Personal Finance

You can trick yourself into saving more. Here's how

Key Points
  • Automating your savings might not be enough to get you to your goals to accumulate more cash.
  • Recent research from Columbia Business School finds that peer support can make a big difference when it comes to staying motivated to meet your financial goals.
  • Another strategy, setting up regular reminders through texts, can help keep your aspirations top of mind and improve the likelihood you will achieve them.
JGI/Jamie Grill | Tetra images | Getty Images

If you're like a lot of people, you know you need to save more.

Yet actually following through on that goal can be easier said than done.

Now, research has found that taking just two additional steps could help turn that intention into a reality.

The Chazen Institute at Columbia Business School found that people are more likely to stick to saving if they got certain support to back their financial goals.

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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.

And the strategies they identified could also help you accumulate a bigger cash cushion.

Get group support

Teaming up to hit the gym or go on a diet works, so why not apply the same idea to savings?

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

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 interest rates on savings, however, saw little change.

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"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 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 focused on saving more, it may be more discouraging than beneficial, he said.

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 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."

Researchers found that when those messages stopped, 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."