Here’s the science behind a simple trick that helps people increase savings by up to 73%

Personal Finance

Jackie Beck says a vision board helped her realize a dream trip to Africa.

Source: Jackie Beck

Here’s a great way to save money when what you really want to do is enjoy the moment.

Just close your eyes. Now think of something you really want: a trip to Europe, college for your kids, a nest egg that will give you a dream retirement.

You’ve seen it on Oprah, but the idea of literally envisioning your goals has some scientific backing.

Emotionally connecting to a financial goal definitely boosts people’s ability to stash cash, according to a study conducted by Brad Klontz, a certified financial planner and financial psychologist. Savings rates soared by as much as 73% when people got fully and emotionally engaged in why they were setting money aside, Klontz says.

Living in the present is part of our genetics, Klontz says. “It’s why we were able to survive as a species,” Klontz said. “What you’re asking yourself to do [when saving for the future] goes against your entire biology.”

Into Africa

A vision board helped Jackie Beck, a personal finance blogger in Phoenix, take the trip of a lifetime.

Beck created a travel board — “I’m on my computer all the time, so it was faster to do it digitally,” she said — so she’d be sure to visit places she has always wanted to see. “I added pictures and kept thinking, when are we going to make it happen?” she said. “If you see it regularly, you make it happen,” she said.

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Sure enough, about a year after starting a board on Africa, she and her husband got on a plane and flew to Kenya. The board helped spur her to plan, research and talk to people for recommendations.

The how and why

We are wired to keep things the way they are. “It’s called the status quo bias,” Klontz said. It takes work and effort to change. “If you can get clear about why you want to save, why it matters, who you’re saving for, and execute while you’re excited about it, it can have dramatic effects,” he added.

The good news is that you can leverage your enthusiasm over something you want and use it to help you get there.

Before you decide to use some visual cue to help meet a goal, you need to understand what will make you happy.

The more debt a person has, for example, the less they know what they really want, says Carrie Rattle, CEO and founder of New York-based Behavioral Cents, which provides financial coaching and therapy.

Instead of getting a grip on their goals, they’ve allowed the retail world to dictate purchases.

Rattle suggests searching for the images that will spark some emotional response that truly speaks to something you want.

“A picture can help you zero in on what will make you really happy,” Rattle said. People aren’t always able to conjure the vision on their own.

Images that reflect your emotions can work. Find pictures of people in hammocks, walking on the beach or whatever shows your perfect day in retirement. If you want to pay down debt, a person jumping in the air with joy or looking serene and unworried might work to motivate you.

The power of positive thinking

It might seem a bit woo-woo, Rattle says, but here’s how the so-called law of attraction might work.

Let’s say you want a green apple, Rattle says, so you focus on that every day. “Some people say if you hope for one, the universe will give you one,” she said. That’s one interpretation.

Another one says that once you start to focus on your goal, your awareness sharpens.

If you know where you’re going, you start thinking about what may get you there. Maybe you’ll go to the supermarket more often or visit a nearby farm.

Voila, there’s your green apple. It may have started with visualization, but it ended up in your hands because you spent time thinking about how you might actually get it, and you did the necessary work.

“Mainly it helps you identify and focus on what you want to achieve, and the things you can when you achieve that goal,” Beck said.

Picture perfect

First, list more details about your vision, Rattle says. Say your dream is a trip to Italy. Start researching and deciding where you’d like to go once there: countryside or city? You might make a list of museums and churches you’ll visit or foods you want to try.

The second part is your nuts-and-bolts process. You need, for instance, $5,000 for the trip, which is five years away. This means saving $1,000 a year. Now that you have a balance to focus on, Rattle suggests breaking it down even more, to a monthly or weekly amount.

This way, you know exactly what kinds of changes you will need to make, such as taking lunch to work every day. Whatever you do, remind yourself when you save $10 on lunch that it’s going for your trip to Italy.

Whether you use paper or a site like Pinterest to create your board digitally, put it somewhere you can see it regularly, Beck suggests. “Maybe your fridge, your desk or inside the medicine cabinet,” Beck said.

Goals are very easy to set and then forget about, Beck says. The vision board helps you keep it top of mind.

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