How Looking Forward to Purchases Maximizes Your Money

I recently read the book Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. The book pairs scientific research into happiness and money to try to discover the most happiness-inducing ways to spend. The entire book is great and full of wonderful hacks. The chapter that particularly stood out to me, though, was “Pay Now, Consume Later.” In that chapter, Dunn and Norton share a fascinating fact:

The only thing we actually enjoy more than buying something nice is the anticipation of buying something nice.

Research shows that people have a “future-bias” when it comes to emotions. People are happier the weeks before their vacation than during it. People are happier in November, thinking of Christmas, than they are in January, looking back on it. In short, all that time looking forward to something isn’t just empty anticipation. It actually comprises a good deal of our actual enjoyment!

This news was a revelation to me. Although I am a hardcore planner, I had recently become somewhat skeptical of looking forward to things. I feared that if I anticipated something too much, or was too excited for it, I’d be disappointed when it was not as good as I expected. This new knowledge helps me put those worries aside, and instead accept that my wonderment at whatever the purchase may be is actually, in some ways, the thing itself I am pursuing. Even if I become disillusioned, the joy that the “what if” brought was enough.

I’ve also found that as long as I have one or two big things to look forward to, I’m less likely to go for “treat yo’self” purchases, because I already know I have a great treat coming. Anticipating events or big purchases helps curb other spending.

I’ve implemented this knowledge big-time with my 30th birthday trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here is how I’m trying to exploit my newfound knowledge about future-bias in service of this trip:

Plan in Advance

Duh, but you can’t anticipate something that you haven’t even thought about doing. I began researching how a trip to WWHP would look well over a year ago, long before flights were available. This had several benefits, both psychological and practical. It let me begin to travel hack (saving cash!), and gave me and my bestie time to save up for the trip. It also gave us time to clarify the most important things to us, and spend appropriately.

More importantly, though, it gave my anticipation some shape. You can’t anticipate something you know nothing about. Doing some research and lingering over the booking process–what would the hotel be like? what could we do for breakfast that day?–really got the excitement flowing.

Leverage Reminders

My reminder screen

Despite the hemming and hawing, we did eventually solidify our plans. At that point, the trip could become somewhat out-of-sight and out-of-mind. So, I began leveraging reminders. Once a week, usually during my lunch break, I go online and review our plans via the apps on my phone. I feel gleeful the rest of the day.

I also downloaded a countdown app, called Countdown+, for my phone. It creates a countdown widget for any event that you input. I typically only use one phone screen, but I set the whole second screen to upcoming events that I am anticipating. That way, there is a constant reminder of the exciting things going on in my life.

Have you heard this research about future bias? Do you have other ways of using anticipation of major purchases?

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