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How Language Impacts Your Saving Habits

The U.S. is vastly different than China.

Few folks realize the deep impact culture has on your thoughts and actions.

There is a strong link between culture and language. Your language guides how you think about yourself and how you save.

In the U.S. we define ourselves through individual traits. For example, I’m a fast reader… I’m a top golfer… or I’m a great driver.

But in China, you would hear collectivist replies. For example, my class scored well… or my team finished in 2nd place. Asian cultures focus on collectives or groups. While western cultures focus on “me, myself and I.” This is just one of many differences.

There is a link between the language you speak and how much you save. Language guides your thoughts about the future.

In English, anytime you think about the future you must change your verb. For example, it snowed… it is snowing… it will snow. In Chinese you would hear…  yesterday it snowed… today it snowed… tomorrow it snowed.

English forces you to think about time differently. Changing the verb constantly distances you from the future. It makes the future feel different than the present. This makes it harder to save.

In a futureless language, like Chinese, you speak about the present and future identically. This nudges you to feel about the present and future in the same way. It makes it easier to save.

A behavioral economist, Keith Chen, tested this theory. He found futureless speaking countries on average save five percent more of GDP each year. It’s a small number but over decades it compounds.

He also found futureless language speakers are 30% more likely to save in any year. They will retire with 25% more in savings. And they’re about 22% less likely to smoke.

In the video below, Keith Chen explains his research and findings…

Your language impacts your life in many ways. Western cultures build a big wall between the present and the future. As a result, bad saving and bad health habits appear.

 

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