Stashing away cash is no easy feat — you have to overcome the psychological hurdle of sacrificing pleasure now in order to help your future self.
Luckily, new research shows that there is a way to get better at saving money. Analysts at Columbia University and the University of Colorado at Boulder recently discovered that people save more when their goals match their personality traits.
What the research says
The researchers set out to see whether it’s easier for folks to save money when their goals are aligned with their dominant personality traits. Their report, published this week in the journal American Psychologist, specifically looked at the “Big Five” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
The findings are based on a massive two-part study.
- The first experiment analyzed savings data from nearly 2,500 U.K. participants. Their savings goals — which were broken down into 16 categories, including saving for retirement, for a rainy day, for a down payment on a home or "for no particular reason" — were compared to their Big Five personality traits. The results showed that those who set personality-aligned goals for themselves saved more money across the board.
- “For example, individuals high on the personality trait agreeableness are characterized by their pro-social desire to help others,” the researchers wrote, “and therefore, saving money to help provide for family members may be more gratifying and motivating for them.”
- The second part of the study included more than 6,000 low-income U.S. participants who were taking part in a $100 savings challenge through the nonprofit app SaverLife. Researchers divided participants into five groups and sent separate motivational emails to four of those groups (and no emails to one of the groups).
- Of the five groups, the one that received motivational emails matched to their personality had the highest success rate by a notable margin — with 11.4% meeting the $100 savings challenge.
- They were also 3.57 times more likely to meet their savings goal than those in the control group.
Overall, study participants with goals already aligned with their personalities saved more money across the income spectrum — and were able to meet new savings goals when motivational reminders were tailored to their characteristics.
People want to save money, but existing research has shown that desire alone is often not enough. Strategies such as writing down your goal, automating your savings or telling friends and family about it can help keep you on track.
But now we know the type of savings goal — as well as how the goal is framed in relation to your personality — can be just as important.