There’s a story that goes like this: Put a frog in a pot of hot water & it’ll jump out. Put it in a pot of lukewarm water and gradually turn up the heat, and it’ll sit there til it dies. The idea is that the frog won’t notice things are getting too hot for it until it’s much too late, because the increase is so gradual. Personally I think that story is more applicable to humans than frogs, but the idea can be used in a positive way too.
For example, take my 401(k) account. My aim is to eventually max it out, reaching the $17,500 limit. But that’s a huge amount. So I’m applying the frog-in-a-pot approach and increasing the amount that I contribute to my 401(k) a little bit at a time.
Increasing my contribution by a few percent when I got a raise was painless. I never saw the money, so I never missed it. But I’ve also been increasing it by a few percent every few months. It’s always a little bit of an adjustment each time my paycheck decreases, but since the decrease is so little, it’s relatively easy to adjust. After all, it seems like such a small amount. I can just eat out a little less, or find a way to make a tiny bit more money elsewhere.
I still have a long way to go before I reach the max, but doing it this way is so painless that I don’t even notice the increase in temperature.
It’s a lot easier to do it this way than it would be to go from cold (not contributing at all) to boiling hot (contributing the max). 1% at a time (or slightly more) will get you there, so consider putting yourself in lukewarm water.
Your retirement account & future self will thank you.