People often tell me that they feel so deprived when they try to go on a financial diet. Much like real dieting, saving money is really hard. The effort alone can leave you in a what feels like a psychological state of deprivation. Also like a diet, you long to get back to normal times again. But when you’re feeling deprived, each day can feel like forever!
Add to that the idea of doing this for the long haul, since old habits need to be broken. Just the thought of it feels like more than you can bear. Watching every penny? Denying yourself the very things that make life worth living? Feeling deprived forever??? That’s not what you want YOUR life to be. Nor should it have to be.
Waiting can feel like deprivation
Look. We know it’s a lot more fun to have something now than to wait until tomorrow. Especially when it comes to the good things we all deserve. No one wants to feel so deprived when they can simply charge something now.
So they rationalize. They’ll find a way to get the money later. And oh how they need this one thing right now! Of course, the same self-talk holds true for many things that we want in life. And some of us are really good at it!
The marshmallow test
There’s a famous marshmallow test story, where researchers put a marshmallow in front of little children. One at a time, they were told they could have that one marshmallow right now. But if they could wait until the researcher got back in the room, they could have a second marshmallow.
The young child had to sit with the temptation in front of him or her, staring them in the eyes. Then the researcher left the room, and watched the kids struggle through a two-way mirror. Long story short, years later, the ones who could wait to get both marshmallows wound up with better careers. And they were more successful in general.
It’s called “delayed gratification”. And it’s at the heart of why people feel so deprived when they try to save money. It’s hard to put off what we can almost taste right now. Of course, no one was really deprived in any serious way. But for many of the kids, it felt that way.
And in that moment the feeling felt overwhelming. For some it was just too much effort to overcome the temptation to get the treat they wanted now. They had to act right away. And it’s the same for many adults. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. But, luckily there are some things you can do.
Saving money doesn’t have to be torture
But even though we know it’s hard to give up things we want, it doesn’t have to be quite so hard. Once we teach ourselves a few things about our brains — and how they can be helped along.
Ironically, while saving leaves us feeling deprived now, NOT saving can leave us feeling deprived in the future. According to Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir “The cure for what deprivation causes (us) psychologically is the hair of the dog that bit you: savings.”
It’s hard to connect to comparative thought when the “I want this now” goes off in your head. But you will feel a LOT more deprived if you have no money and need some fast. And the only route to having money when you truly need it is yup … saving money.
So the trick isn’t about whether you save money or not. It’s about whether you feel deprived or not. Let me say that again because it’s important. It’s the feeling you can work on. Imagine if you could save money, feel great about seeing your savings grow, and still not feel so deprived!
So what can you do so you don’t feel so deprived?
First of all, it’s good to remind yourself that deprivation is just a feeling. While it feels very real, it doesn’t exist all on its own. And, as with most feelings, we can often help lower the intensity. Even if we don’t remove it completely.
The way to do this is to:
- Become aware of the feeling and stop feeding it (oh the misery!!)
- Look for pleasant things (actions or thoughts) to replace it with.
It helps to truly remember why you’re doing this — for ease of life in the future, and in retirement. And for the ability to comfortably buy large ticket items along the way (house, car, education). Think of creative ways to remind yourself of how tasty those future marshmallows will be. Maybe even a picture scrapbook of what you’re working toward.
Another great technique to not feel so deprived is to come up with ways to reward yourself. Without spending money to do that. Use the rewards to create new “neural pathways” in your brain. “I want to spend” becomes “Ah! I’m giving myself a bubble bath.”
Or it becomes “I’m writing a story.” Or doing something else creative or artistic that costs almost nothing. Maybe you can even start a blog about what you’re doing. You’ll get to express yourself. And you’ll find support. Spending money may be trying to fill that very same hole. And you can have fun coming up with the cheap rewards!
The most important thing about deprivation feelings
Real deprivation is no food or no water or no money at all. Those are all needs. Not being able to buy the latest iPhone is not deprivation. That’s about not being able to fulfill a want – not a need. We often confuse the two. And so we feel much more deprivation than is truly taking place.
When you find replacement wants that make you feel better, you still technically are being deprived of that other want. But now it doesn’t feel like deprivation. Just a choice. You are starting to take control of your wants. And slowly changing the way you even see things as sources of deprivation.
When you can redirect the intensity of your wants and find enjoyable substitutions, you short-circuit that “I feel so deprived” feeling. You’re no longer so deprived. You’re in charge. And that’s a feeling you can grow to like.
All you need to do is keep reinforcing the shift with creative substitutions and that dream scrapbook. Or whatever you’ve come up with to help!
Final savings tip to help feeling so deprived
While efforts to help redirect those feelings are very useful, for some people having an automatic savings “redirect” also helps. By setting up regular deposits into savings in whatever ways you can, you won’t feel the loss so much. Your savings will grow, but you still get to spend your available cash.
The reason I don’t lead with this one is that I find long-term change is helped more by changing our behaviors. If we haven’t redirected our way of thinking, then all the automatic deposits can easily be seen as “available” also.
You haven’t done anything to address the deprivation feelings if you don’t use that pot of money right way. Still, this is worth adding to your tool kit!
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