Photo: Illustration Ashley Siebels
We’re spending too much money (begone Amazon Prime, you evil immediate gratification enabler!) and part of the reason is it’s just so incredibly easy.
Where there was once only the option of making a day of heading to a store and ponying up your hard-earned cash for a well-researched or much-needed item, you can now scroll, click, and have something brand new and shiny delivered to your door in under an hour. In the recent book, “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter,” behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and co-author Jeff Kreisler break down some of the reasons we’re just so stupid about spending.
In an interview with CNN Money about trying to fix our spending, Ariely said, “We can wait for someone to solve it for us, or you can try to do your own financial hacking yourself.”
Here are some spend less hacks worth thinking about:
1) Stop making it so easy
If buying that needless widget meant there was more of a pain point involved in the process, we might not do it quite that often or quite that easily. But since it’s easier than ever to buy, we do. Try disconnecting auto pay from your accounts. Or give yourself a new accountability tool. What if you had to post every single spend on your Google calendar and highlight it in red? Spend shaming might really become a thing.
2) Highlight your savings not spending
Ariely mentions that while we share every detail of our shopping lives online or with friends, we don’t spend that much time talking about how much we’ve saved or invested. Maybe it’s time to seriously change that collective conversation.
3) Stop going digital
Believe it or not, while paying your bills automatically may seem like the best approach, you might be making it way too easy to overspend. In the CNN Money article, Ariely advises cutting down on digital spending and instead starting to pay attention to larger costs. Another tip he offers is using a pre-paid debit card and loading it up on Mondays, so you can best prepare for the week ahead.
But it’s not all bad news on the spending front. Personal finance expert Kyle Nakatsuji, CEO and founder of auto insurance startup Clearcover, said that not all of us have become less mindful of how we spend; in fact, “in some ways, we’re more mindful of how we spend.”
“With advances in financial technology related to planning, budgeting and analysis, there’s an increasing amount of information available to help us make better money-saving decisions,” Nakatsuji says. But somehow, we don’t seem to be making those smarter decisions.
“These same kinds of advances have also made it easier than ever to spend money, and continue to spend it. Online shopping is a great example of this,” Nakatsuji said. “The root cause, however, is the decrease in transaction friction — think of Amazon’s one-click buy — the increasing ease of setting up products and services is a double-edged sword.”
Less stupid spending
Nakatsuji said that it isn’t only the luxuries that cause overspending:
“One place that’s typically overlooked is compulsory services, like insurance. Think of it as a different kind of ‘stupid spending.’ Most things people think of as ‘stupid’ are unnecessary purchases while we think it’s equally silly to overpay for things you’re required to have like car insurance. In fact, saving money on things you’re forced to purchase can create the financial freedom to rationally buy the other things you really want, meaning you’ll naturally make fewer bad decisions.”
Don’t blame it on Millennials
Though it can be easy to blame digital natives for rampant online spending habits, it isn’t quite that black or white (or lack of green). “I think spending habits vary more by the person than by demographic because people are intrinsically motivated in similar ways despite their age,” Nakatsuji said. “For me, it’s more about the personality than the group. You’ll find people across the different generations who place a high value on material goods or experiences (and therefore may spend more freely), just as you’ll find a mixed range of people who value frugality.”
For that reason, it’s also wise to try to spend less based on your personality type and spending inclinations, rather than the generational labels.