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How to Stay Motivated to Save Money (Like a Boss).

I'm giving you deeper saving money motivations that'll get you through this savings goal and beyond (plus my secret trick to save even more).

Let me be clear about something.

young woman on floor reading tablet with coffee, text overlay "how to keep motivated to save money, including my savings mind trick"

If your motivation to save money runs no deeper than to achieve your current savings goal – and, let's be honest, sometimes it's hard to stay motivated even to do that – then you're going to lose interest in saving money.

To stay motivated to save money, you've got to dig deep.

Deeper than just this savings goal. Deeper than needing that emergency fund up and running. Deeper than next summer's vacation.

You've got to find purpose in saving money because you'll need to save money for (most of) the rest of your life.

And your purpose? Needs to go wayyyy beyond the financial high you get from seeing your savings account grow.

Why is that? Because eventually, those surface motivations fade away and then you're left a bit deflated, wondering why you're saving money at all.

How to Motivate Yourself to Save Money

How to get excited about saving money?

Understanding the motivations and the “why” behind our actions is critical as it can provide clarity, a defined purpose, and clear goals – it can propel you forward to continue saving money when you no longer feel motivated to do so.

I've grouped these motivations to save money along Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs based upon human motivations – which starts at the base with survival (aka, immediate motivation for saving money) and ends up with self-actualization (aka, much deeper motivations for saving money).

#1: Motivation to Save Money – Put Your Financial Fires Out

At this stage of the game, you find yourself in survival mode wayyyy more than you'd like.

You're stretching your dollars as far as you can get them to go (and actively seeking new ways to be frugal and spend less), you've got a debt to pay off, and you're putting out financial fires.

You're trying to see that things can be different than they are – proactively managing your money instead of reactively doing so – but sometimes it doesn't feel like it ever could be.

Decreasing expenses, paying off debts, and starting an emergency fund is how you can move onto the second level in Maslow's Hierarchy – getting your financial life stabilized.

The good news is that your motivation to save money can be quite strong because you're working towards a solid goal that is going to really improve your immediate life.

What motivates you to save money at this stage?

You could be saving money to:

  • make ends meet on a small income
  • pay off $25,000 in debt
  • start an emergency fund
  • go on a family vacation next summer
  • pay for Christmas

Here's a truth-bomb: most Americans will stay in this stage for the majority of their financial lives. I don't want that for you!

That's why I'm offering you some resources to help get you to the next stage of saving money motivation.

Resources for this Stage of Saving Money Motivation:

#2: Motivation to Save Money – Get Your Financial Life Stabilized

If you really want to live in financial freedom and love your life, then you've got to move on to the next rung of motivation to save money, which is to get your financial life stabilized.

To stop putting out fires all the time, and to proactively set things up.

Lots of people like to have as much control over their lives as possible, and stabilizing your financial life is a great way to do this.

Proactive money management moves to stabilize your financial life can look like:

  • owing no one else money
  • having a fully-funded emergency fund (so that you don't need to borrow in the future)
  • owning a vehicle to come and go as you please
  • protecting your quality of life through insurance and savings
  • proactively saving up for big purchases instead of borrowing or charging on your credit card
  • managing your own finances proactively
  • etc.

Resources for this Stage of Saving Money Motivation:

#3: Motivation to Save Money – Get Control Over Your Financial Life

The ultimate form of financial control is gaining financial independence, which you can do when you become self-sufficient.

While we each define our own set of criteria for attaining “financial independence”, examples include:

  • when you no longer rely on your parents or others for money and resources
  • when you have income streams earning for you outside of a job
  • getting to retire on your own terms
  • early retirement (such as the FIRE movement)

There are various reasons within this category for why people want to become self-sufficient: dignity or a sense of pride, not having to ask others for help, being able to shut out some of the world, believing that a catastrophic event is looming in which the skills of self-sufficiency will ensure survival (some of these floating around are the peak oil crisis or December 21, 2012, when the Mayan calendar ends), etc.

Resources for this Stage of Saving Money Motivation:

#4: Motivation to Save Money – Design Your Lifestyle

One of the perks of not needing much to live on – a combination of your frugal lifestyle choices AND motivation to save a lot of money – is that you have a greater ability to live an unconventional life designed by you.

With lower bills and savings in the bank, you or a spouse could choose to work part-time, have one spouse not work to take care of children/start their own business/etc., take a job that pays less but brings greater satisfaction, take mini-retirements, etc.

For example, I cut out of the traditional workforce (9-5 jobs) in February 2013. Since then, I've been my own boss.

Before I took this leap of faith?

I made sure we had one year's worth of expenses saved up in a bank account. I also made sure all of our debts (besides our mortgage) were paid off (we accomplished that in 2010). And I cut our monthly bills as much as I could.

By decreasing our bills, and paying off our debt, we decreased the amount of money we needed to live on. That meant we could take the income hit, and design our lives so that in 2015, I could be a work-at-home Mom instead of having to go into an office and leave my baby with others (a personal decision, for sure, but one I wanted to make).

Resources for this Stage of Saving Money Motivation:

#5: Motivation to Save Money – Help the Environment

One of the great benefits of frugality and wanting to save money by not spending on more stuff is that it tends to cut down on waste.

Bulk purchases, re-purposing items, and using sites such as Freecycle and Craigslist instead of automatically purchasing new items not only save us money, but also reduce waste in landfills, reduce the amount of resources used to produce products, reduce water, and ultimately reduce pollution.

Sustainability can help everyone, not just ourselves, and when we're motivated to save money and be frugal with this in mind, we're elevating ourselves from individuals into a community.

#6: Motivation to Save Money – Give Freely to Others

When you are in a financially stable situation from saving lots of money, you feel secure and safe.

And when you feel that all of your needs and emotions have been met, then you are more able and willing to financially give to others.

Note: you can at least always give of your time and energy no matter what financial situation you are in, like these volunteer from home opportunities, and in some cases, you can donate things that will still reap money for others.

Dave Ramsey teaches others how to financially prosper so that they in turn can give generously to others. To me, this is the ultimate goal to a frugal lifestyle and one that I am aspiring to achieve.

I hope that this sheds some light on those who do not understand all of the various motivations behind being frugal and saving money, and provides clearer conviction to those who are on the frugal and saving money path but are struggling to continue or to find a purpose to it.

Next up? One more tip to keep you motivated to save money.

Saving Money Motivation Trick (to Increase Your Savings)

Do you need a new trick to help keep you motivated to save even more money (no matter what stage you're in)?

I've got one for you.

It's a mental trick I've used to push past my mental limits for years, and it'll work for you to save more money, too.

You see, I'm not that great at running.

I can do it and actually run perhaps a mile or so twice a week now thanks to our gym membership. But it's something I find challenging.

Since I'm a person who likes a good challenge, for most of my life − at least as long as I can remember − I've played a trick on myself to nudge past my physical limitation with running.

Whether it was on a treadmill, lapping around the tennis courts before tennis practice in high school, or running along the bayou near our home, I would choose a stopping point that I was happy with.

The mental note sounded something like this, “I'll make it to that telephone pole at the curve, and then I'm done”, or “I'll get to 0.75 miles and then I'm good to go.”

Once I reached that stop point − panting, sweating, but still in one piece − I'd tell myself to go one notch more.

Yes, I could have celebrated that I had made it to where I wanted to be. But instead, I challenged myself to push just a little bit more, whether that was one telephone pole more, 1.25 miles instead of 1.00 miles on the treadmill, or an extra quarter lap.

And then I would do it.

Here's the crazy thing: I've never actually failed to make good on these extra challenges.

Seriously − not. one. time.

This leads me to believe that my brain is waaaayyy more in the way of me pushing through my “physical limitations” than my body is.

And if that's the case, then think of what else my brain and yours have been getting in the way of!

You can use this trick for just about anything.

But we're here to talk about money.

So here are some examples of how you can apply this to your finances:

  • Savings Account Rally: When you're setting up your automatic withdrawals to your savings account, first figure out what you are comfortable with. Then, take it up a notch by challenging yourself to do just $25 more. What's another $25 to you? The worst that can happen is you can't sustain the new amount, in which case you can change your automatic withdrawal amount down the road (to an extra $12.50…come on, you can do half the original challenge amount!). And the best that can happen? You give your savings account a $300 raise by the end of the year.
  • Retirement Account Contribution Stretch: Does 4% feel like a stretch to your retirement contributions at work, and you're more comfortable at 3%? Then stretch yourself to 3.5%. You're already most of the way there.
  • No-Spending Challenge's Last Lap: You've likely thought about taking on a no-spending challenge, whether that's for a weekend to boost savings or a whole week when you're suffering from an end-of-the-month drought. So the next one you take on when you're on that last date about to celebrate the ability to go get the proverbial latte, tack on an extra day instead.

You might be thinking, “Yeah but, when do you stop with this?” In fact, it's an issue I've had myself. I would talk myself into going just one more telephone pole, and then I'd say, “Why not just one more?” What I can tell you is that I was able to figure out a suitable ending time without my afternoon run turning into a Forrest Gump cross-country trek. I'm sure you can work out the same with your own goals and finances.

How do YOU stay motivated to save money?

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.

Bill in Houston

Wednesday 11th of January 2017

Hi Amanda,

Happy New Year.

We have upped our savings this year and joined the Y.

My four year old is learning to swim, and since I'm a walker I can use the treadmill there. This summer will be time to teach our now-19-month-old to swim. My wife also does zumba. All on a Saturday morning.

As for savings, my office matches the 401k up to 6%. Since we got raises, I upped my saving rate from 8 to 9% (making 15% total). I'm still taking more home than last year, and figuring where to put that saving.


Friday 6th of January 2017

I am definitely a competitive person and am always up for a challenge! Just like you, I am not a fan of running and I use that trick you mentioned to keep me motivated.I have never thought how I could use that trick and apply it to finances. Thank you for sharing this with me, it was definitely enlightening!

Wishing you a happy and successful 2017 from the Centsai team!

Amanda L Grossman

Saturday 7th of January 2017

Glad that a) there are other non-runners like me who attempt to run anyway, and b) it was helpful to you:).

Financial Samurai

Sunday 9th of December 2012

There's something very liberating about having less and being frugal. It becomes a game to see how much I can save. I enjoy it a lot as do you guys!

Amanda L Grossman

Wednesday 14th of November 2012

Thanks Chris!

I agree--it is easier for some to see the merits of frugality when they see it as a means to an end.

I wonder how many of them become frugal converts for life? I would imagien people can make the connection from "not only does frugality help me pay off debt, but now it can help me to accumulate wealth".

Thank you for your thoughts!

Chris @ Awesome Financial Future

Tuesday 13th of November 2012

Amanda, linking frugality motivations with Maslow is an awesome angle. Very creative thinking, bravo! The question I always get is: do I really have to sign up for a lifetime of frugality in order to get to financial independence?

Here's the way I answer. Think of your financial life as three phases - red, yellow, green, traffic light style. You start in the red phase, where your job is to pay off all debts, build an ample emergency fund, and (if owning makes sense for you) save up for a down payment on your first house. When that's done, you graduate to yellow, which is simply earn, save and invest. Green, of course, is when your investments reach a point where work becomes optional.

In the red phase, frugality is NOT optional. (Sorry Ramit!) If you hate dryer lint blankets, then GOOD - that will motivate you to get out of the red phase as soon as possible! But in the yellow phase, frugality IS optional. It all depends on how fast you want to get to the green phase, weighed against your desire for a less frugal lifestyle. I've found that (some) people are more comfortable with a frugal lifestyle if they see a light at the end of the tunnel, specifically defined.