Make savings less taxing. The average federal income tax refund this year is over $3,000.  Every year at this time, the press is filled with the same stories.  What will you do with your refund?  We’ll save it, people say, or use it to pay down debt.  But then come the stories of big-screen TV sales spiking at about the same time as income tax refund season.

I usually recommend that anyone who gets a big refund every year change their withholding so they stop giving Uncle Sam free loans, and then use that added monthly income to save.  But even if people prefer the big refund, what if they put the whole amount into savings?  And what if they did that every year?  It wouldn’t be that long before they achieved something remarkably good and rare: an emergency fund of six months’ worth of living expenses.

Make savings emotional. This may be the most important step of all.  All successful advertising makes an emotional connection between us and the brand or product.  I just saw a billboard promoting a new Chevy Camaro that said, “You don’t park it, you display it.”

Put that up against this slogan: “Put money in savings.  It’s the right thing to do.”  The Camaro ad speaks to the heart.  The savings slogan speaks to no one.

We need a compelling, emotionally charged reason to save.

What if we connected savings to better health or better relationships?  What if we knew in our hearts that putting $200 into savings each month would dial down the stress in our marriage?  Add some joy?  Wouldn’t that shine brighter than the latest must-have electronic item?

How are you doing on the savings front?  What’s holding you back?

March 8, 2011

Matt Bell is the author of three personal finance books published by NavPress, including the brand new "Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples."  He teaches a wide variety of workshops, including MoneySmart Marriage, at churches, conferences, universities, and other venues throughout the country.  To learn more about his work and subscribe to his blog, go to: www.mattaboutmoney.com.