Naming and Automating Our Way to Savings

Have you ever noticed that people tend to name weird things? Cars, guitars, phones, even more obscure things like a sewing machine or Keurig coffee maker. They’re all just stuff, yet we give them names that often are thought of as human (in rare cases, sometimes we name people after things instead).

There’s a segment of psychology that talks about why we do this. By naming things, we establish a deeper bond with that thing. It’s part of the reason why in the Midwest we try to not name our pigs. Establishing a psychological connection with something may have a positive or negative effect depending on what that thing is. If it’s generally bringing something positive to your life, attaching a name to it may make it more difficult to replace, emotionally.

The Curse of Cars

Kristin’s had a horrible string of bad luck with cars. When I met her, she was driving a lemon that on the surface looked fine, but was costing her a ridiculous amount of money. Eventually she’d decided to name it after somebody famous she hates. When she got rid of that car, she changed to a different vehicle, which she leased.

Unfortunately that had problems of its own only a week after she got it. We were driving up to Griffith Observatory with two of my friends, when all of the sudden the car overheated. We couldn’t figure out why. Sure, it was a somewhat steep grade, but its’ not like we were flooring it up a mountain. We popped the hood, but everything looked fine – not like we didn’t have coolant or anything.

For the record, I should probably point out I’m not handy in the least. I thank my dad for that (duct tape can fix everything, right?), but at least I’ve got other things going for me I guess.

We took the car in to get checked out. It turns out that a wire had gotten knocked loose by a stray rock kicked up by a car in front of us, due to a bad soldering job. Nothing you’d be able to tell unless you got under the car and knew specifically what to look for…so I don’t feel so bad for not knowing.

The point of this story is that these negative experiences resulted in Kristin naming her cars after celebrities she found obnoxious and annoying. For the sake of avoiding defamation suits (though it’d help drive more traffic to the site…) I won’t say specifically what the names were, but needless to say, it was much easier to dump the cars and move on.

We’re now down to one car for the foreseeable future and don’t have a name for it, but it’d be something good if we did – my car’s a trooper, having moved me cross-country twice now.

My Strategy

Even though I don’t name many of my possessions, I do like to name my savings accounts for much the same reason. By putting a nickname on a bank account, it’s easy to remember why I’m making the decision to spend less and save more. Every time I open my account, in addition to keeping me organized, I am reminded to continue to focus on the end goal – our wedding, our house, emergencies (the least fun kind of money since you don’t get to spend it, but I do enjoy the peace-of-mind it brings).

Naming your bank accounts is a pretty easy thing to do nowadays. A few years ago, this wasn’t necessarily the case at many banks. Today, however, lots of banks have introduced the ability to give your bank accounts names, savings goals to hit, and even open new accounts instantly with the click of a button. This can be very helpful when you identify a new savings goal – like wanting to save up cash for a used car.

After you’ve given your account a name, it’s important to make sure your new friend gets the cash it deserves to help reach whatever goal you have in mind. In the case of our wedding, for example, we figured out how much we needed and when we needed that money available by. We set up automatic transfers that’d get us there without issue. Every month, money would go into that account without needing to even remember to do it.

What About Open-Ended Goals?

Having an end date on a goal is great, but some things tend to not have hard-and-fast deadlines on them. Take for example, our car fund. Remember Kristin’s crappy cars from earlier? Well, after getting rid of both of them and going down to one car, we’re needing to manage our driving schedules so that we can survive on a single car. We don’t have a goal of purchasing a second – and even if we did, we’re not entirely sure on the timing of it. We’ve talked about – and agree upon – a budget range so we’re squared away there.

But when you’re saving for some sort of goal, be it an expense like a car or something more ambiguous and broad like an “emergency fund”, knowing how much to put into an account each month isn’t always so cut and dry as it was for our wedding.

Our solution is pretty easy though. Edmunds reports that the average payment on a new car (something we aren’t going to get) is $479. In order to save for our car fund (something that we’ll shift to once we close on our house), we’ll set up an automatic transfer of $500/month into our ‘Car Fund’ until it reaches the lower range, and then shift that allocation elsewhere. We won’t make a purchase until we absolutely have to, and can pay cash for a car; meaning we may need to get creative on transportation for a while, depending on how our circumstances change, but as long as it’s cheaper than having to finance a vehicle (something neither of us want to do) it’s worth it.

Same thing goes for our emergency fund. Save up until you hit your 3-6 months or whatever your date is, then shift that savings amount each month to other items such as an investment account or other targeted savings account.

By naming accounts and automating the savings, we are reminded consistently of what we’re saving for and why, and it’s less likely that we’ll make decisions that put those goals in jeopardy. It’s simple psychological tricks like this that can help bad habits from creeping in.

Question:

What weird things do you name? Why do you give them names?

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t name any of my inanimate possessions, but I totally name my savings accounts. It used to be tough for me to keep track of how much I had set aside for certain things when all the funds were commingled in one account. Plus, like you said, it’s a psychological trick to make you more committed to the thing you’re saving for.

    Shameless plug, but I actually just wrote about how I use the named savings accounts and a spreadsheet to project out where my future spending should go. (It’s at http://www.idreamoffire.com/digital_envelope_budgeting/ if you want to check it out). It’s totally changed the way I approach my finances.

    1. Nice! I don’t have eight categories like you have (mostly because we don’t have kids, and you’ve got a few accounts with specific uses due to that it looks like) but we’re definitely following the same concept here. Capital One 360 is so easy to do that with!

      Do you have a blank version of that spreadsheet at all or is it pretty much what you see in that screenshot covers it mostly?

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