Excuse-free saving: How to outsmart common mental blocks

Photo of a woman waiting for the train.Woman debunking common excuses for not saving.

Have a lot of reasons not to save? Learn how you can turn common excuses into real savings momentum.

Change your mindset

Demands on household finances can throw even the best-intentioned saver off track. But if you adopt the mindset that you "can't" save, it's even more difficult to be disciplined.

If you've used one of these excuses for not saving, it's time to reconsider your savings strategies.

Excuse: "I have plenty of time to save."

Why this doesn't work: Later on, you'll regret not saving sooner. "Time is your enemy in retirement planning," says James Schaffer, AIF®, CRPC®, investment advisory representative with Waypoint Partners in Cleveland, OH.

Try this instead: Start saving today, and you could see your money grow substantially. Schaffer recommends revisiting the "rule of 72" to recognize the power of compound earnings (interest earned on your investments over time). Divide 72 by the rate of return, compounding annually, to get an idea of how many years it may take your money to double.1

Excuse: "It's too late to build a substantial retirement account."

Why this doesn't work: It's never too late. Every bit helps. "Any amount you can save is better than doing nothing," Schaffer says.

Try this instead: Every time you get a raise, increase your retirement deferral by 1% or more. If your employer offers a matching contribution on a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, take advantage of it—it's essentially free money when you contribute a portion of your pay.

Excuse: "My salary is too small."

Why this doesn't work: You have control over your expenses. "It's not about what you make, but about what you spend," Schaffer says.

Try this instead: Aim to save more by looking for opportunities to cut back on spending. For instance, spend 10 minutes a week scanning your inbox for discount codes or clipping coupons from the Sunday paper. "That could save you $5 to $7 a week," Schaffer says, which adds up to more than $250 per year.

Excuse: "I am buried in debt."

Why this doesn't work: You are letting debt completely overwhelm you—and allowing past spending to take priority over future savings.

Try this instead: Develop a debt-reduction plan. One example: "I'm going to pay off my debt in 3 years, then participate in my company's retirement plan." A solid game plan is critical to staying on track, Schaffer says.

Excuse: "I am saving for—or already covering—my child's college education."

Why this doesn't work: Ultimately, retirement planning should be your priority. There are several ways to cover the cost of a college education, but usually only one way to pay for your retirement—with savings. "College expenses shouldn't cheat you out of your retirement," Schaffer says.

Try this instead: Set a good example for your children by making retirement savings a priority. And remember that the better prepared you are for retirement, the lower the likelihood that you’ll need to depend on your children to care for you financially later in life.

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1 Keep in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results.