Can’t Save Money? Here's What to Do About It

Do you find it hard to save money? Does it sometimes feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back? You’re not alone! Many people can’t save money, and the real reasons may surprise you.

There are many articles on the internet that share tips on how to save money. Things like save on groceries, reduce energy costs, use both sides of the toilet paper (just kidding!), etc. And although these are good tips (except for the last one!), they simply don’t work for most people.

You see, they only cover the tip of the iceberg. They follow a one-size-fits-all approach. When they get to the tip about saving money on coffee (they all seem to cover it), you’re ready to walk away. And even if you try your best to follow the tips, it’s normally short-lived.

Why you can't save money

By the end of this article, you’ll know why it’s so hard for you to save money and what you can do that’ll WORK FOR YOU.

7 Reasons Why You Can't Save Money

Here are the main reasons many people can’t save money or find it hard to save money, and what you can do about it. 

Note: Although not all reasons may apply to you, it’s perfectly normal if several apply to you.

#1. Trying to Keep up With the Joneses

In America, like many other countries, success is normally measured by how rich you are, or appear to be. Driving an old clunker when your neighbor is driving a new Mercedes or Tesla is embarrassing for many people.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Keeping up with the Joneses has become a way of life for many Americans. They would rather drive a car they can’t afford, and wear brand clothes than appear to be less successful than others. Even if it means getting up to their eyeballs in debt and being unable to save money.

The irony is, most of the time, the Joneses they’re trying to keep up with are just as deep in debt. It becomes a vicious and self-destructive cycle of keeping up appearances. In the end it’s all fool’s gold… It looks real but is worthless. It’s nothing but an illusion.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is The Millionaire Next Door – The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

The book The Millionaire Next Door

I’m holding the 1996 (October 1998 printing) edition in my hand.

The research that went into the book is the most comprehensive ever conducted on who the wealthy are in America, and how they got that way.

The authors concluded most millionaires in America don’t fit the stereotypical image of a millionaire… They don’t dress, eat, or act like millionaires.

For example, you may expect a millionaire to wear a $5,000+ watch. But according to the book: “We know from our surveys that the majority of millionaires never spent even one-tenth of $5,000 for a watch.”

The authors identified seven common denominators among those who successfully build wealth. The two most important ones, in my opinion, are:

They live well below their means.

and

They believe financial independence is more important than displaying high social status.

What are three words that profile the rich? According to The Millionaire Next Door, it’s: FRUGAL FRUGAL FRUGAL. 

You have to spend less than you earn, and spend your money wisely.

Key Takeaway

Getting yourself into debt because you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses is crazy!

By being frugal, living below your means, and not caring about displaying a high social status, you’ll be in a much better position to become debt-free. And not only that… By investing the money you’re saving, you’ll be able to build wealth.

As mentioned on the homepage of xUSD, having money is like having your own personal army. Every dollar represents one soldier. Make your soldiers work for you. Don’t sacrifice them for shiny objects!

#2. Believing You’re Depriving Yourself

Earlier in this article I said there are many articles on the internet that share tips on how to save money. Their titles include words such as super simple, simple tips, simple ways, best ways, etc. I also mentioned the tips don’t work for most people.

You already know they don’t work otherwise you won’t be reading this article… Want to know why?

One reason why “X Ways to Save Money” articles are not that helpful is they share tips that make you feel deprived. They encourage you to remove small things that are important to your quality of life. Things like grabbing coffee on your way to work, or cutting out luxuries such as ice cream from your groceries.

Ice cream cone

Ice cream may not be healthy or essential, and you can save money by cutting it from your groceries. But do you really want to sacrifice the enjoyment of having ice cream for dessert? I certainly don’t!

By depriving yourself of little luxuries, you subconsciously link that negative feeling of being deprived to saving money. Suddenly saving money doesn’t seem that important anymore and your willpower dries up.

When you have to rely on willpower to save money it’s a sign there’s internal conflict within yourself. This makes it much more difficult to save money!

In order to live a happy and fulfilled life, you need BALANCE. This includes maintaining a balance between your needs vs wants.

Needs are essential items for your survival, or to keep up your standard of living.

Wants are non-essential items that may, in your opinion, make life more enjoyable.

What many articles don’t explain is it’s normal to have both needs and wants. If you don’t have wants, you’re not living… you’re surviving. That’s no way to go through life!

A very popular budget rule is the 50 30 20 budget. Though not perfect for everyone, it does provide helpful guidelines. It proposes your budget should be split as follows:

50% on Needs

30% on Wants

20% on Savings

I do have some issues with the 50 30 20 budget, but it illustrates an important point, namely:

You need to have a balance between your needs, wants, and savings

If you really enjoy the little pleasure of having ice cream for dessert, go for it! You don’t have to deprive yourself of everything you want just to save money.

Key Takeaway

There are many ways you can save money. You don’t have to deprive yourself of little things that really make you happy. If you do, you’ll soon find yourself on a slippery slope. Life is too short to walk around feeling sorry for yourself.

Feeling deprived goes much further than saving a couple of dollars on ice cream or a cup of coffee. It can have a negative impact on your mental health, and can lead to depression and many other issues. 

Tip: Approach saving money from an “I am smart” mindset and not from a scarcity mindset of “I don’t have enough money.” Saving money is SMART. If you go about it the right way, you’ll never feel you’re depriving yourself.

#3. You Don’t Have a Budget

It’s very hard to save money if you don’t have a budget. If you run out of money before the end of the month, and aren’t able to save, you’re doing something wrong. 95%+ of the time, it’s because you don’t have a budget or don’t budget correctly.

A scale representing a budget that doesn't balance

Many people don’t like to budget because they feel it controls what they can and can’t do with their money. This is the wrong mindset, and it makes no sense.

First of all, your budget isn’t cast in stone. Secondly, it’s not imposed on you by someone else. It’s a tool that’s there to help make your life easier and less stressful. You can’t plan your finances if you don’t keep track of your income and expenses. 

A budget isn’t meant to control you, it’s meant to put you in control.

For budgeting tips and advice, have a look at my article on how to make a budget.

Key Takeaway

You can’t be efficient in saving money, or optimize your savings, if you don’t know how much you’re spending. 

Keep record of all your actual expenses and update your budget on a regular basis. Once you know how much you’re spending, you can evaluate where you can save more money, and adjust your budget for the following month. 

Tip: Don’t wait until the end of the month before you capture your actual expenses in your budget. Try to capture all your expenses on a daily, or at least weekly basis. This will give you more control over your budget, and make it easier for you to manage your finances.

#4. You’re Not Paying Yourself First

One of the biggest reasons people don’t save is they leave it for last. And once they’ve paid their bills and bought what they wanted to buy, there’s nothing left to save.

You’ve got to prioritize saving by paying yourself first. If you only want to save whatever money you have left at the end of the month, it will be very hard to save anything.

Saving money and watching it grow

Make a decision on how much of your disposable income you would like to save each month. A good goal is 20% but it can be as low as 5% to start with or as high as 30%+

The younger you are, the less you have to save as you have time on your side. The older you are, the more you should save if you have insufficient savings!

Go through every item on your budget and decide where you can save money if you have to. Remember, as mentioned earlier in this article, to keep a balance between your needs and wants.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Cut down on groceries.
  • Look for cheaper cable alternatives.
  • Get new insurance quotes.
  • Take a packed lunch to work and eat at home.
  • Make fewer and shorter calls on your cell phone.
  • Negotiate better interest rates on your credit cards.
  • Cancel subscriptions you no longer enjoy.

The intention isn’t to deprive yourself of important things until you fall into a depression!

Paying yourself first if you’ve never done it before can be a difficult exercise. But it becomes a lot easier within a month or two as soon as you get used to it. Keep in mind you’re not actually taking anything away from yourself, you’re putting yourself first.

Key Takeaway

Paying yourself first, and saving as much as you can is SMART. It’s your money that you’ve worked hard for. Let your money work for you!

You don’t need to read an article on “50 ways to save money” before you can start saving. And you don’t need to make drastic changes overnight. Being frugal and saving money where you can should become a part of your mindset.

Note: Being frugal doesn’t mean you’re a scrooge. It means you’re clever and know how to save money.

Saving 20% of your disposable income every month may seem impossible right now. But imagine for a second you HAVE to do it, FOR YOURSELF. You’ll find ways to save money, guaranteed! It may not be 20% right away, but even if it’s only 5% it will make a huge difference.

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”

- Sean Patrick Flanery

#5. You Have a Lot of Debt to Pay Off

It’s quite normal to think you can’t pay off debt and save at the same time. Especially if you have debt collectors knocking on your door. But using debt as an excuse not to save money isn’t a good excuse.

Man with empty pockets

Saving money and paying off debt aren’t mutually exclusive. Both saving money AND paying off debt help improve your personal finances. And saving money isn’t only about depositing money in a high-yield savings account…

It’s also about saving money on everyday expenses. Money that can be used to pay off your debt faster. From this perspective, saving money and paying off debt goes hand in hand!

Note: If you are struggling to pay off your debt, I wrote an article on how to get out of debt. In the article I share 12 tips on how to get out of debt you may find useful.

“But what about saving money in a savings account or investing with a robo-advisor versus paying off debt?” you may ask. It’s a good question!

One thing I’ve learned is managing money isn’t only about making logical decisions based on math. There’s also an emotional and psychological component.

Logically speaking, it makes perfect sense to pay off high-interest debt first before you save money in a low-interest savings account. However, from a psychological perspective, it’s not always the right thing to do.

It can be very demotivating to cash in on years of savings and investments to pay off debt. And if you stop saving or don’t start saving because of debt, it may have a negative impact on your mindset. You may think you’ll start saving or investing when you’re debt-free and find that day never arrives.

It’s smart to get rid of high-interest debt such as credit cards as soon as you can. But don’t let that stop you from saving or investing, even if it’s just a couple of dollars every month.

Key Takeaway

Debt should not be an excuse for you not to save or invest. You may not be able to save as much as you would like if you have a lot of debt. But, get into the habit of saving at least some money every month.

You can’t make money and excuses at the same time. 

A millionaire never says “I can’t save money.” Instead, a millionaire will ask “how can I save money?” Now you may think you’re not a millionaire so it doesn’t apply to you but that’s not true…

Most people who are millionaires today were not born into wealth. They also had debt to pay off. However, that didn’t stop them from saving and investing as much as they could while they were paying off their debt.

Don’t allow debt to prevent you from saving and investing.

#6. You Don’t Have Savings Goals

It’s important to have savings goals like saving 10% or 20% of your disposable income every month. Saving “what you can” isn’t a goal. Goals need to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

In the classic book Alice in Wonderland, there’s a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat that goes like this:

“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

However… Having a SMART goal of saving 10% or 20% is not enough. You see, money in itself means nothing. It’s all about what money can do for you.

Many people find it hard to save, even if they have a SMART savings goal. The reason is they haven’t linked it to a deeper purpose. Saving just for the sake of saving is difficult and hard to keep up. You’ll soon feel tempted to buy something tangible you like and want right now instead of saving your money.

Savings goals can include retirement, home improvement, and building an emergency fund. But you still have to dig deeper…

For example, instead of just saving for retirement, link it to a dream such as: “I want to retire by 55 and travel the world.” Picture where you want to go, such as French Polynesia.

“My poor dad thought money was the goal. My rich dad said achieving your dream is the goal.”

- Robert Kiyosaki
Savings goals

Many people find it hard to save for their retirement because they think it’s still far off and they have time. Have a clear goal of when you want to retire and what you want to do once you’re retired. It will be much easier to save for it!

Key Takeaway

Saving money is hard if you don’t know what you’re saving for.

Know what you’re saving for, by when you want to achieve your goal, and how much you need to save every month.

Tip: Attach a positive emotion to your savings goal(s) that make you feel excited. For example, if you want to travel to French Polynesia, find photos of it. Imagine walking on the beach with the sun on your face. 

Savings goals don’t all have to be your long-term goals for retirement. It’s good to have a mix of short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. They can include goals such as saving for a deposit on a home, saving for a new television, and saving for your kids college tuition.

By having clear savings goals it becomes a lot easier to save.

#7. You Have Limiting Beliefs

We all have limiting beliefs. Things that hold us back from being the best we can be. We pick up these limiting beliefs from early childhood from our parents, teachers, friends, and many other sources.

When you think you can’t do something it’s normally directly related to a limiting belief. In many if not most cases they are false beliefs. However, since they’ve been ingrained in us over many years we believe them, and make up excuses to justify them.

It’s not always easy to overcome limiting beliefs. You have to challenge them!

Too tired to do something? Get more sleep.

Can’t lose weight? Eat healthier and do more exercise. 

Don’t have time? Stop watching TV and spend less time on social media.

Don’t know how to do something? Learn how to do it.

Don’t have money to save? 

Don’t waste money – Build a budget and cut back on unnecessary expenses. The 30-day rule can be helpful if you have money to spend but struggle with impulse buying.

Sell things you don’t need – I’m a great believer in minimalism that says less is more. If you haven’t used something for a long time, and have no need for it at the moment, get rid of it. Don’t keep it simply because you think there’s a chance you may need it in the future.

Look at ways you can make more money – There are many ways you can make extra money. One of the best ways is to make money online from the comfort of your own home. If this appeals to you, have a look at my article 7 best ways you can make money online.

Key Takeaway

Most of your limiting beliefs are 100% false. In most cases, there’s nothing holding you back from saving money except yourself. And that means you can change. But in order to change you need to get out of your comfort zone.

Many of your limiting beliefs are about money and date back to your childhood. If you catch yourself thinking things like “I can’t afford to save money” challenge that thought. Is it really true or are you just repeating what you’ve heard or have been told? – Hint, it’s the latter.

Chances are if your parents didn’t have a healthy relationship with money you won’t either. At least not until you can see it for what it really is and understand it’s all in your mind.

There are many life coaches who specialize in helping people overcome their limiting beliefs. If you’re having trouble breaking through your limiting beliefs, I highly recommend you talk to a life coach.

Challenge your limiting beliefs and watch them fall away one by one.

Conclusion

We covered a lot of ground in this article and you may want to read it again. As you go through the seven reasons why people don’t save money, reflect on each reason. Write down the reasons that apply to you, and what you’re going to do about it.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the main topics covered in this article:

1. Living above your means so you can keep up with the Joneses (who are deep in debt) makes no sense. Most millionaires become rich by living below their means, and by saving and investing as much as possible.

2. Saving money doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of everything you enjoy. On the contrary, you should maintain a healthy balance between your needs and wants.

3. It’s very hard to save money and keep track of your expenses if you don’t have a budget.

4. You have to prioritize saving money by paying yourself first. If you only want to save the money you have left at the end of the month, you’ll never save anything.

5. Being in debt should never be an excuse not to save money. Paying off debt, especially high-interest credit cards, is important. But don’t neglect to save as well, even if it’s only a couple of dollars every month.

6. Without savings goals you’re like a ship on the ocean without a rudder. Don’t just save for the sake of saving. You need to attach a purpose to your savings goals.

7. Limiting beliefs play a huge role in the relationship we have with money, including our ability to save money. Don’t throw in the towel simply because you don’t have a high income. Look for ways you can make more money such as making money online from home. 

Let me know in the comments which of the seven reasons apply to you, and if you’re more confident now that you can save money.

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xUSD founder - Casper du Toit

Hey, welcome to my blog! I’m Casper du Toit, founder and owner of xUSD.

My mission is to make personal finance easy to understand, and help you make good financial decisions.

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