Fun Funds

You’d think it would be a breeze to get yourself to save for vacation or that new entertainment center, right? Yet, as most of us have discovered, perversely, it’s not.

You tell yourself you’ll stash a couple of hundred a month. Maybe you even set up a Smartypig or other automatic savings account for your goal. But two months into it, you resent the way it deprives you, and start tapping the money for other things.

Saving isn’t exactly rocket science, yet stashing cash for an “optional expense” can challenge even dedicated savers. Here are some ways to stash more funds for you fun:

Divide and conquer. A big goal is exciting—yet most people are happier spending on a series of smaller treats, says Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done.

While that doesn’t mean you should jettison your main idea, consider scaling back—to weave in other things you want.

You could stay in a more modest hotel than the ritzy one right on the beach, because then you can splurge on that private paragliding class. Or maybe you pick cheaper cabinets for the bathroom, so you can have Adirondack chairs on the patio.

Note: This also removes the “it’s gotta be perfect” pressure from putting all your bucks into a single project.
Feel good. Studies have shown that we tend to enjoy experiences more than stuff. To save for a kitchen reno, say, laser in on the emotional gains.

Imagine your family and friends gathering in the new kitchen, drinking wine, cranking the music—or finally having enough space to be the organized, Zen cook you’ve always wanted to be. That’s far more motivating than envisioning a quietest-in-its-class dishwasher and a stack of backsplash tiles, Markman says.

Grounding your saving in a personal vision will also help you stand firm when your spouse or your kids want to spend the funds instead of save. (“Sorry, people, we’re saving for this kitchen, which will give us a bucket of amazing memories.”)

Be present. Our brains are hard-wired to choose near-term treats (hello, lovely new boots) over distant ones (the abstract possibility of sipping a rum punch under a palm tree 10 months from now), notes Markman.

So make your goal seem nearly here by making your screensaver into a hint of the fun to come. How about a pic of your travel partner holding a plastic palm tree and grinning. Or set up a Pinterest account that keeps that Fiji gleam in your eye.

Buddy up. If you and a friend sign up at to encourage each other every week, you’ll add some immediacy (and friendly competition) to reaching your goal. Make it a friend you’ve travelled with, who loves beaches as much as you do? Even better.

Kiss fear and guilt good-bye. Sometimes, says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and author of Mind Over Money,  we drag our feet on spending money on a non-essential like a weekend at a spa—or a luxe bathroom of our own that feels spa-like–because some residual fear is left over from the days when we had to be frugal. (We just don’t always recognize it.)

Tell that old anxiety, “Thank you,” but it has served its purpose. You’ve worked hard for that money, and now you’re going to get off your butt and spend it.

Join the Discussion