Making Frugal Choices: Do Looks Matter?

by Beth · 7 comments

in Thoughts On Frugality

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?


1 Molly April 21, 2010

Oh, I MUCH prefer to stop at smaller grocery stores with fewer choices – in particular, Aldi. There’s one brand of granola – if granola’s on the list, you can get the with raisins kind or the without raisins kind. That’s it.
It makes grocery shopping faster, easier, and far less stressful.

2 Annie Jones April 21, 2010

What having too many choices does for me is cause stress. Deciding which of 30 brands of shampoo, ten brands of sliced bread, or dozens of makes and models of automobiles to buy is stressful, time-consuming and unnecessary. Chances are that I won’t go with the cutest one or the one with the most bells and whistles. Chances are I’m going to pick the one that gives me the best value for the money or the one that is flat-out the cheapest.

Fewer choices, especially choices of quality, would make shopping much easier.
Considering something because of its appearance alone is a waste of my time, yet there’s no way around considering everything available because sometimes visual appeal, low pricing and quality workmanship do all come in the same package.
.-= Annie Jones´s last blog ..(Almost) Free Money!! =-.

3 Abigail April 21, 2010

I certainly gravitate toward nicer packaging — companies spend money on it because testing shows we're visual creatures. BUT the next thing I do is look at prices. So I don't think attractive packaging or too many choices makes as big a deal.

Even when there are a lot of choices, I scan price tags, locate the two or three that are most appealing based on price and go from there. Although, depending on the product, some preference may be given to items that have specific uses/ingredients/etc. In that case, packaging could come into play again because companies spend money trying to figure out which traits of a product to advertise boldly on the front. Even so, I try to pick up the other, cheaper item and see if it, also, has that feature.
.-= Abigail´s last blog ..Finding balance in debt reduction =-.

4 Laura April 21, 2010

As someone who has fallen prey to attractive packaging, I have to agree that too many choices can cause one to make poor or less frugal choices. Also, I think packaging, even so-called green packaging, has come to be seen as something of a status symbol, so even if it's not the most "attractive" in a conventional sense, it's still playing with our emotions.

Once I could accept the fact that no one else cared what brand of shampoo I was buying because they weren't watching me buy it or put it into my bathroom, or what brand of cereal I was buying, it's become easier to avoid the name and the packaging and go for the most frugal option. So these days I *choose* to shop at stores with fewer options, buy foods in bulk, and so forth, where packaging doesn't play into it quite so much. More money in my wallet is far more attractive than any packaging out there.
.-= Laura´s last blog ..Happy Birthday, Mr. Losing It! =-.

5 Dad is in the House April 21, 2010

I'm totally with Molly on Aldi, small selection, all at great prices. IKEA can be this way too. I find that, as a rule, places with big selections charge too much for even the low-end or store-brand products.
.-= Dad is in the House´s last blog ..Financial Management: Lessons Learned =-.

6 JP April 23, 2010

I find small stores expensive, but I seem to be able to filter out what I simply won’t buy. I usually buy the same things.

When our old van broke down, we decided to park it permanently. We’d actually been talking about it before. We have a car dealership one block away from our house. The others are much further.

Guess where we bought? We really like the vehicle, and its price. If we’d had other places to look, we might still be at it!

7 Simple in France April 23, 2010

I even ran across a study from Stanford University that said that price on wine could influence how good you thought it was when you tasted it. . .which does not seem to bode well for our ability to be impervious to packaging/marketing and make frugal choices. I buy most things in bulk though, when I can and my grocery stores tend to have fewer choices because I shop in organic shops and buy single ingredient items. (Flour, sugar, salt, oil). There are a few brands of flour available–but not hundreds like with chips or cookies.
.-= Simple in France´s last blog ..Where would you be without debt? =-.

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