Behavioral Hacks and the Gig Economy: 4 Tactics for Financial Wellness

When it comes to finances, freelancers and other gig economy workers have it tough. Not only do we struggle with unpredictable cash flow, but we also have to deal with our own benefits and insurance.

Yet, while it may be stressful at times, there are things you can do to modify your money habits and boost your financial wellness.

Behavioral science, or the study of why humans and animals do what they do, can help us better understand our behaviors and how they play into our money matters. Take a look at Common Cents. A financial research lab at Duke University, Common Cents conducts in-depth studies to help low- and moderate-income households in the U.S. achieve financial wellness. From their research, they’ve garnered some insights into behavioral science and financial health. For instance, you can use a money-saving app to meet your financial goals.

Here are 4 other ways you can change your behaviors to help you slay your money woes.

1. Label Your Savings Accounts

This may seem like a minor thing, but behavioral research reveals that simply labeling a savings account increased total deposits in Ghana by 31.2 percent – after only nine months.

Why not try this? Just coming up with simple labels for your savings accounts can help boost your savings. For example, I have labels for my specific accounts for self-employed taxes and emergency savings. I also have a gift fund, “fun” fund, art fund (to buy and make art stuff), retirement fund, and more recently, a house fund. This helps me stay motivated.

Here’s another tip: you can have fun with your labels to remind you of saving for things that matter to you. When I was younger, I used silly labels for my savings accounts, like ‘Buddha Statue Fund” and “Guinea Pig Fun House” fund. That bit of silliness made saving money more enjoyable.

2. Match Payment Dates with Paychecks

Research suggests that most people pay their bills when the paychecks roll in. Then, they spend the rest of their money right up until the next payday. Yet, this isn’t so easy when you’re a gig economy worker. Why? If you’re in this boat, you likely get paid different amounts at different times from various clients. (Cue #facepalm.)

To help you pay your rent and bills on time, try assigning paychecks to specific bills. For instance, you can earmark money from your biggest retainer client toward your rent, student debt and credit card bill. The smaller amounts that you receive at random times? This can go toward your savings and discretionary spending. Or, if you’re a Chime Member and enrolled in direct deposit, you can get paid up to two days early. Score!

If you’re a part-time gigger, use the money from your main 9-to-5 job toward rent and bills. And try putting the essentials on autopay. The Common Cents report found that millennials were about 10 percent more satisfied with recurring transactions than non-recurring ones.

3. Add Friction in the Right Places

From a consumer psychology standpoint, friction is anything that makes it harder for someone to spend money. That’s why retailers do all they can to make shopping – both in stores and online – as painless and quick as possible. To get you to spend more, retailers remove these points of friction. For instance, a point of friction while shopping in a store is having trouble locating an item. After scouring the aisles, you may get frustrated and leave without buying anything. So, retailers do all they can to make it easy for you to locate things and drop them in your shopping cart.

To make it hard for you to spend those hard-earned dollars, try adding in your own friction. Want to keep a healthy reserve for your emergency fund? Sock it away in a separate account. Out of sight, out of mind. And, if you’re wary about spending too much on happy hour and meals out, try setting aside a certain amount each week toward discretionary spending. Then, spend only this amount on your dining out.

4. Automate, Automate, Automate

While you should squirrel away some of your income, doing so can be mentally taxing. Add to that deciding how much to save and this can induce anxiety. Once you finally settle upon the amount to save, you’ll then have to figure out how to transfer money between accounts. We’ve all been there.

Auto-save to the rescue.

Automating your savings is one of the most painless ways to save money. Why? Well, for starters, the weight of decision-making doesn’t fall in your hands. And, because it’s all done automatically, you’re much more likely to actually save.

According to the 2017 Common Cents Lab Annual Report, automatic savings aren’t mentally accounted for as earnings. “Automatic withdrawal for savings has such a powerful effect that people can forget that the money was even earned. As a result, they don’t mentally account for this money as part of their paycheck,” stated the report. Plus, when the “opt-in” is the default, versus the “opt-out”, people tend to save more.

The bottom line: if you can automate your savings, you should do it. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra cash on hand, start with just a few bucks each week. Chances are that you won’t even miss it. I remember starting out by saving $20 every week. That’s five coffees or two lunches during the week. While I didn’t miss spending that dough on everyday expenditures, after a year I was $1,040 richer. That’s a thousand bucks I could use toward a fun vacay, getting a tech upgrade, or holiday spending.

Small Changes Lead to Big Wins

Indeed, insights from the eye-opening field of behavioral economics can help you boost your financial health. And, if you’re a freelancer working in the gig economy, you can start improving your own financial habits by adopting the 4 steps here. Before long, you’ll be hitting your money goals and bulking up your savings account!

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