Soon, your saving rate will rival only your appreciation for life!
(Photo courtesy of flattop341)