Does Tiredness Make You More Susceptible To Unnecessary Spending?

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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