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What Is Your Motivation for Saving Money?

This article was written by in Saving. 10 comments.


This week has been dubbed American Saves Week by the Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1968 “to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education,” according to the organization’s website. All this week, the group and many partners in the non-profit world, in the financial industry, and among publishers will be promoting concepts related to responsible care of personal finances.

Although I had always been aware of the importance of saving money — whether for emergencies, for the distant future, or for upcoming purchases — my problem as a kid and a young adult was that I thought I wasn’t earning enough money to save. And if you looked at my cash flow statement at the time, you wouldn’t have been able to argue with that.

My first permanent job out of college was with a non-profit organization 66 miles from my home, up the New Jersey Turnpike. It required travel over the weekends, and there wasn’t much reimbursement for those expenses. Considering rent and other basic expenses, my low salary was barely enough to cover my ability to maintain the job. If I were to take into account the number of hours I worked, I would be too scared to determine my effective hourly rate.

All things aside, it could have been a very satisfying job, under other circumstances. But it wasn’t, and I suffered mentally and financially. Nevertheless, I started contributing just a little bit into savings. Although I thought I wasn’t earning enough money to save, I found occasional opportunities to choose to deposit rather than spend. I made some sacrifices. I moved closer to the job. I did what I could to start moving in the right direction, even if slowly.

I was part of the 64 percent of Americans who, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, wouldn’t be able to come up with $1,000 to pay for an unexpected expense without neglecting responsibilities or going into debt.

The best changes came after I left that job. I found myself a less stimulating but more financially responsible position, learned more about personal finance, and found out what it was like to be able to save money regularly rather than haphazardly.

When you have a positive cash flow every month and you are out of debt, every dollar you earn goes to you — not to the credit card companies, not to the banks’ profit lines. Sure, you still have expenses, but when you have money left over after your basic needs are covered, you have the choice of saving or spending without going into debt. And having that choice is freedom; everything else is a form of financial slavery (or indenture).

Savers don’t always have it easy. The government is charged with the task of stimulating the economy, and the widely accepted theory is that the economy grows more when people spend compared to when they save. At the same time, in difficult economic environments when people are concerned about the security of their jobs and paychecks, people are inclined to save money for financial protection.

Consumers who put money into savings accounts while the economy was running smoothly were rewarded with interest rates as high as 5 percent, with bonus rates even higher. This was almost double the rate of inflation. In other words, you could hold your money in a bank account for a year, and it would be “worth” more in terms of purchasing power than it was worth when you deposited the funds. Banks were willing to pay high rates because they were able to use savers’ money to lend to other customers, many of whom were making so much money in the real estate market, flipping houses for example, that the banks were able to sell expensive loans.

In today’s environment, the banks aren’t writing as many loans, and the financial industry is flowing with low-cost money from the Federal Reserve. There’s no need to pay customers high interest rates on savings accounts because the banks have everything they need at government-inspired low rates.

In this economic situation, there are some financial experts who are saying this is a good time for borrowers, not savers. Borrowers are being rewarded with low rates, particularly in the real estate market. This is supposed to inspire the real estate market, and then eventually the stock market and the economy as a whole, but two things are still keeping this recovery slow: the unemployment rate is still higher than it’s been during better economic times and banks are more stingy with loan qualifications than they were during happier periods. As a result, people don’t feel great about their jobs and potential for future income. So while we may be out of the Great Recession, we don’t feel fully recovered.

Without the financial reward of savings interest rates above inflation, why still save? Why not take advantage of low interest rates and buy assets that have a good chance of appreciating in value? I have some thoughts about my motivation, which I’ll share here. What motivates you to continue saving without the financial reward?

Here’s why I save:

  • It’s not all about the interest. My savings accounts may be part of my overall financial strategy, but it’s not an investment in which I expect to earn money. I don’t need to earn interest to save, though the higher the interest, the better. The purpose of saving money is partly for emergencies. Knowing I can get to my savings quickly and that it won’t lose value (except for inflation) keeps at least some of my money in a bank account.
  • Saving provides financial freedom. If you want to buy a $1,000 television but you have to put it on your credit card, you may end up paying $1,500 or more for it. By the time you’ve made your last payment, the television might only be worth $500 or less! That’s not as good of an example as something that happened to me recently. My mother was in the hospital on the other side of the country; because I had savings set aside, I could buy a flight at the last minute. Normally I’d only buy airplane tickets in advance to avoid high prices, but that’s not always possible. The flexibility to do what I need to do, when I need to do it, without needing to ask whether it would create a financial hardship, is the kind of freedom provided by saving.
  • Saving makes me feel good. I have a fully-funded emergency plan. It involves more than just cash or savings accounts. It has tiered access, and is more helpful and more rewarding than just an emergency fund. Being protected from emergencies in this matter makes me feel secure in knowing that I’m unlikely to face an unexpected expense that I can’t handle.
  • I can take more risk in other areas of my life. With a strong back-up plan and healthy human capital, I can afford to take some risks with my life. I quit my regular job to work for myself a few years ago, but only after I was secure with my finances. I could move out of my apartment, absorbing the expenses, if it makes sense for me to move. I’m able to diversify my assets across a broad range of investments, with a meaningful investment in many thanks to my savings.

Perhaps the day will return when savers are rewarded with higher interest rates, but I’m not counting on that happening any time soon. If not for earning interest, why do you save money?

Photo: Flickr

Published or updated February 25, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kurt

My main motivations for saving I think are threefold: 1) Freedom to spend my time as I wish while I’m still physically and mentally fit (as opposed to “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go”); 2) live comfortably in my “senior years”; 3) avoid costly debt.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

to have enough money to survive in an emergency fund & also I want to live comfortably and not worry about struggling with debt.

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avatar GHCPApreferred

Savings is critical to preparing for a stress-free future. So for me it means security and peace of mind. To often we only plan for today but history has shown that there are cyclical ups and down usually within a 10-12 year-window. So my advice to all (myself included) is as the economy begins to turn around, live on less and save more, plan for your future and then invest wisely. Remembering that slow and steady can win the race! Start small and build but not matter what ACT NOW. It really starts with knowing where you are financially in order to figure out how to get there.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

You and Kurt both hit upon my reason for saving: freedom. The freedom to go to an out-of-network doctor if I want to….the freedom to have something fixed when it breaks….and the freedom to take time off without pay if desired. It’s really all about the freedom that extra money affords one in making choices.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I can say my main reason for saving is the freedom it brings. I owe no man, no man owes to me. I’m independent at this stage in life. Believe me, I’m most thankful for this.

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avatar krantcents

Saving or having savings provide choices in life! You generally make better choices because you are not locked in to a particular solution.

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avatar Lance

Interest rates are definitely abysmal and have no factor in my savings plans at all. I save to be able to survive through emergencies and to be able to take advantage of opportunities. Some opportunities require a certain amount of cash. If you don’t have access to cash then you miss out or pay a much higher price for the deal. I’m not out earning inflation but I have my security blanket and cash for opportunities!

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

They are not savings accounts as much as planned future spending accounts in my view. But vacation, new car, children’s college, etc.

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avatar IJT

Hi All! Frequent reader, infrequent commenter.
I differ from most of you – I don’t save out of freedom, I save out of fear. I have seen the devastation health issues and loss of job can cause to a person’s livelihood. I fear the amount of debt that could occur should my husband or I have a serious illness.
(Random note: I recognize this is just a case of perception. When I had no money in savings and purchased items regularly with credit – I spent freely because I simply had “nothing to lose”. Now that I actually have money in the bank – I’m practically hoarding it. Is there a common psychology behind that behavior?)

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avatar Long

I like to save because it makes me feel secure, regardless of interest rate. While I would love to receive a higher interest rate on my savings, earning interest really isn’t the point of having an emergency fund. The other part is that I want to become financially secure so I can leave my work at a moments notice if I ever have a really bad day. It’s nice to have the money to back up my options.

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