Are you saving substantial amounts of money for the future? If you’re American, odds are that you aren’t. This isn’t a personal judgment, it’s a statistical likelihood. As it turns out, Americans just don’t like to save. Good economy, bad economy, it really doesn’t matter. Why is this the case, and what can we do about it?

Instant Gratification

It isn’t that people don’t know that saving is the smart thing to do. The problem is that despite this knowledge, people would rather have something they want right now than more of something they want later. Take the marshmallow experiment as a clear example. You put a marshmallow in front of a kid and tell them they can either eat the marshmallow now or wait and get a bonus one later. Then you leave the room. Aside from being a mild form of torture for the youngster, it shows the psychology of instant gratification versus delayed gratification, even beyond reason. Initially, it seems like an obvious decision. Sit tight and get that bonus mallow. As time goes on, with the kid uncertain of your return, the idea of waiting gets less and less attractive. Eventually, the wait no longer seems like it’s worth it and they eat the marshmallow. This is you, except instead of a marshmallow it’s a fancy dinner, or an expensive night on the town, or an expensive car you don’t need. It’s a difficult impulse to fight… but try. Keep reminding yourself of that extra marshmallow.

Expecting Higher Pay Down the Road

This is actually a mix of a few different reasons people choose not to save. It mixes feeling like you don’t make enough money, with the expectation that you will make significantly more later in life. It’s the “I’ll worry about it later” mentality, and it’s not your friend. There are a few problems here. What if you don’t end up getting that stellar pay you’re expecting down the line? What if ‘down the line’ is much further away than you think? What if something happens in the in-between time, and you don’t have anything tucked away to take care of it. This excuse is a lazy (albeit convenient) rationalization. Stop it.

Hit by a Bus Mentality

Yes, tomorrow you could be hit by a bus and die. But, to paraphrase a so-so movie, “You probably won’t, and you’ll have to deal with all the dumb stuff you did today.” This rationale is just another excuse for instant gratification. When you break it down, there is very little logic in planning for something that’s extremely unlikely to happen over something that is considerably more likely to happen. Saving is obviously the “smart” choice. Anytime your brain tries to find excuses for you to spend instead of save, follow the rationalization to its logical conclusion and see if it still makes sense. You’ll find that it often won’t.

Medical Issues

There’s nothing you can do about this one. If you have insurance and you still get a big bill for medical treatment, it’s just a case of bad luck. This is probably the only reason you shouldn’t feel bad about. Health comes first. Ultimately, there’s no magic bullet for saving. It’s not one big choice you make one day and reap the benefits of later. It’s thousands and thousands of choices you make just about your whole life. Best of luck and enjoy those marshmallows.