Willpower Fatigue and Money

Gif of man saying "I spend, like, 99% of my money on food" with the caption "impulse buying take out food when you're stressed be like:"

Have you noticed that as the day progresses, you become mentally tired and often start making poor choices and feeling cranky? Think about when you’re most prone to impulse buying. For example, you are more likely to reach for the takeout menu to order junk food when you have had a hard day at work. This happens because of willpower fatigue, sometimes called decision fatigue, choice fatigue, or decision exhaustion.

Your willpower is like a muscle; the more you use it, the more fatigue it gets. We make a lot of decisions daily. Every time you make a decision, you exercise your willpower muscle, which can get overwhelming. Ultimately, leading to poor decision-making and severe fatigue.  Studies show that people making tons of daily decisions will eventually get tired. They will then start defaulting to the easiest choice, which is not the best way when working towards achieving financial freedom.

Willpower fatigue also increases your likelihood of making poor moves with your money. When this fatigue kicks in, you may feel like you don’t have the mental capacity to deal with more decisions. This can lead to decisional paralysis or depleted self-control. Thus, causing you to avoid making certain choices entirely, going with the default option, or making ones that aren’t in line with your goals/values.

What is willpower fatigue?

Through his experiments, social psychologist Dr. Roy F. Baumeister concluded that our willpower is finite. The more challenging and stressful the day, the more decisions we have to make, and the faster we get to a point where it is tough to make any other good decisions. And this is when we start making unproductive and unhealthy choices. 

Simply put, willpower fatigue is the deterioration of our ability to make good decisions after long periods of constant decision-making. We don’t have unlimited resources of willpower. It gets drained as we use it repeatedly as the day continues.

Impact of willpower fatigue on our money

Fatigue will generally lead you to make poor money decisions. These include: 

  • It encourages impulse buying: A common form of willpower fatigue is impulse shopping. Willpower fatigue can leave a person vulnerable to sales and marketing strategies designed to time the sale. Most businesses are aware of this fact and take advantage of it.

For example, most grocery stores and supermarkets will place candy, baked goods, and other special deals near the registers. Because you’ve been making decisions in-store about what to buy, the brand, quantity, etc., you are less likely to resist quick deals and items near the register. How often have you added an item to your shopping basket that was not on your list? 

  • It leads to decision avoidance: When bills pile up, some people may leave them unopened and hidden in some drawer because they don’t want to deal with them. However, facing your reality is the starting point to making good decisions. Procrastination is another form of decision avoidance, where you put off making a decision for another day or until the need to make the decision disappears altogether.
  • It will lead you to ignore the relationship between price and quality. When you’re shopping, you constantly decide whether to purchase. You also face the decision between quality and price. Does the price increase outweigh the quality improvement? When willpower is low, you tend to only look at one factor. You choose the cheapest option, no matter how poor the quality, or go with the most expensive, regardless of how absurd it is.

How to overcome decision fatigue concerning money

  • Create a financial plan: A financial plan will help you better control your money. It will also guide decision-making even when you are experiencing willpower fatigue. Your financial plan should include short-, mid-, and long-term financial goals and a budget to help you achieve them.
  • Track spending: Tracking your expenses will ensure that you only spend money according to your budget and towards set financial goals. It will also make you more mindful of your spending, significantly reducing the urge to buy impulsively.
  • Reduce and automate decisions: Automating repetitive tasks like bill payment and savings is an excellent way to limit decisions. Delegate non-priority decisions at work to maximize your time at the office. The more decisions you can automate, the more willpower you can save.
  • Make strong commitments to pre-scheduled routines: Don’t wait till morning to decide whether you are going to the gym today. Instead, commit beforehand to a predictable schedule that takes no decision-making. Know that you always go at 9 am, and put your gym bag at the door the night before, so you grab it as you go. Similarly, packing a lunch in advance can reduce impulse buying take out food when your day gets busy.
  • Feed and rest your brain: Nurturing your brain will boost cognitive performance. So, eat nutritious food, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and take regular refreshing breaks from your desk every 60 to 90 minutes.
  • Simplify your life: Ever heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule? It states that about 80% of the results in your life come from 20% of the activities you do. So what 20% of activities in your life cause the 80% of results? Try to focus primarily on these and eliminate all the other eliminate all nonessential tasks and decisions. The less time you spend on unimportant things, the more willpower, energy, and time you have to spend on things that matter. Focus on making consistent progress on things that are important to you and eliminate as many of not important things as possible.
  • Develop the right mindset: Studies found that believing you have more willpower can improve your ability to make good choices. This is even when experiencing decision fatigue. So remember to keep yourself in the right state of mind. Your mindset is a powerful thing. Establish effective habits and routinize mundane decisions.
  • Don’t rush into making decisions: How often have you had poor outcomes you did not anticipate because you rushed into a decision? For example, if you see something you want to purchase, don’t rush into it. Give yourself 24 – 48 hours to decide whether or not it is a worthy purchase. Chances are, after a few hours, you will realize that you probably didn’t need the item anyway. It will prevent you from succumbing to impulse buying and save some money. If it is not necessary to make the decision on the spot, put a pin on it and revisit it later.
  • Be kind to yourself: Don’t waste time dwelling on mistakes when you make them. Learn from your mistakes and move on. It is okay if you make a bad investment decision and lose money. Even the most successful people have made numerous mistakes before getting where they are currently. After all, we learn the best lessons when we fail.
  • Never ignore your gut: If it’s good to be true, it probably is. When someone comes to you with an investment deal promising to give you massive returns on investment, take time to listen to your gut. It has brought you this far, and it will not fail you. If you feel something is not right, then it probably isn’t. 

Final thoughts

Willpower rises and falls. Thus, it’s impossible to maximize your willpower for every moment of every day. However, you can make a few changes to your day and your routine so that you can get the most out of your decisions and make consistent progress toward achieving your goals. A few simple adjustments can help you fight off willpower fatigue and cut back on impulse buying.

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