Does having too many choices make us less frugal?
Yesterday I noticed this article on NPR, which begins by stating that “Scientists already know people’s brains can be overwhelmed by choice, say when shopping for electronics, detergent — even chocolate. Too many options can lead to much confusion, often followed by indecision or snap judgments” (Neighmond, 2010).
The article talks about a study that was done to test the same idea as it applies to dating-would people with lots of options for potential mates make decisions that were as well-considered as those with fewer options? Not surprisingly, the study found that when faced with a wider dating pool, people tended to make initial decisions based solely on appearance. When given fewer choices, they focused on other aspects of a person as well.
To complete the circle, does the same thing apply to being frugal? When faced with a multitude of options as to what kind of a product to buy in a super store, do we instinctively pick up the one with the prettiest wrapper? And if it’s true that we get confused by too many choices, can limiting our choices help us to make more rational, frugal decisions?
It seems obvious. Of course we make snap judgments based on appearance; otherwise companies wouldn’t put all the money they do into marketing their products. First impressions matter. But does knowing that make it any easier to avoid falling into the trap?
I know that I’m influenced by the appearance of things, and I automatically gravitate towards certain objects because of their packaging. A good example for me is breakfast cereal; I like muesli or granola with lots of fruit and nuts. There is a large variety of this type of cereal in the store where I normally do my grocery shopping, and a wide range of prices. A couple of them, on the higher-priced end, come in very “natural” looking boxes, plain brown cardboard with only a funky font and a dash of color to liven them up. I’m drawn to these cereals, which also have a little window to see the cereal through. I’ve bought them before. And yet, I also know that I don’t prefer the taste to the generic, store-brand version.
Does knowing that I’m being manipulated by advertising make it any easier to make the more frugal choice? Not always. What if I did all my shopping at a smaller store, one where I know those higher-priced options aren’t available? Would that make it easier to stick to my frugal guns? Probably, and yet I continue to tempt myself with the possibilities. Part of being frugal for me is having the self-discipline to make financially healthy choices, and I’m realizing that there is a lot I need to change about my shopping habits to make it easier for me to do that.
What about you? Do you find it’s easier to be frugal when faced with a smaller number of options? Do you make decisions about where to shop based on choice?