Bank Notes 

Does money get between you and ‘A Satisfied Mind’?

Does money stand between you and a satisfied mind?There are few songs that have been recorded more times by a wider range of artists than “A Satisfied Mind.”

Written by Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes and made famous in 1955 by Porter Wagner, it has since become a country and western standard. Today, there are at least 34 different versions of the song performed by some of the biggest names in American music, including Gram Parsons, Joan Baez, Lucinda Williams and Bob Dylan.
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Imagining your future self, continued

Visualizing yourself living with today's decisions 40 years from now can helpLast week I wrote about a study that suggested visualizing your future self is a good way to get motivated to save for the future. I had a chance to speak to Hal Hershfield, marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and one of the authors of the study, about what his work means for all of us trying to whip our finances into shape.

First off, if you have a hard time caring about that wrinkled old person you’ll one day become, you’re not alone. A lot of research suggests that most people have a really hard time prioritizing their financial future over their present wants and needs, Herschfield says.

“One of the reasons why people fail to save in a way that puts themselves in a better position in the future is they fail to feel connected to that distant self who will exist down the line,” Herschfield says. “They fail to vividly imagine what their future selves will want and desire and need, and it’s much easier to think about what you need and desire today.”

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 Frugal Living 

Supermarket Psychology (and a few insider tricks)

View from inside a supermarket shopping cartThe Economist is known for its deep analysis and heavy topics, but I found this article about supermarkets and the science of shopping . The first time I heard about supermarket psychology was when someone explained to me that the most appealing products were always shown at eye level. When the product is placed at eye level, you are more prone to picking it up and subsequently buying it. That’s only the beginning.

If there’s one lesson to be learned after reading this article, it’s that supermarkets are one big maze and we’re the rats running through them.

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 Personal Finance 

Pay It Forward & Treat Everyone Like A Good Friend

The general idea of “pay it forward” is one that’s been discussed very often on the Internets but finds its origins back in the days of Benjamin Franklin, if not earlier (and simply not recorded). In general, the idea is that you do a good deed for someone else and then that person does it for someone else and then that person (or multiply it and do three good deeds)… you get the idea. There’s no expectation of return or anything like that, you just keep the good love flowing. I believe this Heineken commercial is a play off that idea (or it’s just a good analogy):

I think we need to extend the idea and simply treat everyone as if they were a good friend. Good friends do favors for each other without any expectations of a return. Good friends treat each other with respect and give each other grief. If you treat everyone like a friend and they do the same, the world would be a better place.

Time to grab a beer!

 Personal Finance 

TED Videos: Ariely on Cheating, Gilbert on Value Miscalculation

From time to time you’ll see me post links to videos from (Schwartz on incentives, Wallace on buying happiness, Lee on American Chinese food). I find a lot of their videos to be absolutely fascinating. Today I watched two videos I wanted to share with you all, one from a behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, and another from a psychologist, Dan Gilbert.

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The Adolescent Brain Is Hardwired For Debt

Last Friday, my wife and I went to the Maryland Science Center to see the Body Worlds 2 exhibit. Body Worlds is an exhibit in which cadavers, properly donated, are plastinized (essentially turned into a plastic-like material through a “plastination” process). It’s a really unreal experience seeing actual bodies, which look like plastic, all opened up, in mid-motion, for all to see but it was certainly worth the price of admission.

Body Worlds 2 focused heavily on the brain, our little three pound nerve center and the little orb controls everything we do. One interesting quote from the exhibit, and one that I felt tied most closely with that of our soaring debt, was this one:

The Adolescent Brain: The immature pre-frontal cortex, the last region of the brain to develop, may be responsible for an increased desire for speed, danger and rebellion, and an indifference to planning and priorities.

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Don’t Let Fear Make Decisions

A little over four months ago, I left a comfortable, well-paying job that I was quite competent in doing, for the unpredictable, self-employed route of professional blogger. Professional blogging is a lot like many professional sports, you have a handful of rockstar performers getting a ton of headlines, a ton of money and you have the rest squeaking by. Check out this Fortune piece, dated 1998, on #100 ranked tennis player Jack Waite. He’s the 100th best tennis player in the world and his take home page, after expenses and taxes, was less than three thousand dollars. That’s rough.

So, was I destined to be a rockstar or would I be content as one of the rest? I, of course, thought I was going to be a rockstar. As my wife says jokingly, and often, I probably would do well to sell off some of my self-confidence (she used another word) for my sake and hers. Despite the long odds, I left my job, and the predictability and the comfort, and haven’t looked back. When I left, I was scared. I was really really really scared.

To give you an idea of how scared, it was a lot like when I climbed up the two and a half story ladder to inspect our roof after it was replaced. In the case of the roof, I really had no choice. There’s no way in the world we were going to spend four grand on a roof and not inspect it with our own eyes (I did and the roof was as expected) but in climbing up that roof I learned one thing: things are never as bad as you think they are. As I climbed the ladder, I quickly realized that the most unstable point was about the middle. Once I got past the middle, the roof helped stabilize the ladder and it stopped bowing and shaking as much. Fear sharpened my senses, made me more cautious, but it didn’t change my decision. That’s what fear should do.

So, here I was leaving a job that I liked in order to do a job that I also liked, but one that lacked as much predictability and comfortability, if that’s a word (it’s not). I was so afraid of pulling the trigger, despite all the signs saying it could be possible, that I just put off thinking about leaving for at least six months. My wife and I talked about it off and on and she was supportive, but it took an epiphany before I could think about it rationally.

I realized I was more afraid of working the next forty years of my life and wondering “what if?” than I was of blogging full-time and failing. Then I used my fear of failure to hone in on a plan that would, at the very least, give me confidence that everything is progressing as it should be.

So how are things four months later? I love it but it’s still scary. There’s a certain bit of comfort in taking direction from someone else. If your boss tells you to do this and it’s the wrong thing (wrong as in bad decision, not ethically wrong), then the responsibility and the blame falls on your boss’ shoulders. If you are the boss, the burden is on you not to mention the burden of figuring out what it is you’re supposed to do. That freedom is very exciting but also very demanding.

I’d also like to thank all the folks who read this site regularly. It is because of you that I was even able to have a decision four months ago and you all keep me honest. Much thanks. Please continue to email me with comments, questions, sites you’ve found interesting, articles you thought I should check out, anything in the world, I’ll read it and try to get back to you.

So moral of the story, fear isn’t a reason not to do something or not to consider something. This blogging thing may not work out in the end but at least I’ll have tried, right?


$19.95 Pricing Explained

There’s an interesting Scientific American article out regarding Why Things Cost $19.95 and it delves deeper into a concept most people understand and generally regard as true. I always had thought that the purpose of pricing something at $19.95 or $19.99 rather than $20.00 was because it seemed psychologically “much cheaper” despite an actual difference of a few cents. While that may still be true, the article in Scientific American seems to paint a picture in which the impact is more subtle. If the original price is in round numbers and we try to guess the wholesale cost, our guess will be far lower than if the item were originally priced a few cents off. The $20.00 price puts our “increments” in whole dollars whereas a $19.95 price puts our “increments” in cents. The mental anchor, whether it’s a round or not-round number, really set the stage for how we guess.

To be honest, I never bought the concept that $19.95 seemed psychologically cheaper than $20.00 but this explanation seems far more plausible. If your eyes see a $20.00 item and your brain unconsciously guesses it’s worth $18.00, you’re less likely to buy it (because you want a good deal). You’re more likely to buy it if your eyes first see $19.95 and then your brain is tricked into thinking it’s worth $19.45, you are paying less of a premium (despite you actually not knowing how much of a premium you’re paying). The trick is far more subtle!

To extend this further, and this is now based on my experience (or perhaps I read this somewhere a long time ago) and not the article, I find that the Wal-Mart pricing structure is intended to give shoppers a sense that they are getting a deal. Now that people are tuned into $19.99 being actually $20 (or more, given sales tax), they gone to weird pricing like $19.43 and $19.57, because I think people see odd numbers and think discount! $19.99 is regular price, but if it’s $18.76, it probably means it’s cheaper because another retailer would probably price it at $19.95. I don’t know if this is actually what happens but I bet that’s what they’re banking on.

What do you all think?

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