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Your motivation matters for achieving your savings goals

Are you saving money because you want to, or because you have to? The former is undoubtedly easier, but there exists a technique to shift your motivation from pressure to personal desire.

By Marianne Lie Becker, , 1/18/2024

January is the month when many feel the financial aftermath of an expensive December filled with gifts and extra indulgent meals. At the same time, it's the month for numerous bills. If part of your New Year's resolutions is to save some money, now is the time.

Fortunately, help is available from SDU's Professor of Motivation, Nikos Ntoumanis. He has recently published a research study revealing that the reasons behind your savings efforts influence your success.

-You should reflect on the reasons you have for setting financial goals. If your attempt to achieve your savings goal is based on personal values and preferences, it will help you better cope with challenges and achieve greater long-term progress with your savings goals, he says.

Self-driven or pressured

The new study showed that the motivation behind saving predicts both how you handle challenges associated with savings goals and how likely you are to achieve them.

Meet the researcher

Nikos Ntoumanis is Professor and head of research in DRIVEN - the Danish Centre for Motivation and Behaviour Science.


More about the research

Find the study in Motivation Science here.

Read more

As expected, self-driven motivation was associated with both better handling of challenges and greater progress toward goals

Nikos Ntoumanis, head of research in DRIVEN - the Danish Centre for Motivation and Behaviour Science with SDU.

- We differentiate between self-driven motivation and pressured motivation, meaning whether the goal is driven by a positive aim, such as saving enough for a vacation or a wedding party, or whether it involves money you have to save for upcoming utility bills or unforeseen expenses.

- As expected, self-driven motivation was associated with both better handling of challenges and greater progress toward goals, explains Nikos Ntoumanis, Professor and Research Leader in DRIVEN, the Danish Centre for Motivation and Behaviour Science. 

When you feel pressured by others or yourself, for example, due to feelings of guilt or shame, according to the research, you will have a harder time coping with challenges and will not achieve good long-term progress with your savings goals. The reason is that such motivation often results in lower amount of effort and persistence with failure, particularly over the long-term.

Technique for success despite pressure

Even when feeling pressured to pursue a savings goal, there is a way to make progress. A technique that will help you visualize success and make plans for overcoming obstacles.

The technique is called MCII, which stands for "mental contrasting with implementation intentions" and is a metacognitive strategy combining two techniques for achieving goals: mental contrast and implementation intentions.

The motivation researcher’s tips to succeed with increasing your savings

  1. Reflect on why you want to save money. If your motivation is based om personal values and goals, you will cope better with challenges and make greater progress

  2. Pressure from others or yourself to save money is a bad motivation. If you save money because of guilt or shame, you are less likely to succeed

  3. There is a technique to visualize success and make plans along the way regarding how to deal with obstacles. It is called MCII and you can learn more about it in this article

-In the mental contrast phase, you imagine a positive future event you want to achieve (the 'wish') and contrast it with the potential obstacles that exist and could prevent you from achieving this event (the 'reality'), explains Nikos Ntoumanis.

-In the implementation intentions phase, you create specific 'if-then' plans. For example, 'If I feel like shopping online then I will look through my wardrobe and look for unused clothes or if someone asks me to go to a restaurant then I will instead suggest we eat at home.’   It can help you prepare how and when you will respond to an obstacle when it arises, and it can increase your chances of success.

Do you want to learn more?

You can learn more about MCII right here

Editing was completed: 18.01.2024