Living within our means is a classic (yet unequal) battle between the current self and our future self—in other words, between immediate gratification and delayed gratification. The current self doesn’t want to restrain spending; he wants the immediate gratification that comes with the enjoyment of travel and buying new “stuff”. Yet the future self wants the current self to rein in the spending and instead save so that he can retire in comfort.
The younger we are, the harder it is to consider our future selves. This is why most 20 & 30 year olds have trouble taking retirement saving seriously. When I was 20, I certainly didn’t feel connected to my current 45 year old self. And no doubt I will hardly recognize my 66 year old self. We are not able to imagine being retired (or older). We can’t or don’t want to imagine ourselves sitting in doctors’ offices, relying on eldercare services, or sitting in a nursing home bed.
In the paper, Increasing Saving Behavior Through Age-Progressed Renderings of The Future Self (which can be found at the following link) the authors made an excellent point about the disconnect between the current and future self:
“To people estranged from their future selves, saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now.”
It is true that at times saving can feel like giving money to a stranger. That certainly makes it much easier to spend it on our current selves now. The authors also state, “….that many people fail, because of a lack of belief or imagination, to identify with their future selves….”
Therefore, there should be a benefit to making our future selves more real and easier to imagine and identify with. Perhaps this will give our future selves a louder or more powerful voice. How can you make the reality of your future self more concrete? What the study found was that participants that viewed age-progressed pictures of themselves at age 70 saved twice as much as the control group (who only saw pictures of their current selves). So, how can you experience the same results – where you can make your future self more real and therefore do a better job saving for your future self?
There are free phone apps such as Age My Face or Face Retirement that will show you what you will look like when you get older. I used Face Retirement to demonstrate how my future self may look in my later years. Try the app and talk to your aged self. If you can better visualize yourself old, perhaps you will gain some leverage towards making a change.
Ask your future self what will life be like in the future if you keep spending your income and have little savings? What will this cost you in your relationships, your self-esteem, etc.? Visualize this clearly and experience what it will feel like to be poor and old. By really reflecting on these things and their associated feelings, you will gain some leverage for moving towards positive change.
If you know you are not saving enough; if you know you don’t have an emergency cushion; if you have revolving credit card debt – then your present self has been in charge.
Give your future self a gift - know you must make a change (no matter how small) right now for the benefit of your future self. See your future (if you don’t change), experience how it feels, then take a step towards financial security by making a change that your future self would want.
I wish all the best to your current and your future selves.