Saving is one of those verbs we won’t see on Instagram, which encourages splurging rather than restraint, but it is part of our financial training for a calmer, happier life.
TEXTO: ÁNGEL MARTOS IMAGES: ISTOCK
Marshmallows are those fluffy candies, usually pink or white, that began to sweeten our childhood in the mid-twentieth century. They are so popular that they even gave their name to some of the most famous research in the social sciences. The study involved placing one of these treats in front of a child, telling them that they could get another one if they waited 15 minutes without eating the first, and then leaving them alone for that time. The Marshmallow test, developed in the 1960s by Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Stanford University, was intended to measure the self-control levels young children and the impact of this characteristic on their future lives. He came to the conclusion that it had a major influence.
To the extent that saving is a form of delayed gratification, many have extrapolated the conclusions of the Marshmallow test to our capacity for financial self-control and its benefits for a calmer, more orderly life. Each of us can look back to our childhood and think of that piggy bank we were given and in which we hoarded coins to satisfy our small daily desires. But in adulthood that glow of enthusiasm seems to disappear and saving becomes a reaction to the fear and uncertainty of the environment, even more so in the current context of the pandemic and economic crisis.
“In general, saving is seen as an obligation or as something necessary, which we do simply out of fear of what might happen in the future”, explains Adrián Gutiérrez, from Fundación MAPFRE’s Insurance and Social Welfare Area. “In other words, it is always has a negative connotation and is not seen as a tool that will help us to fulfill our goals and support us on life’s journey. If savings are viewed from a positive perspective, they will then cease to be an unattractive financial concept and will become part of our way of doing things.”
Ese es precisamente el objetivo que impulsa Fundación MAPFRE al desarrollar acciones relacionadas con That is precisely the objective promoted by Fundación MAPFRE when it develops savings-related actions. According to the Bank of Spain, in 2021 families managed to “save” 41,822 million euros and the total volume of capital deposited in banks amounted to almost one billion euros. Although these are important figures, the saving rate in Spain continues to be below the European Union average (15.1% compared to 16.11% in 2020). This is the result of lower incomes and now also due to the effect of the intense growth of inflation, which reduces our ability to save in the present (due to rising prices) and dilutes our ability to spend in the future.
And yet, “living from pay check to pay check”, “not making ends meet” and all those phrases we use to describe our personal finances cannot be an excuse for not being aware of the vital goals that we can only achieve through saving. To do this, “It is necessary to make saving a habit”, explains Gutiérrez, “and to try to automate it: we must stop relying on the willpower of each individual to save, and the best way to do this is to make it happen automatically, and there are many tools that can help us.”
Digital savings applications such as B-Bites, powered by MAPFRE, offer solutions adapted to the lifestyle of each user and provide the savings options that best suit them. But how can we save if experience seems to show us that it is impossible? Adrián Gutiérrez answers the question with another one: “Are you familiar with the concept of “ant expenses”, and the “latte factor”? Well, both are related to those small expenses that we do not pay attention to because of how small they are, or because they are “routine”, and in many cases not essential. If we add up how much they amount to over time, it would surprise us. Over a year, they could add up to almost 700 euros, which is a figure that grabs our attention more.”
Another practice that Gutiérrez suggests is pre-saving: “This consists of treating saving as an expense and covering it at the beginning of the month like the rest of our expenses. A widely used counter-argument to this is that our expenses are always greater than our income. Although this is unfortunately true for many people, it is also true that many others could afford it if they planned their finances better. It is about adjusting the amount we save to our personal situations. Ask yourself this question: do you think you will be able to live as well as you do if you spend 10 euros less each month than you do now, and save it instead?”
More tips, guidelines and good habits can be found on Fundación MAPFRE’s website Seguros y pensiones para todos. There you can find everything from savings challenges to help us get started (or take our savings to the next level) to how much money we need to set aside for unforeseen events (spoiler: at least three months of our expenses as an emergency cushion). It also explains the most common mistakes we make with money at different ages, and the answer to that question that many of us are already thinking about: how much will we need to have the retirement we want?
Many studies show that, in general, people have little financial knowledge, which can lead us to making poor decisions or taking the wrong attitude. The aim of this content is to broaden our financial knowledge in order to align our decisions with our personal interests. That is why “saving should always be linked to spending: for example, taking the trip of a lifetime, going to that concert we have been waiting for for so long, or having a calm retirement from a financial point of view. The possibilities are infinite but the goals are always a personal dream. When we save up to achieve them we will end up being happy.”
And just as being happy is not a question of age, neither is starting to save. Fundación MAPFRE’s Seguros y Pensiones para Todos website offers financial advice for each decade of our adult life. If you are 20 years old, this is the best time to take advantage of the magic of compound interest, in which time is our best ally: if you invested just 50 euros per month at an annual return of 5%, you would have saved 101,794 euros by the time you reach the age of 65. At 30, one must be careful not to put everything into the house and mortgage. At 40, one mistake could be to buy a second home without having paid off the first one. And at 50, there is nothing left but to start planning for retirement.
“We always say that the best time to start saving is “right now”. If you haven’t gotten into the habit, do it as soon as possible. Saving does not depend on age, of course, but it is necessarily linked to the existence of an income”, stresses Gutiérrez. And what happened to the Marshmallow test kids? In the 2000s, new studies suggested that, in fact, the ability to wait for the second marshmallow is largely determined by a child’s social and economic background, and it is this background, not the ability to delay gratification, that is behind a child’s self-control. So, do those who have more save more? Evidently, this is backed up by all the data. And at the same time, as Benjamin Franklin would say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”