Making an easy mental shift can motivate you to save more for retirement


Even though it isn't difficult to set up an IRA or 401(k), committing to regular contributions can feel hard. More than one-fifth of Americans, 22%, have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, according to a 2019 Northwestern Mutual study.

Our inability or unwillingness to picture our own retirement can make it even trickier to save. Shifting your perspective, though, could motivate you.

"One of the powerful things [that can] change behavior and mindset is when you visualize what you want," Amin Dabit, director of advisor services at financial management company Personal Capital, told Grow earlier this year about buying a house.

But unlike purchasing the home of your dreams, visualizing retirement 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," says Harold Pollack, coauthor of "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to be Complicated."

"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
coauthor of "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to be Complicated"

One trick to help you visualize your retirement, and therefore save more money, he says, is to think about the person you're saving money for. That is, imagine your future self.

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," according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

For this study, participants were split into two groups, and one group was shown a picture of their current self, and the other was shown a digital rendering of their face at age 70. The two groups were then asked how much money they would save for retirement. Those with that future self connection opted to save more.

So, take some time to think about what you want your retirement to look like, and what you will look like, and there is a better chance that you'll 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."

More from Grow: