The Benefit of Saving Money Without Specific Financial Goals
Have you seen the movie Up in the Air? In it, George Clooney's character is obsessed with travel miles. When asked to explain why or how he’s going to use them he replies:
“The miles are the goal… Let me just say I have a number and I haven’t hit it.”
He’s saving just to save. Plus, he wants to be 1 of 7 to earn the Lifetime Executive Status whatever award for earning 10 million miles.
Most people see this scene and think this miles collection thing is crazy. He’s obsessed and he doesn’t even plan on using the miles.
While miles aren’t cash, I would argue the idea of saving just to save is okay. Whatever motivates you to save, that’s all gravy in my book. Because the truth is, most people don’t set goals of any kind or save in general.
Most people don’t save enough.
According to a 2019 Bankrate survey, only 18% of Americans said they could live off their savings for six months. In fact, nearly 40% would need to borrow money to cover a $1,000 emergency.
But this is not a how-to save money tips article. Or a how-to set financial savings goals video. Don’t get me wrong, goals are incredibly powerful tools that help you gain clarity and stay motivated.
That said, maybe you just accomplished a big money goal and you’re trying to figure out what’s next. Or perhaps you’re in a high earner position but you know you should be saving more. Or you’re just getting started on your finance journey and don’t know where to start. It’s easy: save.
I’m not going to cover traditional savings advice though like: how to goal set, see a financial planner, buy assets — not liabilities. I want to offer a unique perspective.
First: Saving just to save. Then second: Something I call building up an Emergency Fun Account. Overall, the theme is to aim to increase your savings rate. Build in this habit and system, no matter who you are or what stage in life you’re at. Here’s why…
Very few people have a problem with over-saving. In fact, I’d guess 99% of people do not. But many people have the problem of not saving enough. Most people actually.
Being good with money starts and ends with saving money. If you can get good at saving for the sake of saving — not because of a specific goal or thing you want to buy — that’s the best way to master personal finance and eventually discover financial freedom.
Of course, it’s great to take it further. I love goals and learning investing and the like but save because you can. Save because you have to. Save because the alternative is eventually not having enough. The alternative is working longer than you’d like to.
Don’t save in pursuit of vague and general goals (or collect miles like Clooney). Save in pursuit of a particular change to enhance your life. You’re not just saving to be able to do what you want later in life but also to be able to do the things you want today.
Drawbacks of Goals
Can there actually be drawbacks to financial goals? Kind of. It’s wonderful to strive for more, but I’ve found that focusing on goals usually leads to focusing on what we don’t have. That’s problematic for a few reasons:
- It makes me a little annoyed and impatient that I haven’t already reached that goal.
- If I never reach that goal or life gets in the way, it’s downright aggravating in a non-productive way.
- It can lead to being dissatisfied or even ungrateful for what I do have.
When you focus on savings goals, you get laser-focused on the end results. There’s hardly a time when you’re just enjoying the journey or living fully in the present.
If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel fantastic… Until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction: having a goal.
Process and Systems
Focus on process and systems. Develop habits that stick. Set up automations to save money in the right place automatically.
My definition of saving also including paying off debt and investing — it’s anything that positively impacts your net worth. If you’re buying an asset, something that appreciates in value, you’re saving.
If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re hoping to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.
Goals are something you hope to make happen; the process is the work it actually takes to get there. To me, it makes more sense to put your time, effort, and focus on the latter — processes. Focusing on the present process actually helps you reach a goal faster.
Consider diets. Rather than focusing on losing 20 pounds, focus on incorporating exercise and better food into your day-to-day diet and meals. It’s practical, tangible, and it turns your goal into a process or system — habits that stick.
This means keeping your fridge stocked with healthy foods. Just like keeping your extra money parked in an emergency fund or emergency fun account. What’s an emergency fun account? I’m glad you asked.
The Emergency Fun Account
You’ve heard of an emergency fund. But how about saving for emergency fun as well? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s setting aside money in its own account as a priority to spend to find balance in life. To do something on a whim. To say yes to an invite you might normally say no to.
As humans we need balance. Eat, sleep, exercise, work, love, and play. Oftentimes it’s that last one we don’t prioritize. It’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because we don’t have the money or we feel guilt about spending the money.
I used to stay in on Fridays almost every week. I told my friends I was exhausted come Friday evening and staying in. They jokingly called it “Frankie Fridays”.
The truth is, I was broke. I couldn’t afford to have fun on a whim without digging a deeper debt hole.
Did I need to go to Starbucks daily, pay for an Uber to work because it was raining and I didn’t want to deal with parking, eat out for lunch 7 days a week, and shop on Amazon when I was bored on a Tuesday night? Absolutely not.
I would have much rather saved for the sake of saving alone or building up an emergency fun account. To go on a spontaneous happy hour. To plan a weekend trip. To rent a boat on a nice day with a group of friends. To go to a show or concert. Instead, I stayed in. And I lied about why.
I had credit card debt so I couldn’t allow myself to have fun. I should have cut spending, saved a bit, and found myself some balance. I could have gone all-in on paying off those cards.
My First Savings
I remember the first fun thing I really saved up for — it was a Playstation 2 when I was working my first job at Target. It showed me the benefit of saving a set amount so I could eventually buy a fun thing.
The smartest thing I did after that was continuing to save the same amount without a goal in mind. Yes, college was on the horizon so I sort of earmarked it for that, but otherwise, I was saving just to save.
I wasn’t chasing a specific number just to spend just to build it back up again. That’s something I still do to this day. Yes, fill that emergency fund, but then start building up an emergency fun account. It’s money you can spend guilt-free.
Most things we would like to pursue in life require money. It’s a great practice to start, even if you don’t have any immediate need for saving or setting money aside. This habit can help save you future stress and provide a cushion should your financial situation change — and it will. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Living frugally when you don’t have to is the fastest path to financial independence. If you’ve taken care of your responsibilities it’s okay to not have specific SMART financial goals. Build an emergency fund. Save for emergency fun. Set up your system and automate your way to financial freedom.
What do you think? Can it backfire to obsess over savings goals? Do you like this idea of an emergency fun account, finding balance, and saving as a habit for the sake of saving? Or do you find you have to have specific savings goals or you don’t feel motivated to save at all? Do let me know.
If nothing else, share the first thing you saved up for to buy — your first “big” purchase after getting your first job.
If you want to check out a free preview of my course Save Money Resolution you can do so here. It’ll show you my system for saving your first or next $10,000 fast. What you do with it — that’s up to you.
Watch the video of this article here.
Frankie Calkins (M. Ed) is a Digital Marketing Manager by day. On nights and weekends, he’s an author, YouTuber, and finance course creator. He lives in Seattle, WA. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. It should not be considered financial, legal, or business advice. Not all information will be accurate. Consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.