Tatiana Yevtushok

Business psychologist. Gestalt psychotherapist. Coach. Trainer

The Psychology of Money: Unveiling the Complex Relationship Between Mind and Finance

Money holds a unique place in our lives, beyond its utilitarian function as a medium of exchange. Its psychological impact can be profound, shaping our decisions, emotions, and behaviors. The field of behavioral economics delves into the intricate connection between human psychology and financial decisions, revealing how biases, emotions, and cognitive patterns influence our relationship with money. In this article, we will explore the fascinating realm of the psychology of money, shedding light on key concepts and insights that illuminate our financial choices.

The Power of Perception

The way we perceive money greatly influences how we manage and spend it. Research has shown that individuals tend to categorize money into mental accounts, assigning different purposes and values to various funds. This psychological phenomenon can lead to irrational decisions, such as segregating money for specific purposes and resisting using it for other needs, even when it’s more sensible.

Let’s design a situation for example: you received a monetary bonus at work that you weren’t expecting. Depending on how you perceive it, you can view it as extra income and spend it on something enjoyable for yourself, like a small weekend trip. Alternatively, you can perceive these extra funds as money for emergency situations, so you decide to save them and not spend them on pleasures, maybe even on necessities. In both cases, you are forming specific neural connections in your brain and modeling future scenarios in your life. In the first scenario, you provide yourself with pleasant emotions and short-term rewards, shaping the belief that work can be enjoyable. Firstly, this gives a positive perception of money in your life, and secondly, it provides energy and motivation for further work. In the second scenario, you paradoxically create financial security for yourself, but you intensify emotional stress (anxiety about the future), leading to a sense of missed opportunities and financial rigidity. Both scenarios can have pros and cons, so the most important thing is to learn how to track your own patterns of money perception in your life, understand genuine needs, and consciously adjust your perception to design the future.

The Impact of Behavioral Biases

Behavioral biases like loss aversion and the endowment effect play a significant role in shaping our financial choices.

The loss aversion effect, studied by Daniel Kahneman (the only psychologist to have received a Nobel Prize in the field of behavioral economics), indicates our tendency to feel the pain of loss more intensely than the joy of gain, often leading to risk avoidance. For instance, let’s say you want to purchase a smartphone and you’re considering two options: a high-end smartphone with all the latest features for $800 and a mid-range smartphone that meets your basic needs for $300. If you are prone to the loss aversion effect, you might hesitate to spend $800 due to the fear of making such a significant purchase and later regretting it, which under imaginary unwarranted expectations could be perceived as a serious loss. Consequently, even though the expensive smartphone better suits your needs, the fear of loss associated with spending a large sum of money will impact your decision, and you might opt for the lesser option. In this way, you value avoiding the pain of making an expensive purchase more than the benefits of using a high-end smartphone. Typically, this is an irrational choice that affects your motivation to earn and grow, as your psyche develops a mechanism of behavior that prioritizes illusory security and avoiding the pain of growth, which results in losing the sense of financial growth. As a result, you start saving, suppressing your own needs.

The endowment effect causes us to overvalue items we possess, making it difficult to part with possessions or investments even when they might no longer be beneficial. Imagine you purchased stocks or real estate a few years ago. When you bought them, you felt confident in your investment decision. Over time, their value decreased. However, you’ve developed an emotional attachment to what you own because you were excited about the investment back then. Even though financial indicators suggest that selling might be a wise decision to mitigate further losses, you hesitate and resist making the financially advantageous choice. This emotional attachment and the excessive sense of value of ownership are examples of the endowment effect.

Emotional Economics

Emotions and money are closely intertwined. Fear, greed, and anxiety can cloud our judgment, leading to impulsive decisions. Additionally, the concept of “emotional spending” highlights how we sometimes use money to cope with emotions, leading to overspending and financial instability. Recognizing these emotional triggers is crucial for making sound financial decisions. For example, Anna is having a tough week at work, feeling stressed and exhausted. On her way home, she passes by a boutique with a sale on designer handbags. She decides to step in, thinking that buying a new handbag would lift her spirits and provide an instant feeling of happiness. As a result, she purchases a handbag that exceeds her plan, justifying it as a deserved treat for herself after a demanding week. Over the next few months, Anna notices a recurring pattern. When she’s stressed or unhappy, she feels the urge to shop and spend money on things she doesn’t necessarily need. She realizes that her emotions influence her spending habits. Over time, impulsive purchases might lead to accumulating debt, which triggers anxiety about her financial situation and amplifies emotional stress. The emotional spending that initially served as a way to cope with stress now creates additional financial problems and even more emotional concerns. In this example, the intertwining of emotions and money is evident. The concept of emotional spending underscores how our emotions can impact our financial habits, often with negative consequences. Recognizing these emotional triggers is crucial for making informed financial decisions and ensuring financial well-being.

Future vs. Present Bias

Humans often struggle to balance immediate gratification with long-term financial goals. The phenomenon of present bias, where we prioritize short-term rewards over long-term benefits, can hinder our ability to save, invest, and plan for the future. If we return to Anna with the example of emotional spending mentioned earlier, her desire for instant short-term gratification could, for instance, hinder her ability to save up for a car purchase. The phenomenon of “here and now” bias, where we prioritize short-term rewards over long-term benefits, might impede our capacity to save, invest, and plan for the future. Understanding this bias, along with being aware of our needs and developing emotional financial intelligence, can help us employ strategies to overcome it and cultivate healthy financial habits. In Anna’s case, recognizing the allure of immediate purchases and taking steps to align her spending choices with her long-term goals, such as saving for a car, can help her avoid falling into the trap of short-term gratification at the expense of her future plans.

Social Influence and Financial Behavior

Social norms, peer pressure, and societal comparisons impact our financial choices. The “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, for example, can drive us to spend beyond our means in an effort to maintain a certain image. Additionally, groupthink and herd behavior can lead to investment decisions that might not align with rational analysis.

Thus, the psychology of money is a multifaceted realm that offers valuable insights into our financial behavior. By understanding the cognitive biases, emotional triggers, and social influences that shape our relationship with money, we can make more informed decisions and build a healthier financial future. As we navigate the intricate interplay between our minds and finances, the key lies in self-awareness, education, and a conscious effort to align our choices with our long-term goals.

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