How to become a saver — even if you weren't born to be one

Zach Holz believes he was genetically predisposed to save, but says anyone can activate their latent saving superpowers

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One of my earlier memories is when I was around seven years old, and my parents realised I was hoarding money in my room that I had received from allowances and gifts. I was very much like a squirrel with my money, hiding $10 (Dh36.70) under the mattress, $30 in my sock drawer, $45 in my closet under a shoebox.

My parents were shocked. Why did I have so much money? Why was it scattered around the room? Why didn’t I spend it like a “normal” kid?  I think I was pretty shocked too, but for two different reasons. I had never tabulated up how much I had, so I was pleasantly surprised by the tally of my stash. I was also surprised my parents cared enough to root out all the cash like effective truffle-hunting boars.

They made me apply half of the money towards new clothes, which, at age seven, I was not excited about. The other half they put in the bank for me, which was a wise move.

This experience brought me to the conclusion that I’m probably genetically predisposed towards saving: a natural-born saver.

One third of our behaviour when it comes to money is explained by genetics, according to a study by US academics Stephan Siegel of the University of Washington and Henrik Cronqvist of the University of Miami, who analysed the savings behaviour of identical and fraternal twins in Sweden. They matched a large sample from the Swedish Twin Registry, the world's largest twin registry, with annual data from these twins' tax filings. The conclusion was that genetic differences explain about 33 per cent of the variation in savings propensities across individuals.

If you’re among the lucky ones with saving genes, congratulations! Your financial life probably is a lot easier than those who are not given that gift. But if you’re a bit of a spendthrift, and your money flies away and you don’t really know how, there are a few tried and true ways to activate your latent saving superpowers.

Commit to a financial goal

The most positive and effective way to become a saver is to have a financial goal to which you are committed. It could be saving up to buy a house, or wanting a well-funded retirement, or anything else. You need to discover what you really value, what can overcome your naturally 'spendy' ways and get you on a better path.

Learn from other's mistakes

The second most common way that people start saving a lot is by witnessing family members, usually older ones, who have not saved up enough to have a comfortable retirement, and learning from their experience. It’s said that the smart man learns from his own mistakes, but the wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Go through a rough patch

The hardest way to become a saver, but still a common one, is getting fired and realising you don’t have enough money to live for very long without a paycheck. This can be a seriously rude awakening of your saving muscle, as it dawns on you that you don’t want that stress ever again. Hopefully you can observe this lesson from those around you instead of having to go through it yourself.

Track your spending

Another way to activate latent savings characteristics is to start tracking your spending. It will make you more intentional about every dirham you spend and you will be able to notice where the “leaks” are in your bank account.

Even though I was born a saver, I have used all these strategies to bulk up my saving muscle. I’m now regularly saving 60 to 70 per cent of my salary and buying assets like index funds and real estate so that I’ll never have to worry about a job again in a few years. This saving muscle is giving me a lot of power.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher