How to trick yourself into spending less cash

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We’re all guilty of giving in to a friendly price tag or sale offer. We’ll order junk food when we could simply cook a nice meal instead.

In fact, studies have found that between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of purchases are impulse buys.

A lot of the time, we fall victim to smart sales tactics that play on our psychology. For instance, the reason we’d rather buy food than cook is a result of something called ‘delayed reward discounting’. We generally prefer immediate rewards to larger but delayed rewards.

And when shopping online and you see the ‘limited time offer’ or ‘only two left at this price’ notifications, and end up making a purchase. You’re giving in to the ‘scarcity principle’. These claims give you a sense of urgency.

There are many other psychological reasons we make poor spending decisions – but we can also use this same psychology to spend less. Here are some strategies that help.

1. Keep new notes

A study by the Journal of Consumer Research found that the physical appearance of money can override the influence of its denomination.

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This means, subconsciously, people tend to want to get rid of old, worn bills and take pride in holding crisp currency.

To make this work for you, consider creating a budget at the beginning of the month and when setting aside the cash for it, ask for new, large bills from your bank. And because it’s easier to give out smaller currencies, ask for Sh1,000 or Sh500 bills.

Additionally, whenever you can, gather your old notes and deposit them in a savings account.

2. Shop when stressed

Research has shown that the more relaxed physically and mentally shoppers are, the more willing they are to spend on products.

When we’re hassle-free, our brains don’t perceive threats, which, when it comes to spending, can see us overestimate a product’s value.

When shoppers were in a pleasant-but-not-so-serene state – like the somewhat preoccupied mode we’re in after work – they had a realistic sense of what things were worth, and spent up to 15 per cent less on an item.

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A bonus tip is shop on a weekday morning before work, and aside from just having the supermarket to yourself, your time-constrained self won’t buy more than intended.

3. Suck on a mint while you shop

Research shows that some retailers use the magic of smell to trick shoppers into spending more money. In fact, one study found that pumping coffee scents increased coffee purchases by 300 per cent.

Consider sucking on something mint-flavoured while you browse to block out scents that may move you towards impulsive buys.

4. Post visual reminders

Saving for something big, like a trip? Place a visual reminder in places you look at a lot. Saving for a house? Cut out inspiring home photos from magazines and then hang them on your wall.

Because they seem so far out of reach, saving for big goals can be difficult. Visualising them is a smart way to stay motivated.

You can even wrap a photo of your goal around your ATM card so that every time you take it out, you’ll think twice before using it. This helps take the emotional excitement out of buying and makes it a deliberate, cognitive process.

5. Stick to cash

Research shows that people spend significantly more when using credit or debit cards instead of cash. If you’re having trouble sticking to a budget, using cash is one sure way to help you commit to it. Because once the money is gone, the buying stops.

Psychologists have been studying the pain of paying for over a decade. And it turns out that the same parts of your brain that light up when you feel physical pain are the same ones that light up when you pay for something in cash. And the more a purchase hurts, the less people are willing to make it.

6. Stop spending your change

Most of us hate carrying coins around, so we tend to give them away or use them to buy things we don’t really need.

Here’s a better way to deal with change: every time you pay for something with cash and get coins back, put them in a jar. Let all that change accumulate and when your jar is full, take it to the bank and deposit it in your savings account.

7. Wait to make a purchase.

Create a mandatory waiting period for new purchases. Experts advise timelines of between a day and 30 days, or simply walking away and then coming back to an item a few minutes later.

This can help prevent any buyer’s guilt that you may have if you jump on a purchase too quickly.

If you don’t think you can bring yourself to not buy something, leave your wallet at home when you go shopping so you’re forced to think about any purchases you want to make.

You may find you’ll never go back for the item – partly due to laziness, partly because it was unnecessary.

8. Think of prices in terms of hours

If you work nine hours a day and get paid Sh30,000, you’re earning an average of Sh167 an hour.

So when you want to buy something, say a pair of shoes at Sh4,500, before dropping your bills, think about how many hours you’d need to work to earn that Sh4,500.

To afford the shoes, you’d need to clock about 27 hours of work — not counting taxes or other factors that reduce the size of your paycheque. Are you willing to trade 27 hours of your life for that pair of shoes? Sometimes just looking at purchases in a different way is what your brain needs to make the decision to keep looking for something a little cheaper.

9. Shop alone

“Unless you’re shopping specifically to split purchases with a friend, try to shop alone,” recommends author of The Simple Dollar, Trent Hamm.

“There are many more opportunities for impulsiveness with multiple people than there are with one person. A single person equipped with a planned shopping list has the least chance to slip an impulsive purchase into the cart, so go alone to save some money in the checkout aisle.”

10. Wear high-heeled shoes when you shop

This doesn’t really apply to all genders, but one recent study found that when consumers’ minds were focused on staying balanced, they were more likely to choose a mid-range product instead of a pricier or low-quality one.

If that sounds too uncomfortable, shopping after a yoga class or even after riding an escalator had the same effect, another study suggested.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of