Uncover Your Money Blindspots
Psychology questions to ask yourself about your finances.
Posted December 2, 2015
We all have cognitive and behavioral biases (see this giant list of 50 for an overview.) Many of the most common biases can affect how we spend, save, invest, earn, and communicate about money. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see how your biases might be affecting your spending patterns.
This is a good exercise to do with your partner if you’re married or in a long term relationship. Try answering the questions independently and then sharing what you answered. Ask your spouse / partner if they can think of anything you’ve forgotten to include on your list. Sometimes other people can see a blindspot that you don’t see yourself. It might sting a bit to be made aware of your pattern, but if you can tolerate that rather than get defensive, you’ll get further ahead.
The Minimizing Error
- In what areas of your life do you underestimate how much you spend? Common examples might be food shopping, alcohol, insurances, or recurring fees and subscriptions (such as credit card fees, ATM fees, magazines, Netflix.)
Tip: If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by a question, start by jotting down 1-3 examples and leave it at that for now.
- Are there any charges you completely forget to count the cost of? For example, an annual charge where you never think about the per month or per day cost of that service, and whether that’s good value to you.
What do you put in your “too hard basket?”
We all have things that are more within / outside our comfort zone. What do you avoid doing when it comes to money because you find it intimidating?
- You leave money in cash rather than invest it because you’re intimidated by investing.
- You don’t like calling companies. You get a promotional rate on your internet service for a year, and then don’t call in to ask for that rate to be extended.
In what circumstances do you get sucked into a sale?
Sales cause us to focus on the amount of the discount. We focus on what we’re “saving” rather than what we’re spending.
In what situations do you end up spending more than you would otherwise because of a sale or offer?
- You buy perishable food in bulk because it’s cheaper, but then end up throwing away half of it.
- You buy more on Amazon because you paid for Prime and want to “make the most of it” or at Costco or any other membership store, because you want to “maximize the value” from your membership.
- What types of marketing campaigns are you most vulnerable to? For example, “upsells.” You’re paying for the premium version of something because it’s only a little bit extra when the basic version would be totally fine. Another example, would be coupons that print at the register for a discount on future purchase or loyalty points that need to be spent within a certain time frame. What types of marketing are most effective on you personally?
Our behavioral biases are what marketers count on, particularly that we tend to repeat behavior we’ve done before. In what areas is inertia costing you money?
- You pay for something you don’t need to pay for at all. For example, you pay bank fees or foreign currency conversion fees when you use a credit card overseas, when there are options to completely avoid these fees.
- You use a premium or name brand of something but have never tried a generic or cheaper brand.
- What haven’t you cancelled that you intended to cancel when a trial offer ran out?
- What recurring costs do you have that you don’t give much scrutiny e.g., you’ve never checked if a medication you take would be cheaper at another pharmacy or using a discount program.
- What service providers do you continue to use even though you’re not 100% satisfied with the value you receive e.g., your mechanic or your dentist.
- You leave money in a bank account that earns no interest, even though interest bearing options are available. You focus on the fact the behavior change won't make much difference in the short term, without considering the long term.
Dr Alice Boyes is author of The Anxiety Toolkit (Perigee/Penguin Random House, 2015).
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