Saving Money By Hacking Your Motivation

For most of us who for a shorter or longer period of time may have had to live on a sufficient but modest income (students, low income earners, part-time, etc), the following scenario might seem familiar:

You try to save. You tell yourself this month will be different. This month you’ll resist the temptation to buy that 2 pm muffin or that 8.45 am coffee shop run. This month you’re going to save.

And then the end of the month starts rolling around, your savings account is just as empty as ever, and your checking account it just a sad shell, waiting for payday a week away.

What happened?

Of course, I can’t say anything about what happened in your specific case, but for me when I had this problem as a student, it was all about the sum of many small leaks.

I resisted that bun at university, but threw in an extra snack in the grocery store on my way home. I didn’t buy that candle lamp, but found a pair of trousers in the charity shop just my size!

I would try to save on one side, but without consciously moving the money out of my checking account, they would just trickle out on something else later.

Financial toolbox

There are two important things which help us when we want to work towards specific goals, be it weight loss, exercise, finances, efficiency, you have it; being specific, and tracking our progress.

Being specific is important because we need to know exactly what our goals are in order to know if we reached them or not. “I want to save money” is not specific, “I want to save $100” is better, but “I want to save $100 this month” is even better. Even if your goal is to save $10 by the end of the month, write it down and rock your goals.

It should come as no surprise that tracking and being specific goes hand in hand. If you are not actively tracking your progress, how do you know if you saved $5, $10 or $100 this month?

Break the chain – reward your effort

With those two tools in mind, I invite you to specifically and accountably reward yourself every time you resist a purchase or habit you’ve been trying to quit.

Didn’t buy that $3 coffee? Go ahead and transfer those $3 into your savings account.

Had a night in with friends instead of going shopping or clubbing? $100 or thereabouts to savings.

Brought trail mix or a banana to work instead of that 2 pm cake? Same deal – transfer the value you saved to an allotted savings account. Didn’t buy lunch at work but brought my own? Same thing – $5 straight to savings.

Did a damn good job at work today? Go ahead and reward yourself with $10 to an account specifically labelled for a treat you’ve been wanting, like a trip, an experience or a larger purchase.

The beauty of this system is that if you find it too daunting to track all of your income and spending – the tracking here is done by your own bank! Your statement at the end of each month will tell you in no uncertain terms how much you transferred into savings the previous month. And if you ended up needing to borrow from your own savings before the month was over – no shame, life happens.

Big goals

We have been employing this method of savings here in the Frugasaurus household for a while and it has been fantastic. I especially like to reward myself with a small sum after I feel like I’ve had a great day at work.

That way it’s a double whammy – it motivates me to do well at work, and I feel like we make tiny, miniscule steps of progress towards our dreams. In my case, I save 100 NOK every time I feel I deserve it in our mortgage fund, which is a measly 0.00005 % of our target, if we assume we will buy a house in the range around 2 million NOK (about $250k).

But it is progress! And mentally, it is a boost.

After one week of good work, that is 0.00025 %, after a month (20 work days) it’s 0.001 %. Added to that of course, are the savings we normally stuff in there, often in the range of 6000 NOK + ($750, or 0.003 %).

And yes, I really do pull my calculator out and figure out numbers like this on a regular basis. What can I say? It brings me a tiny amount of geeky joy.

All of that is progress, and a whole lot more lasting joy than the extra bar of chocolate I threw in the basket in the shop because it was on sale and we could afford it.


I’m the kind of person who really loves to track my progress visually. I love crossing out items on my to-do list and will often make large, elaborate charts with the most miniscule of steps just so I can cross out or color in often to feel like there is some sort of forward motion.

I have one for how many months left of my current contract. Another for my student loan. Obviously there is one for our mortgage fund, and there is even one for how many listings I’ve posted on Etsy (there is a reason there are so many trackers in my shop).

In large parts, this is how I stay motivated and feel like there is progress in the current savings slog we are in. Neither of us feel like we are really ready to take on the financial responsibility of a house yet, so we save and track and save some more until we are.

Over to you

Saving money by hacking your motivation - how I reward myself by not spending money

So if you’ve been feeling frustrated with how slowly your slog towards a certain goal is going – give this incremental approach a try! It might still be a slow progress, but the motivation you feel when you resist that purchase and make that transfer is all worth it.

Often, it will trigger such a sense of accomplishment that resisting the next time is even easier, because the small

joy of the purchase is being replaced by a small burst of dopamine from… saving money.

If that isn’t mind- and lifehacking, I don’t know what is.

4 Comments on “Saving Money By Hacking Your Motivation

  1. This idea is brilliant. I love those things that help motivate behavior with games. Some of my favorite work out tools apply points per exercise and rep. Step counts, the wearables and their associated applications are all about that. Most action games on the market whether they be book and paper like Dungeons and Dragons or the latest Tomb Raider on Playstation all use that kind of points formula to reward the player. Leveling up and increasing points, even if there is no tangible prize works. The exercise tracking app I like gives you literally nothing but a digital gold star and new level for your workouts. I have found it quite motivating over the years.

    Your idea is novel to me, and better. Most banks have an app on it, and you can easily move money from your checking to your savings.

    • Thanks! As a former gamer, I easily agree with how enticing point systems and leveling up is. So much so that I have to be careful of how much I am attracted to it, or I risk wasting hours just gathering points. But when I can apply this method to bettering my own life and finances? I’m all for that! 🙂

    • Yes! We/I were exactly the same. Tracking has made all the difference! I will admit, sometimes I make tiny trackers for myself, just to I can tick things off/color things in and stay motivated!

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