I just can’t control it any longer
Calling into the supermarket to pick up a few necessities after a hard day at the office, you weaken and buy the triple chocolate muffin cunningly displayed near the checkout. It’s your treat. You deserve it.
People with less self-control may be more influenced by this pattern of spending more freely when our financial defences have been weakened and we are tired – but experts suggest nobody is immune. Maintaining self-control becomes more difficult the longer it is required. Like a muscle being exercised, it tires after repeated use. Psychologists call this “ego depletion” and it has been shown to affect the way people spend.
Occasions when more people succumb might be in the lead up to Christmas or other large festivals, when family gatherings, shopping and other social events converge.
I’m not usually impulsive
Academics Kathleen Vohs and Ronald Faber examined the effect by putting people in a situation where they were required to exercise self-control, then asking them to carry out various tasks. Examples included guessing the prices of expensive products and how much they would buy while shopping.
A separate group were asked to carry out the same tasks but were not required to do the self-control part of the test beforehand.
The duo’s 2007 report found that those in the group required to exercise self-control (the “ego depleted” group) were more likely to value the expensive products at a higher price and they also said they would spend more while shopping than those in the other (non-depleted) group.
In a separate study, Vohs and others found that simply being tired was not sufficient to break down self-control.
But self-control is widely associated with levels of tiredness.
So even those in the eZonomics poll who say they are not tempted to spend more freely when tired could still benefit from being aware of the potential weakness.
To help maintain control, it may pay to avoid making important financial decisions after having already made another important decision, even on an unrelated matter. The available pool of resources for self-control and decision making may already have been depleted.
For less important decisions, such as shopping, waiting till the next day may be worthwhile but if that cannot be avoided, consider using a shopping list to dodge the triple chocolate muffin.