Want to know what your future Saver self will look like?


It’s hard to fight the lure of instant gratification. Even the best of us battle with putting off a smaller reward today so that we can enjoy a larger payoff in the future. We see it a lot with dieting. Dieters have the very best intentions of keeping their cravings at bay, but usually sooner than later, they succumb to that big old slice of pie. The instant gratification of that sugar rush is just more powerful than the delayed reward of a slimmer waistline. And we also see the same thing with money. The immediate pleasure felt when nabbing a sweet deal on a 55” LCD TV or when hanging with your friends on an indulgent night out can be far more seductive than the way-delayed gratification of retiring with a solid nest egg. And nowhere is this more apparent than with 20- and 30-somethings.

Try telling a group of people decades away from retirement that they need to defer spending today so they won’t end up surviving purely on Social Security benefits come 2050, and bets are, you’ll get a whole lotta resistance (and probably some eye-rolling, too). But if these Gen-Y’ers and Millennials don’t get a move on, the end result may be a generation seriously ill-equipped for retirement. And with two out of three early baby boomers missing the resources needed to maintain their lifestyle once they retire, this is a cycle that needs to be broken, pronto.

So what’s the best way to shake them out of their I’ll-never-get-old mentality? How about showing them pictures of what they’ll look like when they’re card-carrying members of the senior citizen set?

Sounds crazy, but researchers have found that when consumers identify with their future/older selves on a tangible level (as opposed to some hazy notion of themselves at 65), they’re far more likely to start saving. The researchers conducted a study using current-day photos of subjects, which were turned into virtual reality avatars. For half of the group, the face was digitally aged – adding a dash of grey here, a few wrinkles there – and the other half remained unchanged. Both groups then stared at the pictures of themselves for a minute, and were then asked the following question:

If you received an unexpected gift of $1,000, would you:

a) buy a gift
b) invest in a retirement fund
c) plan a fun occasion or
d) put it into a checking account?

Participants who looked at the aged version of themselves allocated more than double the amount of money to their retirement than the wrinkle-free group. That’s a pretty big shift in behavior resulting from just one small picture.

So why the dramatic change? One of the lead researchers believes it’s because we see our older selves as a stranger, someone with whom we can’t relate. But by seeing an actual aged version of ourselves, we develop greater empathy for who we’ll become in the future. The last thing we want is to be the one responsible for making life financially difficult for this older person – who just happens to be you. Plus, coming face-to-face with our older selves makes us face the fact that yes, everyone ages, and the sooner you start saving for your golden years, the better off you’ll be.

What do you think, Saver? Would seeing a 65-year-old version of yourself help you save for retirement, or would it just make you reach for the sunscreen?

  • Mark

    It is hard to say. You could also die and then what happens to all the money you have saved. You didn’t buy the Lexus you had dreamed about since high school. You didn’t get to play a chord on a new Gibson guitar. You never took that exotic trip to Hawaii. What do you do then?

    I say…just spend it. Big corporations do it and get bailed out. Its been the American way since the Great Depression and history repeats itself anyway. We should not live in fear knowing that we will be poor in the future if we don’t save. In the end everything will take care if itself.

  • guest

    If the Lexus, or the guitar, or the exotic trip are the things that are important to you . . .

    then your priorities are screwed up to begin with.

    As for “everything taking care of itself”, I would love to visit you in the future if you continue this attitude and have nothing then. At least that way I can say . . . “told you so”. Keep tempting fate. You will get what you deserve.

  • Bob

    Mark is exactly the problem with this country. The entitlement thought process. “The Govt bailed out the banks so they should bail me out when I run out of money.” And…”In the end everything will take care if itself.” In other words the taxpayers will take care of Mark because he didn’t plan for his future. This is why the taxpayers are already supporting the 49% of the country that do not pay taxes, but they still want their 55 inch TVs, Lexus cars and in Mark’s case, a Gibson guitar.

  • Mike

    At my age of 59 the important things in life can not be bought. Good health ,the love of family and friends, and yes incredible sunrises,sunsets and rainbows. I am trying to save every penny I can so I may continue to enjoy these things with the ones I love at retirement. Time passes so fast. Even a squirrel saves up for times of uncertainty.

  • Mark

    Hi all:

    I had waited until someone responded to this kind of thinking. I want to apologize for the small minded post to this article.

    The truth is I was thinking why I am being conscientious when it comes to money. I really want to buy a home, but at the same time while the economy has been turbulent, I want to raise enough for a down payment and another year’s worth for rainy day savings. It has been difficult because there are social pressures. You see people with 3 kids, a house, and a nice car and you wonder, how the hell are they doing it.

    I am conscientious when it comes to buying big ticket items, but when I see others with materials, you tend to wonder what am I doing wrong that I can’t “keep up with the Joneses.”

    Anyway, thank you all for posting…and giving me feedback. I thought I was weird, but you all make it make more sense.