Here’s a story:
Once there was a man who went to websites. He had a habit of putting things in a shopping cart, often dozens and dozens of items.
But he would rarely buy anything.
Eventually, he would just leave a website with his shopping cart still loaded with items he truly liked. He would leave a site feeling satisfied, glad he did not find shopping to be entertaining, and pleased he had not spent anything.
Here’s a question:
This man is:
- Just spending money responsibly
- An Ebenezer Scrooge wannabe
- A mental trickster
What’s the right answer? (See at the end.)
Well, that depends on you. How you view such a brief story depends on whether or not you are yourself more of a spendthrift or more of a tightwad. Neither is necessarily an insult. Think of it this way: If spending money is easy for you, you’re probably a spendthrift. If parting with money is almost painful, you’re probably a tightwad. (Obviously.)
Note that about 60% of people are neither, falling into a middle category. These people are largely spared the same intensity of pain or pleasure that comes with spending money. In terms of living happily without spending too much or too little, maybe this is the best place to be.
Researchers have published on this subject, and their academic work is easily found online. When I think about spendthrifts and tightwads, it’s more about the emotional conundrum of spending money.
Humans have basic urges for novelty and excitement. Money is part of most of these urges. But if you spend money on all the things you want, you will likely spend faster than you earn. You will probably rely on credit, and then debt likely starts to pile up, faster and faster with compounded interest. (Sound like any countries you know?)
In fact, whole industries exist to manipulate human sentiments along these lines–they satisfy their urge for novelty by acquiring new customers the way they hope those customers will rush to acquire new things and become indebted.
Since our basic urges and instincts are not going to change, we have to create workarounds to ensure they don’t cause us problems. We have to employ defensive psychology.
Returning to the above story, this man clearly derived some benefit from this activity. It was almost like he got rid of the impulse to buy something he wanted without spending money.
True, by going through the motions of purchasing without actually buying anything, by having a system in place to which he was committed, he satisfied the inner craze for the novel and exciting while ultimately allowing a cooler head to prevail.
He saw the time spent not as wasted time, but as usefully spent. He knew he was building up his self-control and that practice has a compound interest of its own.
So, what’s the right answer?
He’s a mental trickster!
He found a workaround that worked for him, which meant he and his wallet lived happily ever after.