On the surface, it doesn’t seem like saving money and eating broccoli have much in common. But give it a bit more thought.

A-ha!  They’re both things your brain tells you to do — but many don’t.

It’s not like you think it’s cool to skip out on saving. According to Bankrate:

  • One of Americans’ biggest financial regrets is not saving enough, whether it’s for retirement, emergencies or their children’s education.
  • As a result, less than half save up to 10 percent of their paycheck and many set aside nothing at all.

(On the other hand, a poll from NPR and Truven Health Analytics reports the majority of Americans say they eat a healthy diet when in reality, they don’t.)

Banish the voices in your head saying what you consider valid reasons for why you’re not saving. The time for excuses is over.

Consider this your pep talk. You can save. And you will, starting now.

Saving Obstacle #1: You Want What You Want — NOW!

It’s human nature to put off things you don’t want to do now. You may call it procrastination, but psychologists call this behavior “present bias.” The National Bureau of Economic Research reports more than half of Americans suffer from it.

Not only that, researchers found that when it comes to your finances, it’s unlikely that you’ll forgo having money today in order to have more later on. When offered $100 that day, $120 in a year, or $144 in two years, about half of the study’s participants opted for the $100.

In other words, they turned down a 20 percent return (inflation depending) to get their hands on the cash immediately!

So how do you stop over-valuing short-term rewards at the expense of your long-term financial health?

Do It Right: It’s simple: Pay yourself first and automate your savings. Have your paycheck directly deposited into your bank account and redirect a portion of it (the amount is up to you) into a high-yield savings account. Or set up a recurring transfer directly from your checking account to your savings. At Ally Bank, our Online Savings Account earns a higher interest rate than most savings accounts and compounds interest daily — growing your money faster.

If your employer offers a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement account, enroll in it and have contributions withdrawn from your paycheck. And if available, sign up for auto-increase. This feature automatically boosts your contribution percentage (often by 1 percent) each year.

Saving Obstacle #2: You Have a Big Head

Present bias isn’t the only thing affecting your savings (or lack thereof). Economic researchers find that most Americans are also afflicted with exponential growth bias. That’s when you incorrectly estimate how much your savings will increase.

For example, if you’re overconfident about how quickly your savings will grow, it’s more likely that you’ll save less. Sock away fewer funds and by the time you hit retirement age, your savings will be smaller than you anticipated.

Do It Right: To overcome exponential growth bias, you’ve got to plan according. Take into account your income, your age, how much you’ve already saved, and the kind of lifestyle you want to have in retirement — not just your stock returns — when determining how much you should be socking away regularly.

Check out our Savings By Age Guide  to find a good place to start.

Saving Obstacle #3: You Think You Deserve a Prize

Did you know that your viewpoint on willpower affects how much you save (and spend)?

People with lots of willpower don’t need to treat themselves for demonstrating it, whereas those with little willpower believe they should be rewarded anytime they have it.

So say that you diligently save $100 each month. If you gift yourself a dinner out as a “job well done” for achieving your savings goals, this indicates little willpower.  A person with willpower will go without the treat.

Do It Right: If you find yourself thinking you “deserve an indulgence,” do something that doesn’t cost you money but gets your endorphins going, like exercise or watching a comedy. (Laughter really can be the best medicine.)

Or follow the advice of Olivia Davis, a winner of The Ally Big Save from Willingboro, New Jersey. The former teacher, who is now pursuing her entrepreneurial dreams of starting a program that prepares students for careers in STEM, recognized that she was rewarding herself by ordering food or picking up a drink and snacks for the ride home after working hard all day long.

To limit the financial impact of her splurges, Davis created a schedule and sticks to it. She decided that Saturdays would be a “special night to order in or eat out.” The other days of the week, she’d meal plan and “shop for groceries by meal instead of grabbing randomly and buying unfulfilling snacks or microwavable items,” she says.

“I noticed on the days that I followed through with meal planning, I did not spend a dime on buying food. On days I don’t prepare, I spend a few dollars on snacks and drinks,” says Davis. “Meal planning can potentially save me $5 to $10 per day.”

Saving Obstacle #4: You Focus on the Forest, Not an Individual Tree.

You could say that Americans are experiencing a money crisis. By and large, they’re not on track with their savings, and a recent study by Varo Money discovered that just about everyone is stressed out about money.

It would’ve been natural if Melinda McMahan, a winner of The Ally Big Save, felt overwhelmed by her financial situation. Hurricane Harvey severely damaged her family’s Houston, Texas, house — filling it with 41 inches of water and destroying most of her furniture, all of her appliances, and two cars.

“One horrific storm wiped out my savings and has put me deeply in debt,” McMahan says. But she recognizes the importance of seeking financial advice in order to build savings and achieve your financial goals. “Try to find someone and have them tell you what you need to do, how much you will need to put down, and have them help you find a plan to make it happen,” she says. “Asking for help is one of the best things you will do in your life.”

Check out our Savings Account Calculator

For Discussion:

  • What excuse do you always give when you spend money that you know you shouldn’t?
  • What’s your biggest motivation to save money?
  • Are you going to achieve your savings goal this year?

Tell us in the comments below.