Personal Finance

Here are two ways to turn your 2019 savings goals into reality

Key Points
  • If you want to pad your savings this year, sometimes just automating your contributions won't work, particularly if you're self-employed.
  • Research has found that getting group support and receiving regular automated reminders can help keep you on track toward your goal.
Don Bayley | E+ | Getty Images

Just making a resolution to save more might not be enough.

But if you take two additional steps, your chances of sticking with your goals to sock away money in 2019 could become a reality.

That's according to research from the Chazen Institute at Columbia Business School, which found that people are more likely to stick to their savings goals if they got certain support to back their goals.

Researchers at the school studied low-income microcredit bank clients in Chile. These entrepreneurs operate small businesses and tend to borrow money regularly.

Because they are self-employed, one of the most powerful ways of socking away money — automating their savings — does not always work, because their income fluctuates.

So the researchers at Columbia set out to see if other methods of encouraging savings worked.

The strategies could also help you save more.

Get group support

Teaming up to go to the gym or to diet works, so why not apply the same strategy to savings?

The researchers divided study participants into two groups. One set of participants was offered savings accounts at substantially increased rates — from 0.3 percent to 5 percent.

Financial resolutions to ring in the new year
Financial resolutions to ring in the new year

Another set of individuals was offered a program that included public goal setting, monitoring and non-financial rewards. That group saw the number of savings deposits grow 3.7 times. The average balance nearly doubled.

The group that was offered the higher savings rates, however, saw little change.

"The motivation is not the problem of those participants; they want to save," said Stephan Meier, James P. Gorman professor of business strategy at Columbia Business School. "What is hard is to actually implement it."

The savings support group helped to make those changes a reality by keeping the goals at the top of mind for those participants.

"Just the talking about it helps," Meier said.

If you want to get a group together to help further meet your goals, just make sure it comprises people who are in similar circumstances, Meier said. If you include your rich uncle in your group aimed at saving more, it may be more discouraging than beneficial, he added.

Automate reminders

In a follow-up study, the researchers set out to see if mimicking the group dynamics through text messages could provide the same results.

That could include a text reminder sent directly to participants to remind them of their savings goals. It could also include text updates to friends or family to let them know if you were or were not meeting your goals.

"It turns out just getting a text message yourself is already effective," Meier said. "It's about the feedback, the top of mind, making sure that you think about it, that does the trick in letting people stick to those plans."

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Researchers found that when those messages stopped, the savings went down.

If you want to try this yourself, the key is to set up an appropriate number of reminders, according to Meier.

"If you're getting 500 reminders a day, it's probably not as effective," Meier said. "Pick carefully and think about what is really important and what do I want to remind myself."