3 questions to answer to kickstart your savings

Mar 17, 2022

We all know that we must save. Yet, we struggle to do so.

The reason that saving is an uphill battle is because it is associated with a lot of negative emotions.

  • It’s a trade-off. I know what I am giving up, but for what?
  • It’s a loss. I can’t get the gratification I want now.
  • It’s a sacrifice. I have to rein in my spending.

Behavioural Scientist Dan Ariely explains with an analogy. Imagine a bicycle you really want that costs $1,000. You can visualize your life with the bicycle, but it’s much harder to visualize what will happen to your life if you do not spend this $1,000.

What we see, imagine and feel is spending, whereas saving is more abstract, non-emotional and far away. That explains our lack of motivation. As humans, we don’t do well with anything that has to do with now vs. later. Hence, we overeat and under exercise; we overspend and under save.

So how do we tackle this? By approaching it not from an excel sheet, but from your deep desires. If you start with the math, you are instantly on the defensive and are negatively inclined. The trick is to start on a positive footing. Once you get that right, the where and how will follow. The compound interest benefit, the asset allocation, the fund selection, and the nuts and bolts of portfolio construction only make sense when you have the raw material in the form of savings to build upon.

Q1: Are you starting from within?

A professional acquaintance recently made a statement that she dislikes travelling. Her idea of having fun is not about packing your bags and going anywhere, after doing loads of research. She was afraid to voice it because the normal reaction would be one of mockery. She has broken out of the mimetic desire conundrum.

Imagine children at a party playing with balloons. One child suddenly grabs a red balloon and yells: “This balloon is mine!” Inadvertently, all the children drop their balloons and fight over this red balloon. A very dumbed down example of what René Girard calls “mimetic desire.”

A lot of your desires don’t emerge from within, but from ‘outside’. You import your most powerful desires from imitating the desires of other people. So deep is mimetic desire that we are unaware that it is truly not our own but have claimed the desire of another as ours.

In fact, the entire advertising industry is founded on the exploitation of borrowed desire.

Human desire is not a linear process, where a person autonomously desires an inherently desirable object. Rather, we desire according to the desire of others. If we are not aware, others influence us on what to desire. And this is amplified on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram which are excellent conduits of mimetic desire.

Q2: What is it you love spending money on?

Getting clear about what really matters to you is incredibly important, and not as simple as it appears. Don’t follow the desires of another. What makes them feel rich and fulfilled is not the same for you.

You may love to spend on one extravagant holiday every 18 months. Another may prefer two short breaks in a year. A third may not be interested in travelling and would rather indulge in electronics and gadgets.

When billionaire Mark Cuban bought a private jet for $40 million, he was clear on why he desired it. He has always said that the asset he values most is time, and that purchase bought him time. “It is obviously brutally expensive, but time is the one asset we simply don’t own. It saves me hours and hours,” Cuban once said in an interview with Men’s Journal. To him, the most important things in life are family and time. And this enabled him to spend more time with family.

Take basketball player LeBron James. He spends $1.5 million a year keeping his body in top form, according to an article in The Ringer, investing in nuanced health-promoting practices like cryotherapy and hyperbaric chambers. His personal chefs and trainers help him adhere to a strict diet and routine. His desire is to achieve peak physical fitness, so his life and finances are architected around it.

There is no right and wrong. There is no good and bad. There is no normal and absurd. Just be true and honest to yourself. Someone else’s pleasures and material items may not bring you happiness. What fulfils them may not be your cup of tea.

Money is a tool, like a hammer, like Zoom. Let me take it one step further; money is a transactional tool. What do you want to buy with it? Experiences? Memories? Gadgets? Pets? Luxury? Security? Or, maybe you want to accumulate it to serve a purpose, such as leave a legacy or donate to charity. Money is never an end in itself. But what you want your money to do for you is not what another may want.

Q3: Can you visualise the outcome?

It is human nature to care more about immediate issues than something that feels far away, like retirement. By the time people get around to caring about retirement, they have already wasted precious time.

This is where using visualization strategies will go a long way. Think about what your life in retirement looks like, and fall in love with that vision. Don’t keep it vague. Force detail into the picture. What will your home look like? How do you see your travel plans? What sort of social life do you envisage? Doing this will make the far-away future feel closer. And provoke you into action.

How you think about it can potentially make a big difference to how you go about saving for it. For example, if you want to relocate to Bali and live in a 3,000 sq ft villa, do some research on how much that would cost. If it is out of your reach, don’t let that freeze you into inaction. If you are non-negotiable on the location, be flexible with the accommodation and look at a smaller home. If you are non-negotiable on the villa, compromise on the location. The point I am making is not to think only in extremes, be flexible. But don’t let it be vague.

As long as your goal (in this case, retirement) is a vague reality, you won’t be propelled to save. Deliberately visualising it will give you the motivation you lack.

Don't forget.

The single biggest reason you are not saving, is not due to lack of discipline. It is because sacrifice is the driving factor, not motivation. Change that narrative by connecting the use of your capital to your deep desires.

Once that is done, you can articulate your goals, plan a strategy on how to achieve them, and build a portfolio according.

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Mar 17 2022 05:41 PM
I am 60 yrs. I started investing after retirement for 7 months.
Biy only on delivery
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