Updated on 07.24.07

Does Tiredness Make You More Susceptible To Unnecessary Spending?

Trent Hamm

Usually, I like to stick to personal finance topics I can quantify, but I felt this was an interesting issue worth discussing.

Let me start with a story. Several nights ago, I went grocery shopping in the evening with my wife and son, intending to bring him straight back and put him in bed. Typically, we go shopping on weekend mornings, but we made an exception in this case. However, once we were at the store, my wife and I both noticed that we were much more likely to be not selecting items very well and, even worse, somewhat likely to pick up unnecessary items and put them in the cart. Even more interesting, when I looked over the receipt the next morning, I found several purchased items that were nearly inexplicable based on our dietary habits.

The only significant unusual factor I could find in the shopping trip was that my wife and I were both rather tired. It was at the end of a long day of unpacking and we were both on the edge of exhaustion. We knew we needed to stock up on some things, so we assembled a grocery list (not entirely coherent, either) and used that as the basis for a shopping trip.

What can I learn from this?

First, for us it is much more cost-effective to go grocery shopping in the morning. We are alert and awake and thus less susceptible to impulse purchases because our minds are more awake and able to handle the information.

Second, tired minds are likely more susceptible to advertising as well. That’s likely why, if you look at the cost per viewer for advertisements, prime time ads are more expensive than ads at other times on the schedule. That’s also why all the good programming is on in prime time, because if the cost per viewer is highest, then maximizing viewers also maximizes dollars. Families are watching television, are a bit tired, and are susceptible to ads.

Third, this is yet another argument for adequate sleep as a cost-effective measure. Many of my friends seem to operate on the perspective that sleep is merely wasted time, but quite often you can simply tell that they’re exhausted. This suboptimal performance stretches into many areas of life and, based on my experience, can directly cost money.

On the other hand, it might be a bright idea for grocery stores and department stores to look at late evening specials to get tired people in the door. If tired people are more prone to unnecessary spending, this is probably a brilliant marketing tactic for such stores – get them in the store, have them go to the far side of the store to get the bargain, and likely in their tired state they’ll pass by items that they’re more likely to pick up due to a touch of sleepiness.

I’d love to see some research studies focusing on this topic, and I also look forward to hearing your comments.

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  1. Jen says:

    I know for us another time being tired hurts is when we decide on dinner. The more tired I am from work, the more likely I am to stop by a fast food joint- even when I have food in the house! I will have to take this grocery shopping tip into consideration now too!

  2. Callum says:

    I’m not sure about the logic of prime time ads being more expensive because people are more likely to be tired. I think it’s more likely that prime time is when most people are watching television and therefore the prices are higher because there’s more competition for the prime spots. Higher demand = higher prices.

    If prices are related to viewer tiredness, surely prices later at night would be even higher because people are more likely to be tired.

    Good advice though. They also say if you go grocery shopping when you’re hungry you’re more likely to buy more food.

  3. Tordr says:

    I do not have something to add to the discussion, but this is certainly not off topic when it comes to personal finance. Looking at ways to avoid spending is more important than trying to earn more, and grocery shopping is one thing we all have to do.

  4. Lynnae (Being Frugal) says:

    Being tired has everything to do with finances. When I’m tired at dinnertime, I’m more likely to call my husband and ask him to bring takeout home. When I’m tired and grocery shopping, I’m more likely to just throw things into the cart, without comparing the prices of the different brands.

    I’ve learned that like you, I need to shop in the morning. And I also need to have some easy dinner ingredients on hand at all times.

  5. Mitch says:

    Yes. Many kinds of decision making are impaired in tired individuals, and according to consumer psychologists grocery story decisions tend to use an abbreviated decision process that does not consider all of the relevant attributes carefully. Automaticity, familiarity, and other “unthinking” processes become important.

  6. I believe being tired and being busy have the same effect on how much money I spend. I noticed when I am really busy (and usually tired as well), I do not take any time to do comparison shopping or think things through- I just buy things as quickly as possible to get it over with to do the next thing (or go to bed).

  7. Anne says:

    Lately I’ve been seeing Big Lots coupons that are only valid from 6-9pm. I wonder if this is why…

  8. Tiredness automatically implicates laziness. Therefore, you are more incline to pay for stuff. Especially for food! Grocery store vs delivery… hum… I wonder who wins when we are tired!

  9. SJean says:

    Overall I don’t disagree with your premise, but the claim that the best stuff is on prime time for this reason seems like a stretch to me!

  10. Amy K says:

    I know that for a while Meijer (24 hour grocery store in the Great Lakes region) was doing midnight to 6am specials. I would guess that it was a way to stay busy during their off hours, but they probably snagged some extra sales off of tired late night or groggy early morning shoppers.

  11. David says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I do think you think less when you are tired and lazy and will spend because of your laziness. But I also have been to the mall when I am tired and look around for a while and am just like “I need to get out of here,” but that might also be because of the swarm of sometimes annoying people around me. Good post. Tough to measure.

  12. Abhijit says:

    I suppose tiredness has a direct bearing upon expenditure if you’re living in a metropolis, where people have a generally hectic lifestyle. It often seems a justifiable excuse to

    – avoid taking public transport or walking short distance, and taking a cab instead
    – order take-out instead of spending 15 minutes to cook a decent meal

    or take the easier, more expensive way out of several other activities that are a lot more fun on a lazy Saturday morning than an exhausted Wednesday evening.

    The tough part (for me personally) is: how can you approach these things after a hectic day, just as if you would approach it on the weekend?

  13. !wanda says:

    Not sleeping enough makes you hungrier, too, and hungry people will buy more food at grocery stores.

    If stores are open late at night, the employees will be tired and grouchy, too. The cost in employee morale might balance the gains from tired customers.

    Abhijit: You could try preparing things beforehand, when you aren’t tired. For example, you could try prepping a week’s worth of food on the weekends, so that cooking dinner doesn’t involve more than sticking a pan in the oven. For the public transit thing, I guess you could try planning beforehand what bus to take or what route to walk.
    I also find that sticking to a routine helps. If you can do tasks on autopilot, that makes them easier to do when you’re tired and not thinking clearly. After all, do you not brush your teeth at night when you’re tired?
    Even being aware that you’re tired and therefore more prone to eating more or spending more helps a lot. You can take your level of tiredness into account when you ask yourself Do I need this? before you buy something. If your answer is I don’t know, I’m too tired, then sleep on it.

  14. Thomas says:

    In the same way, don’t go grocery shopping hungry or without a pre made shopping list( made up in peace and quiet with a rational, untired mind and a full stomach. You will spend less,eat better ( less junk). This article is very valid.

  15. Penny says:

    Interesting post, but it seems your arguments are based more on speculation and anecdotal evidence than scientific studies. Your second point seems especially unsubstantiated. “tired minds are likely more susceptible to advertising as well. That’s likely why, if you look at the cost per viewer for advertisements, prime time ads are more expensive than ads at other times on the schedule.”
    Top dollar is spent to advertise during prime time programming not primarily because the advertising industry understands the viewers are fatigued, but rather because they know that this is the time of day when TV ratings are the highest. While a tired audience may be an added bonus, the premium is paid for the hope of grabbing the attention of the captive masses.

  16. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Penny, I actually say at the bottom that it is based on observation and that I would love to see studies on it.

    Also, if you compare ad rates at primetime versus at other times, you’re going to see that it’s more expensive PER VIEWER, even figuring in the higher audience.

  17. Dave M says:

    One of the best ways my wife and I have found to stick to a list is to make up a master list of 95% of our usual items, organized by the layout of our local supermarket. The list is easy to make up since we just circle things as we run out or need for a special occasion, and it’s easy to follow in the store. The less time you spend in the store, the less likely you are to grab things on impulse.

  18. Chris says:

    it’s more expensive per viewer because they’re expecting more of the 18-35 demo to be watching at that time and those viewers are worth paying more for, for some reason.

  19. PF says:

    Anyone who has a palm OS PDA needs to download the free program HandyShopper. It does what Dave M describes but on your palm.

    I find that when I’m tired, I probably stick more to my list just to get the heck out of there as fast as possible!

  20. rstlne says:

    I usually do grocery shopping late at night because the supermarket is open 24 hours and there are no crowds. So far, I’ve had no problem just getting what I need and using coupons too when applicable.

  21. Michelle says:

    Prime Time is more expensive because that is when the shows with the highest ratings are on. If American Idol was on at 8am, it would still be very expensive. There are also more viewers, the cost per point is not always more during prime time, but if it is a very popular show and there are a limited number of spots for ads, the demand goes up. Just thought I would add this info, I am a media buyer and buy televsion spots for a living.

  22. Brip Blap says:

    It’s the same rationale that says don’t go grocery shopping while hungry. It’s not at all off-topic. You’re offering a tip to save money, and if that’s not on-topic I don’t know what is!

  23. Hoffmann says:

    this argument based on a line of your own experience which seems inconclusive and unconvicing

    We need furthur evidence to support it

    But it is now in my underlying “common sense “m now

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