5 Ways To Trick Yourself Into Saving Money

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Emma Miller

Chances are you’ve heard this one before: If you want to achieve your biggest money goals, it’s crucial to adopt the good habits that will help get you there.

But, how often are you reminded to have some fun along the way?

Not enough!

Well, we’re aiming to fix that, which is why we called up behavioral finance expert Dr. Hersh Shefrin, professor at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, to help us figure out the best ways to turn ourselves into creatures of happy habits.

“We’re wired to be happiness seekers,” Shefrin explains. “So anytime we want to adopt a new habit, we need to rewire our brains to associate happiness with the updated routine.”

Ready to psych yourself into genuinely enjoying your toughest and most tedious money to-dos?

Check out these five seemingly tedious tasks — and the expert-approved strategies for making them fun.

The Task: Paying Off Debt

How to Fool Your Brain Into Embracing It: 
Allocating a big portion of your budget each month for debt repayment isn’t particularly enjoyable — even if you’re excited about the prospect of being debt-free one day.

But, Shefrin says that a little self-bribery can go a long way toward making the exercise less painful.

“Pick a small, tangible reward that is meaningful to you, and then enlist the help of a trusted friend,” Shefrin says. “Tell them what you’re aiming to do, and make them promise to only give you the reward if you pass a certain milestone. Otherwise, they can give it to someone else — or keep it for themselves!”

Your reward can be anything from your favorite author’s new book to a fun night out — just make sure it’s special enough to keep you motivated.

Related: 5 Successful Strategies I Used To Tackle $40,000 Of Debt

The Task: Building Your Nest Egg

How to Fool Your Brain Into Embracing It: For many people, saving for retirement is an ambiguous goal — a fact that can make it extra tough to skip a big purchase today in order to stash away for something that’s still decades away.

That’s why Shefrin suggests getting real about the future purpose of your retirement savings with a fun project: Print out photos of beautiful places you want to visit, the cozy cottage you want to live in, or the loved ones you’ll spend time with during your golden years.

Then, frame or create a vision board out of the photos — and place them in a prominent locale. Suddenly, saving for retirement becomes an exciting investment in a happy future, not just an aimless task.

Bonus tip: Not the hands-on artsy type? Digitize this to-do using a site like Pinterest.

Related: How Visualization Can Make You Better With Money

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Task: Improving Your Credit Score

How to Fool Your Brain Into Embracing It:
 Boosting your credit score is no easy feat, especially if you have a long way to go before your FICO rating is considered healthy. But, that certainly doesn’t mean you have to be miserable in the process.

Instead, increase the fun factor — and feed your competitive spirit — by creating a “credit score contest,” in which you celebrate every time your score reaches a higher notch.

“This is a version of the gold-star technique from elementary school,” Shefrin explains.

All you have to do is write down your credit score goal, plus a few benchmarks you’ll need to hit along the way. As you check off each mini goal, allow yourself a little treat.

The Task: Saving For A Down Payment

How to Fool Your Brain Into Embracing It:
 Fantasizing about your dream home? Turns out visualization is a great strategy for keeping long-term goals — like saving up 20% for a down payment — on your mind.

This time, we’re not suggesting another art project — instead, we want you to channel your Lego construction days and actually build something!

“Get a toy model of a home, and assemble it at the same rate you accumulate the down payment,” Shefrin says. “This makes your savings tangible — and maintains your motivation — as you watch the model home rise before your eyes.”

The Task: Embracing A New Budget

How To Fool Your Brain Into Embracing It:
 To have a shot at sticking to that brand-new financial plan, you have to love it.

An easy way to do this? Give yourself permission to indulge in one guilty pleasure, says Shefrin, whether it’s a fancy spin class or a subscription box that delivers candy to your door.

This allows you to indulge your urge to splurge — while still being financially savvy.

By shifting your focus to what little indulgences you can afford, you’re transforming your budget from stifling to liberating. How’s that for an extra boost of bliss?

Next: The One-Number Strategy: A New Approach To Budgeting

More from Work & Money


R29 Original Series