Starting to Save…. Tomorrow

Heya! Sorry for being gone for so long – work has been absolutely crazy lately. (But in case any of my employers are reading this, I love my company. Hugs and kisses, xoxo). Just spent the last two days on leave (or “time-off” as they say in the US of A), sitting at home… and crunching numbers for work. Yeah, you know I’m baller like that.

Anyways, that’s why I’m hoping you’d forgive me for blogging my Ted Thursday post on Saturday. Today’s Ted talk comes from Shlomo Benartzi, entitled Saving for Tomorrow, Tomorrow. I loved it because it pretty much espouses everything that I’ve blogged about on saving so far. (I also love his accent – still trying to figure out where the hell he’s from).

Here, he points out three problems we face in behavioral finance, and then gives you a simple solution that will solve all of them – the same one I’ve been preaching for the past 3 months. Yes, I know, all the ladies say I should totally be on TED. Anyways, in summary:

1. Present bias: We know we should be saving, but we don’t do it today. We’ll make all these resolutions that we’re gonna save more next year, next month, next week, whatever, but it never works. It’s always a lot more fun to spend more today, and put off what we know is good for tomorrow.

Quote at 6:47 of the video: “Self-control is not a problem in the future. It’s only a problem now when the chocolate is next to us.” 

2. Inertia: People are lazy. And don’t even think that you’re different from the rest of us, because you’re not. Even checking a box on a form, is way too much effort for most people, even if it means saving someone’s life. Germany has an opt-in program for organ donation where you would have to check a box if you would like to donate your organs. Contrast it to Austria, which has an opt-out program, where you would check a box if you don’t want to donate your organs. The result? 12% of Germans take up the program, while a whopping 99% of Austrians agree to donate their organs.

3. Loss aversion: We hate losing stuff. When it comes to savings, people amazingly frame this as a loss because they have to cut their spending today.

So where does that leave us? The trick to overcoming all of these problems is to (surprise, surprise) adopt an automated system that saves on a regular basis, and whenever you have any income increases. Since saving more tomorrow is easier than saving today (present bias), we first make the commitment to save a certain percentage of our income… tomorrow. Or next month. Whatever. We then commit to it by setting it up with our bank.

Once it’s set up, that overcomes our problem of inertia, because it takes a helluva lot of effort to cancel that commitment. So we’ll automatically be saving without any effort at all. And finally, by committing to save a fixed percentage of our pay rises, you’ll be taking care of loss-aversion by allowing yourself the luxury to spend part of your pay rise, while saving the other part of it.

In fact, if you’re way ahead of the game, Imma challenge you to save a higher percentage every time your income rises. Say you start off with an income of $3,000 and you save 10% ($300), leaving you $2,700 to spend. When your income rises to $3,500, up the ante to 15% ($525). You’ll still have $2,975 left over to spend, which is more than what you were spending on your original income anyway.

Random: There’s also a shoutout to Singapore at 16:47 of the video – apparently we hold the record for lottery ticket purchases. According to Benartzi, the average household in the world spends $1,000 a year on lottery tickets, while the average household in Singapore spends $4,000 a year on lottery tickets. WTF?! Seriously, what is going on here? Buying the occasional ticket is fine (and it’s helluva fun to trash talk in the office about handing in our resignation once we win our $10 million dollars), but throwing away $4,000 a year is just stupid. Fellow countrymen, try saving it instead 🙂

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