Power of Mindfulness over bad financial decision making

Using mindfulness

Power of Mindfulness over bad financial decision making.

If you’ve ever persisted with a dead-end job or loveless relationship or a university degree you regret starting in the hope it will somehow improve, or ‘chased your losses’ by doubling down, you might want to pay attention.

Maybe you’ve endured reading a novel you hated from the first 3 chapters or stayed through a movie just because you bought tickets – despite the fact you would rather be anywhere else.

Have you ever done something similar with money? Plunged money into a stock, a small business or tried your hand at Foreign Currency trading, something you didn’t understand? Hung onto that car for too long when it’s cost you a fortune already?

All these actions, and anything else where we ‘throw good money after bad’, are examples of a famous economic principle called the ‘sunk-cost fallacy’ which can be applied to life in general.

It’s the tendency to continue with an irrational and often risky course of action not based on the likely outcome, but because we don’t want to ‘waste’ what are unrecoverable costs and time – aka the ‘sunk-costs’.

It’s a very human response to the loss to try even harder to win, sometimes to avoid feelings of guilt or inadequacy, or even just fear of ‘looking bad’.

But at worst ego, politics and emotional decision-making can cause people to double or triple their financial losses, causing huge financial and emotional stress for individuals and their families.

In the cold light of day, it’s not rational, but who hasn’t done something like this? More importantly, how do we stop this apparent madness?

Researchers Andrew Hafenbrack, Zoe Kinias, and Sigal Barsade published their work, ‘Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation’, Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias in the Journal of Psychological Science in 2013.

In the research, the results suggest that increased mindfulness reduces the tendency to allow unrecoverable prior costs to influence current decisions.

“Meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion,” Kinias wrote in the journal. “The reduced negative emotion [then] facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.” Mindfulness does have some power over bad financial decision making!

In another study, from Elsevier’s journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2007, found “mindfulness is associated with less severe gambling outcomes”.

Chad Lakey, Keith Campbell, Adam Goodie (University of Georgia) and Kirk Warren Brown (Virginia Commonwealth University) concluded their findings.

They wrote, “are hopeful in suggesting that the greater attention to and awareness of ongoing internal and external stimuli that characterizes mindfulness may represent an effective means of mitigating the impulsive and addictive responses and intemperate risk-attitudes of individuals with problem gambling.”

They concluded: “In this light, mindfulness may help to lessen the grip of automatic thoughts, affective reactions, and behaviour patterns.”

Research into the specific benefits of mindfulness is ongoing but it seems clear that a regular mindfulness practice can have powerful positive effects on dysfunctional decision-making around money and reduce financial stress.

Shop till you Drop

Shop till you Drop

Shop till you Drop.

We are still on holidays, right? Well the majority of us are enjoying the holidays somewhere with our family and friends.  The hangover from Christmas and New Year is all but over, but one hangover that hasn’t left us is our credit card bill from Christmas and the so-called holiday ‘sales’, financial stress looms.

Chances are we still can be engaged in the frenzy of ‘The Stocktake SALE’, ‘The CLEARANCE SALE’, ‘Super Daily Deals’, ‘50 months interest free, no deposit, no interest (read full terms)’, ‘It’s the Season to SAVE BIG’, ‘After Christmas SALE and CLEARANCE’, etc.

That clever marketing pressure can flick a switch in our brains where we go into a kind of ‘trance’, handing over our credit cards, tapping away now in a cashless society on auto-pilot to suppress those logical thoughts of ‘we really shouldn’t be spending so much’.

According to BetaBait.com (a website helping start-ups connect with early adopters), 88 percent of the total impulse purchases are created primarily because the items are on sale.

Rather than purchasing useful or necessary items, impulse shoppers buy primarily because it puts them in a better mood. In addition, many impulse purchases are made because people feel that they can’t pass up an extremely attractive offer.  Retailers know this all too well and exploit it.

So, what do we do about it?

In a recent interview by Money and Life last month, I was asked to identify some helpful tips to break the cycle of spending and debt.

Dealing with the stress of debt and Christmas

BetaBait.com also found that when people shop with the purpose of buying immediate needs or forgotten items, the rate of compulsive buying falls by 53 percent.

Exactly how much do we spend on our credit cards?

The Australian Retailers Association expected Australians to spend $50 billion between mid-November and Christmas Eve. Aussie shoppers were tipped to spend a further $18 billion nationwide between Boxing Day and 15 January 2018.

According to ARA executive director, Russell Zimmerman, the jump is being driven by online retail. “With Amazon’s recent Australia launch, we are certain that online retail will be a driving force for post-Christmas sales with the ARA and Roy Morgan forecasting the ‘Other Retailing’ category to increase by more than four percent this year.”

Gumtree survey, which has found that Aussies are expecting to spend a staggering $10 billion dollars on Christmas presents alone, equating to more than $700 on gift giving per person.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Gumtree research also found that almost 9 out of 10 Australians (86 percent) find Christmas puts a strain on their finances, with buying Christmas gifts dubbed as the biggest cause (66%) of this pressure.

The annual consumer survey by US company Statista found shoppers expected to spend an average of US6 on Christmas gifts alone in 2017, not counting other holiday costs and sales spending. This is a massive jump from the 2016 average of US$752.

In 2017, Christmas retail sales are forecast to grow to about 680.4 billion U.S. dollars; a 3.8 percent increase from 2016. Net result, Americans seem to be in a generous mood of giving more this year.  Does the Trump effect have anything to do with this?

In Australia, the Credit Card Debt Clock is ticking away and ticking upwards.  The MoneySmart clock shows how much Australians owe on credit cards. With around $32 billion owing, that’s an average of around $4,200 per cardholder. https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/borrowing-and-credit/credit-cards/credit-card-debt-clock

In the US, Americans have now hit a scary milestone, the highest credit card debt in U.S history.  According to the Federal Reserve, Americans had US$1.02 trillion in outstanding revolving credit in Oct 2017. When it comes to individual households, the average American family owes US$8,377.

For the first time since the Great Recession, lenders have given more consumers with sub-prime, or below average, credit scores, access to credit cards, but they are giving them lower spending limits, according to the credit reporting agency TransUnion.

So, what does this impulse spending all mean to our Financial Wellbeing

Answer: Financial Stress.

Financial Mindfulness conducted a survey on Financial Stress in Australia and found 1 in 3 Australians suffer Financial Stress.

The results of this press release appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Standard.

Marian Russell, one of Financial Mindfulness Facebook followers shared her personal experience on financial stress in the Sydney Morning Herald article.

New research is constantly being released on the impact financial stress is having on our financial wellbeing and general health worldwide.

According to the European Society of Cardiology, research recently presented at the 18th Annual Congress of the South African Heart Association, significant financial stress is associated with a 13-fold higher odds of having a heart attack.

So how can we get through the holidays not regretting our spending, not dreading the bloated repayments to come, then show up to work without that nagging sense of fear that comes from surviving with financial stress?

The answer lies in applying the principles of mindfulness – the proven practice of moment-by-moment awareness – to our finances. It means training our minds to slow down and make decisions that we won’t regret later.

An Australian start-up – Financial Mindfulness – is developing a financial stress reduction program designed to revolutionise the way we think and behave with our money. In the process, we can stay within our means and feel better about ourselves by saying goodbye to the worry of money.

Find your pulse, stop impulse buying

Retirement Orange

Find your pulse, stop impulse buying

Who hasn’t indulged in a little retail therapy from time to time, especially after a shocking day at work, or an argument with your partner?

It often seems like a good time to buy a pair of new shoes perhaps, go to a movie or buy an album, a bottle of wine, a therapeutic massage to de-stress or even sign up to a gym membership.

So it can feel a little impulsive to spend money we haven’t budgeted on, so what? On the surface it seems like we are taking care of ourselves: doing something to comfort ourselves to deal with the anger or frustration of having our feelings trampled, or not living up to our own or someone else’s expectations.

According to a poll of 1003 consumers by US website creditcards.com, five out of six American admit to impulse buying. One in five people had spent more than US$1000 on impulse, which rose to one in three for people earning over US$75,000.

Spending money impulsively can make you ‘feel better’ and ‘more alive’. It can certainly seem exciting, and it’s hardly as reckless as taking drugs or gambling, right?

But it can be a serious problem if this is something we begin to regularly, or with expensive items, as a way of coping. And let’s face it, jobs and relationships – and life in general – can be stressful for extended periods.

Fortunately there are plenty of strategies to manage your impulse buying urges –according to BetaBait.com (a website helping start-ups connect with early adopters) you are much less likely to buy on impulse if you plan your shopping trip or walk to the shops rather than drive.

It found that sales are a trigger for impulse spenders (a staggering 88 per cent of impulse buys are items “on sale” – even if you didn’t need that item). It also said impulse spending often happens when you feel “angry, stressed, guilty or bored”.

Let’s consider that last point: when you feel “angry, stressed, guilty of bored”. Anyone would admit the issues making us angry, stressed, guilty and bored – or sad, or ashamed, or lonely – are not solved by a bottle (or a case) of wine, or upgrading computer or bike or car, or booking a holiday or seeing a movie.

Chances are we are just escaping feelings which will overwhelm us again in a few hours or days.

Working through complex and difficult problems is of course not easy. But we also forget what a hugely painful thing financial stress is. Ask yourself honestly, is your impulse buying adding to your financial stress?

Financial worries are now accepted as a leading cause of stress in people’s lives throughout the western world.

“Member financial wellness, engagement and measurable behaviour change is what we are aiming for. Members learn through awareness and education to build sustainable healthy habits.” says Financial Mindfulness Founder & CEO, Andrew Fleming.