Saving

One mental trick that can motivate you to save more money for retirement

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Even though it isn't difficult to set up an IRA or 401(k), committing to regular contributions can feel hard. About half (52%) of Americans say they are behind where they should be when it comes to retirement savings, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey. And 38% have never had a retirement account.

Our inability or unwillingness to picture our own retirement can make it even trickier to save. But research has shown that picturing our future is a strong savings motivator.

Getting older is "going to happen. Invest accordingly," Joshua Brown, CEO of investment advisory firm Ritholtz Wealth Management, said in a recent Instagram post showing a reunion of the (now older) models in the Distracted Boyfriend meme.

Brown pointed to the results of a 2011 study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, in which half of the participants were shown a digital rendering of their face at age 70. The other half were shown a picture of their current self. Both groups were then asked how much money they would save for retirement.

"The people who had seen themselves as older men and women ended up saving and investing more than the others," Brown wrote in his Instagram post. As the 2011 study put it, if you don't feel connected to your future self, saving feels like a "choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now."

Making a connection with your future self

Visualizing your retirement may not be as fun as picturing other goals, like buying the home of your dreams. It forces you to think of what your needs will be when you're much closer to death — and people are not "hard wired to be future-oriented in that way," Harold Pollack, co-author of "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated," told Grow last year.

"When you're 33, the idea of retirement is not fun," Pollack says. "Because it's also the idea that you're old."

When you're 33, the idea of retirement is not fun. Because it's also the idea that you're old.
Harold Pollack
co-author of "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to be Complicated"

But as life expectancy increases, retirement is going to represent decades of your life, Brown tells Grow. "We have to think about 20 and 30 years of retirement," he says.

So, taking some time to think about what you want those decades in retirement to look like, and what you will look like, may help you feel more motivated to save for that goal. It can help to have visuals, like a vision board of what you want to do in retirement, and maybe even a digitally aged photo of yourself.

"In order to make saving more emotionally rewarding, it's often helpful to put something attached to it to make it more tangible and fun," Pollack says. "You have to understand what's going to give you mojo."

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