Temptations never cease: Shopping whilst low on willpower

Temptations never cease: Shopping whilst low on willpower
22 May 2013

This week cashy have been looking at the relationship between couples and how they deal with money. We often hear the stereotype that women spend more than men, but researchers have shown that is not necessarily the case.

Maybe men in relationships complain more about women spending, when in fact it is often the men in relationships that spend more on big ticket items, such as electronic goods, cars, golf equipment and memberships fees, season tickets to football clubs and so on.

Regardless of who spends more than the other, it is clear that there are significant differences in how men and women behave. These differences emerge from a host of biological and cultural factors and are reinforced by stereotypes.

One of the common stereotypes is that men have more willpower than women when it comes to spending or rather not spending money – but in fact that is not always the case at all. Researchers have found that women tend to have higher savings than men before getting married and women working on trading floors in investment banks are found to react less to market news than men and trade less frequently, creating higher long term returns.

Willpower is not gender specific

Willpower is something that both genders can and should work on to improve their relationships, especially with money. Consumer behaviour scientists indicate that most major problems, personal and social, center on failure of self-control: compulsive spending and borrowing, procrastination at work, smoking and alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, these are all issues caused by a lack of willpower. 

Too hungry to resist

Having good willpower means we are less likely to make bad decisions that could negatively impact our health (such as ordering a Big Mac meal with supersized fizzy drink) or our future (racking up a credit card bill with 18% to 36% interest). So why do we repeatedly make these bad choices time and time again? The short answer is glucose. 

Improved mental energy, the scientific name for willpower, is fueled by the glucose in the body’s bloodstream. Sticking to a budget or declining the tempting tiramisu requires willpower, but when our glucose levels are low we are more willing to spend money on things we don’t need or eat the desert we know is not good for us (especially when it is our third or fourth this week). A low level of blood glucose can alter decisions, especially decisions involving the exercise of willpower.

Peak shopping times in malls are just before lunch and between 5pm and 6pm when people are leaving work. These are the worst times for us to shop as our willpower is likely depleted due to low glucose levels before meals – leaving us depleted of willpower and more likely to splurge or blow the budget on things we may not need.

Avoiding temptation

A word of caution, too little glucose and we blunder through life with depleted willpower. But too much glucose is also bad for us, the unused glucose ends up being deposited around the waist as fat, the type of fat deposit posing the greatest risk of type 2 diabetes (a growing issue in the UAE) and heart disease. The unused glucose typically comes through lack of exercise and poor food choices, implying that what we eat and what we do physically may improve our choices in all aspects of our life. Use these three tips to improve your healthy money choices and you may just improve your relationship too:

Don’t shop on an empty stomach – Avoid shopping before you have replenished your glucose levels, tempted to shop before lunch or on your way home after work – forget it.

Feed your willpower – Eat low-glycemic index foods, a great source of glucose are chickpeas, so eating humus is brain food as much as tasting so good. Other low-glycemic index foods such as nuts, fruits and vegetables will help improve our willpower. Avoid fizzy drinks and high starch foods as these may give a quick glucose boost but it does not last and these are the ones that turn into fat deposits around our waist and deplete our willpower, instead of leaving fat deposits in our bank accounts.

Sleep on it – Research has shown that sleep deprivation can deplete glucose levels. Glucose levels, and therefore willpower, are low when our body energy is tired. It seems common sense not to ask friends, family or colleagues to perform important tasks when they're tired or hungry, and the same goes for us – we should avoid making money decisions ourselves when we are tired.

Keeping a healthy watch on your glucose levels by what you put into your body and when will help improve your stamina, willpower and decision making and that sounds like a recipe for good relationships. Have you found spending money when hungry or tired makes you overspend?






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Head of Behavioral Finance
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