In the wake of National Savings Month (that was July, if you missed it), South Africans are recovering from a severe banjaxing about the head for our poor savings culture. We are very, very bad at doing anything with money other than spending more of it than we have. This has consequences. For example, we will have to WORK until the day we DIE, MOVE IN with our CHILDREN, and SELL ALL the NICE THINGS.

Since as a nation, we’re rubbish at saving, we seem to fear NOT joining in on a collective frenzy of consumerism in the form of a holiday, shopping expedition or crayfish special at the local grill. If you try to suggest that maybe you’d like to stay at home with a movie and a box of popcorn instead, you might be treated like a teetotaller at a craft beer festival.

But deep down, we probably all know that this isn’t sustainable, right? I mean, how will we fund the yachts on which we would like to spend our old age if we’re blowing all our earnings on annual holidays in Mauritius? So, I thought I would try my hand at solving the savings crisis – and the debt one too, because those seem to go hand in hand. Here, then, are the five ways in which I believe we can think differently, to get better at saving:

Truly believe that there’s nothing wrong with saving (even if it means giving stuff up)
We all give saving a big thumbs up. In theory. In practice, we’re not so good at giving stuff up so that there’s money to save. So the first thing we should do is own the concept. Print it on a T-shirt, write it on our hands, tattoo it on our foreheads, whatever does the job: “No thanks, I’m saving.” And show it to everyone, proudly.

And then – and here’s the crunch – we have to be nice people who don’t say things like, “Oh, come onnnnnnnnn!” when we hear that excuse from someone else.

Enjoy having fun rather than spending money
Good times aren’t measured by the amount of money that you’ve spent on them. We live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and South Africans are some of the loveliest people I’ve met. The combination of beautiful scenery and nice friends is all we need to feel fulfilled (OK, and maybe wine), so can we stop finding validation in spending money? And, instead, start to look forward to the next mountain hike, jump in a river, run in the park or sundowners with friends.

Believe that friendships shouldn’t have anything to do with money
If your friends want to spend piles of money and you want to save piles of money, that shouldn’t be the end of all the happy times you spend together. I’ve already outlined how to have fun without spending money (other than on wine); now find ways to make this work for you with your friends.
If they are planning a big spending adventure that you can’t in good conscience participate in because, you know, you’re saving, tell them you hope they have fun, and ask them to come over the next week for some board games or a bring and braai. Saving up doesn’t have to mean giving up.

Value things for what they do rather than how much they cost
There is a weird kind of sensationalist value ascribed to things that cost more money. It’s not because the hems of Diesel jeans are sewn with gold thread or because iPhones make better calls (they don’t, OK?), it’s just because as a society, we’ve been conditioned to believe that cost is correlated to value. In actual fact, it really isn’t.

So if you need something to make calls on, get a thing that makes calls. If you need something to get around in, get a thing with wheels. And if you need something to keep you warm, get a thing with sleeves. If there’s a good reason to buy the more expensive one because of some functionality that you will actually use – and you can afford it – then go ahead. Stop spending stupid amounts of money on things just because they have a known name written in fancy writing on the bum or bumper.

Set long term AND short-term goals for yourself
So, here’s the thing. Saving shouldn’t be this amorphous unfun thing that you do for no reason. It’s important to have savings goals to keep you motivated. Some of those goals should obviously reside in the long term – like making sure you don’t starve when you are ninety. But some of those goals should manifest sooner than that, when you still have the knee cartilage to enjoy them.

Save for the things that you really want so that you get the buzz of anticipating and then achieving a reward, and so that you have high points of material or experiential indulgence to give you perspective on the rest of your life.

That’s the crux of it: saving for the future shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your life now. So find ways to do both. And then you won’t have to read any of the articles next Savings Month and FEEL BAD.


Photo by: Purple Sherbet Photography, Sharing love and happiness makes life more beautiful (CC) via, CC BY 2.0.