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By Matt Brownell
If you’re having trouble saving money, it might be because you have too many savings accounts.
That might sound counterintuitive, but it’s the conclusion of a study conducted recently by researchers at the University of Utah and the University of Kansas. They found that individuals with a single savings account wound up saving more than those who had multiple accounts.
“Utilizing work on motivated reasoning and fuzzy-trace theory, we suggest that multiple accounts engender fuzzy gist representations, making it easier for people to generate justifications to support their desired spending decisions,” the researchers write in the abstract for the paper, which appears in the May 2013 edition of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process. “However, a single account reduces the latitude for distortion and hinders generation of justifications to support desirable spending decisions.”
If that sounded like gibberish to you, author Promothesh Chatterjee puts in simpler language in a press release from the University of Kansas’ business school.
“Basically, people look for an excuse to spend, and vague information facilitates this,” he explains. “And having multiple accounts provides just enough vagueness to do the trick.”
Or to put it another way: If you’ve got four different accounts open, it might be easy to convince yourself that you’ve got a bunch in savings. If you have all of your savings in one account, it’s easy to see exactly how much — or how little — you have.
So does that mean you have to consolidate all of your accounts so that you can get realistic about your finances? Well, not necessarily. As Chatterjee points out, there are plenty of personal finance tools that can make your savings picture less “fuzzy.”
“You can at least try to reduce the vagueness of having money across multiple accounts by utilizing software and services that provide a consolidated view of all of your accounts in one place,” he suggests.