Why you're terrible at saving money

01:49, Jul 07 2014
MONEY TAMER: Pushpa Wood has seen a thing or two, and she's delved into the strategies and tactics people can use to get on top of their spending.

Dr Pushpa Wood is one of my favourite money people.

She's a money person by dint of her heading up Massey University's Financial Education and Research Centre.

The centre is dedicated to studying people and the way they handle money, as well as helping train a legion of financially literate teachers and trainers who can progressively lift the country's financial smarts.

As you may expect, Wood has seen a thing or two, and she's delved into the strategies and tactics people can use to get on top of their spending.

Her number one tip is to get yourself a slim notebook, the cheap red kind that slip easily into a handbag or pocket, on which you can write: ''Spending diary'', and enter in every single payment you make.

We'll call it the ''Pushpa Pocketbook''.


You see, the biggest impediment to many people ending the month wealthier than they began it, or indeed less wealthy than they could have been, is frittering.

Wood has seen enough in her many years to realise that people with money troubles often have little clue on where their money goes.

The banks all have neat online ''track my spending'' services on their internet banking platforms like KiwiBank's Heaps.

But, the odds are they aren't being used by the many people who struggle with turning that profit, or turning one large enough to make headway on their long-term goals like beefing up their emergency fund, saving for a house, accelerating their path to being free of the mortgage, paying off the student loan, or building their retirement savings at an acceptable rate.

You see the truth is, if you want to end the year with $500 bucks more in the bank, or paid off the principal in the mortgage, the simplest thing is to spend $10 a week less.

You could, of course, earn $500 more (after tax), and keep your spending the same, or indeed, do both and end up $1000 richer, but you get my point.

The Pushpa Pocketbook becomes a tangible force, not just to help you record, and hence see what you are spending, but also becomes a focus for the really important discipline Wood seeks to teach.

Above all, her students learn to think in terms of needs and wants.

Spending on a need is good. Spending on a want is, if not bad, something that needs to be done with hesitation.

Those not making it to the end of the month richer and more secure need to have an especial focus on cutting down the ''want'' spending, in order to be able to bank a surplus.

Wood says students tell her that they feel they carry a tiny, invisible version of her around on their shoulder, ready to squawk ''Need or Want!'' every time they head toward the till/pie shop/online check-out, a bit like a financially-literate version of Long John Silver's parrot.

Perhaps you need to have been one of her students to develop the invisible Pushpa Parrot, but anyone can get themselves the pocketbook version.

And in case you feel that it's a bit low-tech, and beneath your dignity, Wood still uses one, and there aren't many who can claim to be as financially literate as her.

Golden Rules:

Buy a Pushpa Pocketbook

Fill it in every night

Distinguish between wants and needs 

* Rob Stock is a journalist with the Fairfax Business Bureau and money editor of Sunday Star-Times.