You Are NOT Rational

I think people are often disappointed with the concept of early retirement.  On the surface the core idea is simple: if you live on less you can save more and therefore retire earlier.  So if you decrease your spending, increase your income (and saving) then you get to be financially independent even earlier.  Sounds good…right until your faced with a decision the next day and then it hits you…being rational sucks.

The reality of most people’s lives is we are completely irrational with all sorts of behaviour.  Case in point, would walk two blocks to save $5 on a $13 package of envelopes? I think most people would do it.  Now would you walk two blocks to save $5 on a $1000 TV.  I think most people would say, no.  On a rational level, savings $5 regardless on what is a good idea, but we don’t make decisions only on an rational basis, so life gets all messy.  Thus trying to think rationally is actually out of character for the vast majority of the population.  Oh…that sort of makes a scary kind of sense doesn’t it, which is why I personally find the topic of personal finance so interesting.  We can all do the basic math and read all the same basic articles on ’10 ways to save on insurance’, but how many people actually use any of those tips.  The answer: almost none.  So how do we marry our irrational brains to our rational desires?  We play games.

So you may be thinking “Ugh, WTF?!? Games!  That’s your brilliant answer.”  Actually I never said the answer was brilliant, but before you write off the idea might I point out the average game designer if bloody brilliant in manipulating people’s behaviour.  After all, think about a time when you found a game you loved to play.  You made time to do, you likely even ignored other things in your life to just play it and you actually like doing something that by definition should be boring…sitting in front of a screen for hours on end hitting buttons…heck put it that way that may even sound like your day job!  Reality has almost nothing to do with the difference between work and play, the difference lives exclusively in your own head.

So what you need to do is give yourself permission to manipulate your own behaviour.  Then you can turn boring things like spending less money on eating out at lunch to: saving the world one brown bag at a time.  Or become the ‘Lunchantor’ and defeat the evil boring sandwich lunch.  How?  Well in general you need to consider four major elements:

  1. Get an Ally or Two – Playing a game by yourself sucks, so find someone to help you play, either in real life or online via a message board.  Better yet, get a group to play with.
  2. Define an Objective – You don’t have to plan out 26 levels and 15 mini games, but create some specific goal to aim towards and keep in mind you want near term and long term goals.  Perhaps you start out with taking a lunch four days this week and work up to doing it for six months straight.
  3. Plan Power ups –  Doing the same thing over and over gets boring, so combat this by adding something new to the mix. Ideally it should be a reward that will help you continue the game.  Finish one month of brown bags…upgrade to an insulated lunch bag.  Two months….upgrade to a nice thermos to carry hot foods if you don’t have a microwave handy or perhaps a new cookbook to help give you ideas for different lunches.
  4. Have Fun – Feel free to experiment a bit.  If it doesn’t cost much, who cares if some of your ideas suck.  The point is to enjoy the process and turn something  ‘rational’ into something enjoyable.

So even after six years  I still have fun… I read something online that looks interesting and I try things like making my own vanilla extract (in progress), modify my objectives with my spending cash, make wine from frozen fruit juice, buy nothing for a set period of time…the games are endless provided you are always a bit curious about the world and be willing to try something new.

How do you marry your irrational behaviour and your rational end goals?

One thought on “You Are NOT Rational”

  1. While I agree that I am not rational, there is something rational about savings $5 on $13 vs $1000 – specifically the habit. I buy things worth approximately $13 far more often than I buy things worth approximately $1000 so being in the habit of being willing to save $5 more frequently is rational.

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