The Why 52: Why am I so bad at saving money?

By Dan Monheit 14.10.22

Question submitted by Liam, Clayton

Oh no, Liam. If you’re turning to the author of a quirky newsletter for help in reaching your long term financial goals, I hold grave concerns for your bank balance. That said, I take my responsibility as author of said newsletter seriously, so here it goes…

I know you wanted to save. You know you wanted to save. So how is it that in the last week you managed to fork out for three dinners out, concert tickets and an on sale (but still frightfully expensive) designer leather jacket?

Maybe the calculations in your budget are off. Perhaps a hacker is slowly, stealthily chipping away at your savings. Or maybe, just maybe, your long term goals never stood a chance.

Temporal Discounting

Temporal Discounting refers to our tendency to reduce the value of things that are further into the future, while overvaluing things in the here and now. The more distant and hazier a future benefit (say, a summer six pack or a comfortable retirement), the more easily we trade them for things that bring us pleasure in the moment (hello cronut and leather jacket).

Research into online grocery shopping by the aptly named Milkman, Rogers & Bazerman (2009) identified a striking correlation between basket healthiness and order delivery dates.

When orders were made with a delivery date of a week out or more, the baskets were far more likely to contain enough fresh fruit, leafy greens and healthy bits and pieces to make even the most discerning mother proud.

However, as the delivery dates edged closer and closer to ‘now’, short term interests took over. Healthy snacks were suddenly switched out for ice cream, chocolates and other indulgent ‘sometimes foods’ with reckless abandon.

Unfortunately, this research confirms something we’ve all long suspected: our logical, rational, long term selves are no match for our emotional, demanding short term ones.

When it comes to saving for the future, tomorrow’s cars, holidays and dream homes are all at risk when something fun, yummy or thrilling is on the ‘right now’ menu. It’s no wonder that ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ has become an option for almost everything, and the government has had to make it compulsory for people to save for their own retirement.

For brands that meet short term needs, go pedal to the medal on instant gratification, safe in the knowledge that your audience is wired to respond. For those in the business of longer term benefits (superannuation, higher education, sustainability), look for — and if you need to, create — short term hooks, goals or benefits that help scratch the itch we feel today.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why we re-watch old movies here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Temporal Discounting in episode 8 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to AskDan@hardhat.com.au

Want more?

Check out Mi-3’s write up on DocuSign’s Andrea Dixon and Dan Monheit’s keynote presentation at the LinkedIn B2B Next summit stage.

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