Spending Money is Easy Because Saving Money is Hard

May 15, 2015

Spending money and saving money are like natural enemies. The more of one that you do, the less of the other that you’re able to do. If money were unlimited, you’d be able to do both without any stress. But that’s why the spending/saving balance is so complicated – most people have to make hard choices between the two. Unfortunately, saving money often comes up the loser in the conflict, which helps to explain why relatively few people in America ever save a substantial amount of money, and reach a place that looks even remotely like financial freedom.

Saving loses out because spending money is easy. And it’s easy for all the same reasons that saving money is so hard.

Let’s consider the areas of contention.

Controlling Natural Impulses

Spending money is something like our natural default setting. It’s largely impulse driven, which is to say that we’ll do it without even thinking. Overcoming this natural bias toward spending is a challenge, and no small one at that.


Self-denial is hard. Kids usually want everything they see, which is largely why TV is such an effective advertising medium (it’s visual). If we’re honest, then we have to admit that there’s more than a little bit of kid in all of us. When we see something we like, we want it. Denying ourselves goes against our emotions. Resisting only gets easier after you’ve been doing it for a while, which is exactly why most people never get that far. If it was easy, more people would have a lot more savings.

Giving in to your every whim is easy. Giving in to natural impulses is so easy. It takes no thought on our part, and it’s exactly what you’ll do unless you have the discipline to see what’s happening and stop it before it does.

Resisting “Everybody’s Doing It”

At least part of the bias in favor of spending money is cultural. Let’s face it, everyone wants the good life, and so do we. If we simply follow the cultural flow, we’ll spend money constantly. After all, if everybody’s doing it, we should be able to do it too, right?

Being different is hard. Emphasizing saving money over spending can make you seem a little bit odd. While everyone else is out buying new cars and wide screen TV’s on the latest holiday weekend, you’ll be resisting, and hoping to commit your extra money to savings. No following the herd to the mall for you.

Following the crowd is easy. To varying degrees, we all want to conform to the society around us. If everyone is buying the latest new-fangled gadget, we want it too. If you take your cues from the crowd, you’ll mostly be spending your money on what society considers to be important. And that’s actually easier than resisting the trend.

Embracing Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification has become something of a novel concept that’s seen as a throwback to a less prosperous time. But it’s also the basic philosophy that saving money is built on. In order to save for later, you have to be willing to give up some comforts and luxuries now in favor of a more secure future.

Not everyone gets the concept of delay gratification. Here’s why:

Doing without now is hard. It seems counter-intuitive to do without something, especially if you can actually afford it. It takes discipline and courage of conviction to do without in favor of building a better future. And if we’re honest, we also need to acknowledge that the delayed gratification process is not as much fun as living in the moment.

Living in the moment is easy. It can be easy to throw caution to the wind and focus solely on living for the moment. It’s also an abdication of responsibility – and responsibility is another of those traits that we humans like to rebel against. And there’s no doubt either that living in the moment eliminates some of those annoying burdens, like planning for retirement or saving to send our kids to school. Life is easier when you don’t concern yourself with future obligations.

Until the future actually arrives…

Having Patience

Have you ever seen one of those prayers that says, Lord grant me patience – but hurry? I think it frames the problem well. Patience is another of those qualities that’s hard to come by.

And it’s also a fundamental part of saving money – one that‘s anything but easy.

Trusting your money to the future is hard. You have to be willing to save relatively small amounts of money – on a continuous basis – and be fully prepared to let it grow for many years. Reaching financial independence is never a short-term plan. It may take 10, 20, or 30 years to reach the point where all that saving finally puts you in a comfortable position. Not nearly everyone has that kind of patience.

Instant gratification is easy. It’s easy precisely because all the benefits are had right up front. It may even be a form of compensation – you buy little slices of the good life because you’re never certain that you’ll ever have the real thing. It’s another example of the inner-child running the financial show. It’s an emotionally satisfying short-term strategy, but one that can put you in the poor house permanently.

Embracing Financial Freedom

Virtually everyone wants financial freedom – but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to achieve it. Embracing financial freedom is having a plan, then committing to making the plan a reality. Wanting financial freedom is just a wish because it has no action behind it.

Why don’t more people see that? They do, and that’s part of the obstacle.

Working toward financial freedom is hard. Embracing financial freedom is about a whole lot more than cutting back on spending (though that is an important part of it). It often also involves working more hours (to increase income), taking risks, getting serious about an investment plan, and living a life that looks very different from everyone else’s. That’s more than most people are willing to commit to.

Wanting financial freedom is easy. Wanting financial freedom is “free”. You can talk about it, dream about it, watch it on TV and even read books about it. But until you commit time, effort and money to it, it’s just a feel-good adventure.

So there you have it – spending money is easy because saving money is hard. Are you willing to take some hard steps to secure a better future?


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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