The "why" behind spending.

Updated: May 9





Kriti: [00:00:00] Hey guys, welcome to WhyFI Matters!


So today's episode is on a super important topic that can improve your financial wellbeing as a whole. SPENDING!! To be more precise today, I'm interviewing Kenadi Silcox, who's a reporter at money, and she graduated from the university of San Francisco in 2018. And she has a degree in journalism and we're basically going to be discussing what financial health is. And how our decision making can lead us to make impulse purchases.


Kenadi wrote an article last month called "How to train your brain to stop making impulse purchases, according to a financial psychologist". And we're going to basically dive deep into this article, but also talk about some of the points that did not actually make it into the article, which is very cool for me also, before or after you listened to this, I suggest you listened to last week's throwback Thursday episode called "The advertising cult" because we're going to touch on the effect advertising has throughout this episode, too.

I hope you enjoyed the interview.


Hi Kenadi. Thank you so much for coming on WhyFI Matters today. I'm super excited to have you on the show to talk more about your article,"How to train your brain to stop making impulse purchases, according to a financial psychologist. And also learn more about financial health in general. So thanks for coming.


Kenadi: [00:01:41] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to talk about this.


Kriti: [00:01:45] So, I think before we start talking about your article, I'd love to talk more about your life as a teenager. And also when did you get interested in money and financial health?


Kenadi: [00:01:56] I was definitely interested in acquiring money as a teenager, but I was not knowledgeable about financial health and I really wasn't even knowledgeable about personal finance basics. I immediately got a job as soon as I turned 16. I worked at American Eagle as a retail associate. But before that I was also a child actor because I was, yeah. And was raised in the Seattle area, so it wasn't like I was famous or anything, but they had a pretty big professional theater scene. So from age six onward, I would say I would actually make a bit of money here and there. And that was basically my only savings. I think by the time that I went to college, there was about $1500 in the account. So it wasn't like I was making tons and tons of money, but my parents were working class. So they couldn't really afford to pad that otherwise.

So it helped me a lot with financial self-reliance, but I was pretty ignorant about personal bands. Otherwise it's really impressive that as a teenager, you are so focused on financial independence.


Kriti: [00:03:03] Yeah, well, I don't make any money. Like for me, I'm developing these skills so that when I'm older, it's not like so scary for me.

So can you tell us what financial health really is and why is it even important?


Kenadi: [00:03:20] Yeah.

In my opinion is the root of the rest of your overall health. And this kind of also ties back into economics a little bit. If you don't have that basic floor of food, water, and shelter. If you can't cover those types of things, then you know, you can't lay the groundwork for your mental health, for your physical, you know, your quality of life, your relationships and everything.

It's kind of hard to do anything else without a solid foundation. And especially in the US it's really, really, really important to have money saved, which I know is obviously incredibly difficult. But you really have to position yourself for success because as we've seen throughout the pandemic and everything else , we don't have that much of a social safety net to fall back on in normal times. I know right now we obviously had a lot of enhanced helper, unemployment and things like that. But you really need to have that solid foundation.


Kriti: [00:04:15] And you said that, especially in the U S. Like why in the U S compared to other countries financial health is the foundation? Is it because, I feel like as a society we're always chasing materialistic things or is it also just because of some of the policies that we have as well?


Kenadi: [00:04:38] More of the latter, although it probably is both. Right. And we'll get into that as well about that feeling of needing to fit in. There are a lot of other countries have child. If you're having a child, you don't have to worry as much about, Oh my gosh, how much time can I afford to take off work or anything like that. If you become unemployed in other countries, say if you're unemployed in Denmark, I believe that your unemployment payment in Denmark is going to be like it's a really high percentage of your previous income. So just things like that. And what I mean is that you have to lay your own foundation.


Kriti: [00:05:19] Okay. I see. Would you say that financial health is different than financial happiness?


Kenadi: [00:05:26] That's an interesting question. So, if you are financially healthy, you're saving a ton of money for retirement, you've got plenty of money in savings, you live well below, your means you're really frugal, you have a high earning job , and you'd be totally miserable. So you can have all those things in life and be miserable. But on the flip side, you can spend all your money on experiences , never held down that kind of thing. And then you're setting yourself up for failure in the future. So I guess there is a difference. But, I think that to work best, they have to go hand in hand.


Kriti: [00:06:01] There's a quote that I like and it's by Henry David Thoreau. I don't know if I'm saying it wrong, but it's like, happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it's gonna fly away. But if you just appreciate what's around you and just maybe that's like working at your job or having good saving habits and just having good spending habits and things like that then the butterfly might just land on you.


Kenadi: [00:06:30] Money butterfly. That's a really good, yeah, that's a good way to think about it.


Kriti: [00:06:34] So, I want to talk about your article "how to train your brain to stop making impulse purchases according to a financial psychologist". Its on money.com. And so can you tell us some statistics about consumer spending over the past year?


Kenadi: [00:06:51] Yeah, so specifically consumer spending on e-commerce platforms, that's anything that you purchase online essentially. It shot up 44% over the past year due to the coronavirus. And that's number comes from the U S commerce department. And just for example, there was a report from McKinsey about how specifically spending on things like at-home beauty care has drastically increased. So I think it's nail care purchases shot up at at 218%, followed by hair coloring which is 172% and bath and body products which was 65%. And this was in May of 2020. So, obviously as things reopened and everything, people might go back to getting their nails done or getting a facial or something like that at a spa. But I would take a gander and guess that there's probably still been a bit of an increase.

So , people just spending more time online and it's kind of a switch from spending on maybe services you might pay for to consumer products. Just because obviously you're spending so much time at home, you have to take care of it all , on your own rather than pay for a, a luxury experience.


Kriti: [00:08:07] And what would you say is a negative consequence of all of this online purchasing? I guess maybe you can't support small businesses with your money. Why is it considered worse to have a high e-commerce spending?


Kenadi: [00:08:21] So I wouldn't say it's necessarily worse to have e-commerce spending. we're already moving in that direction anyway.

Let's say that I work from home, the day's over but I'm still on my laptop and, I'm like "Oh shoot, I need to get nail Polish or something like that. Let's just go with the , cosmetics, for example. So I have to my nail Polish. I go onto Sephora or Amazon or whatever. At this, at this point, the people who designed these websites and stuff are smart. So they'll say, Oh, well, people who look at this also bought it and you're like, Oh, what's that? And I'm no. And It's easier to trick people online and on social media and everything into thinking something's a need rather than a want. Versus when you go in person say to get your nails done in person, there are so many steps involved. You have to grab your wallet, you have to grab this, you have to grab that you have to work, walk out the door and find parking, find parking and everything I got. So there's a lot more steps and time along the way to be like, this is a good decision. Right. And as you're walking along the, you know, as you're walking to wherever you're going, there, aren't a bunch of big advertisements jumping out of nowhere to be like, "Hey, have you considered buying this"?


Kriti: [00:09:36] Yeah, like online, it's more accessible to buy things. It's easier for you to buy things. It's easier to spend more online, especially through all of these advertisements. All of us right now just want everything in our lives to be a little easier and everything online is helping with that.


Kenadi: [00:09:55] Yes, totally.


Kriti: [00:09:57] So, what do some financial experts say is a solution to impulse spending and also why might the solution not actually work?


Kenadi: [00:10:08] So there are so many approaches that people can take. But I guess there's two kind of key categories that I personally don't think are super useful.

So, the first one that I think, uh, it doesn't work as well as people might hope is that ultra aggressive ultra hardcore, you know, you're an idiot, you're a loser if you spend all your money on anything fun ever at all. That one cup of coffee is the reason that you can't buy a house like that kind of thing. That can really just lead to unhealthy guilt and shame about any non necessity spending you simply do. It's inevitable. To live so bare bones that you feel guilty for buying like the nicer dish soap is not a healthy way to live.

The other type is that click baity type of thing. That's like this one simple move will solve all of your overspending. If you delete your credit card information from your browser , you'll have to punch in the number. And so you'll never buy anything. And I think I mentioned in the article that this actually accidentally happened to me. I like cleared the cookies on my computer and then all of my card information was gone, which was like, okay, nice. I guess I, I should have done that anyway. but after a while, just because, especially in New York city where, it's a hassle to go to the grocery store right now, especially with like it's during the pandemic. So I'm constantly having to deliver things to my home.

And so we're period of time, I memorized my credit card number because I just punched it so many times. And so to me that didn't work for me. The big reason, I don't think that one-stop solutions like this work is that you just cannot avoid things that are going to make you want to spend in the digital age. Especially as gen Z ers and millennials , literally every other story on my Instagram as an ad. Post on Tik TOK is someone, even if they're not doing spawn con they're just sharing their favorite something they like. Yeah, totally. I actually was recently convinced by a TicTok-er to. There's this specific hairbrush for curls that's super popular. And I was convinced. So I'm curious to see how it's gonna work out. But, it's like, so what are we supposed to do? Are you not still look at any social media either? So it's like, I'm not looking at my marketing emails. I'm not looking at my credit card information. Am I not supposed to watch movies or TV where you constantly see products and everything like that, it's just, it's a much more nuanced issue.


Kriti: [00:12:43] That took great explanation of why some of these specific solutions won't work for a lot of people. I've memorized my parents' credit card, so yeah!

So there's another part of your article where you say we should be conscious of our decision-making. So can we talk a little more about this and are we always rational when it comes to financial decisions?


Kenadi: [00:13:15] That's a solid no! This is my own personal opinion here. But I don't think that anybody can be a hundred percent rational all the time about anything, but especially finances, cause it touches on so many of the issues that I'm sure we'll get into.


Kriti: [00:13:32] So in the article you quote a financial psychologist "Klontz" is his last name. And he says that "when we become emotionally charged, we become rationally challenged". What does this mean? Can you explain this quote a little bit more?


Kenadi: [00:13:51] Yeah. I really liked that. I guess the best way I could do it was kind of like, as an example. So just thinking about my Apple watch purchase. Like imagine a situation where you see all of your friends and peers, they just got an Apple watch. Like everyone, you know, suddenly has an Apple watch or at least it feels that way. It feels like everyone that you admire and think is cool , has this product. And you're the odd one out. You see the Apple watch everywhere. Everyone is always talking about their Apple watch and it would drive you totally crazy.

Right? Especially if it was, if your parents were very much like, no, we're not going to buy you in. So, the thing that's most interesting to me is that , you might not even want an Apple watch to begin with, like, just because all of your friends got it. It doesn't mean that you want it per se.

But if you're constantly hearing people talk about their step count or how they're tracking your sleep cycle, or all the different little things that , an Apple watch can do , you might sort of think like, maybe it's a good idea. Maybe, I should go out and buy one. Like if you have your own money and everything, you have to go out and buy one.

You're being emotionally charged by this constant hype. And it can be a positive or negative emotion. Like you might feel really insecure about it. But it can also just be that you positively have changed your mind. And even though before you thought all those gadgets and stuff and all the little things that apple watch can do. We're kind of like, whatever, not that cool. You know, after enough time it changes how you think about the product. Yeah.

And then another example of how I think more targeted, like how marketers do this. you know, if you follow someone or if you follow some of that, like one step type of advice, you know, one-step solution.

Another one is really common is like letting items sit in your cart for 24 hours. And that's great except. If you're letting something sit in your cart for 24 hours. Guess who's going to be all up in your emails, all up in your advertisement, being like, Hey, these are about to run out. This item is about to sell out and the discount is about to end. People really want what's in your cart. And that activates our sense of scarcity and urgency, which we thought we were at. Right.


Kriti: [00:16:14] That's interesting. I feel like, especially in America, there's a sense of a scarcity mindset. Also FOMO is a big thing that I guess will be driving some of these purchases. It's really inescapable. It really is. And online it's just perpetuating it even more. It's like crazy what technology can do now , impacting our consumer spending habits.

So, what are some questions that we can do to clear our brains before we make a big, not even a big, just a financial decision so that we can take a step towards thinking more rationally?


Kenadi: [00:16:56] Yeah, that's a super good question. It's a pretty personal experience. So, like something that's important to me or something that I really value, might not be as important to someone else. So I am a bit of like a home chef, I guess. So, to me it might be less impulsive and more reasonable , for me to want to get some nicer cooking ware. But that might not, but someone else might be like, never uses it. So it would be a, it would be a really poor financial decision.

So, I guess just starting with that and understanding that like your own questions are gonna be different. But I think the basic way to go about it, you know start by asking yourself why you want something. When would you use it? How often would you use it? If you wanna buy something really expensive, like a stationary bike or something like a Peloton. And you won't have to figure out, like, when would you technically break even on it, based on the amount of rides you make, you take. It might take you like 500 rides until you're like, okay, this has been a reasonable purchase.

And the cost benefit analysis has, has worked, you know? But if you're someone who like hate stationary bikes and you just want to get a Peloton, because it seems like a really good idea. And everybody else is saying how great of a experience it is , that might be true as well, that it would take like 500 rides for it to be worthwhile.


Kriti: [00:18:21] if they're not invested in it, it's not gonna work out.


Kenadi: [00:18:25] Yeah. And like, I totally get swept up in not like hype necessarily per se, but like know a little bit. Like I was on Sephora recently cause I'm traveling Chicago. I had to replenish some of my like travel sized hair stuff.

I'm like not a huge makeup where I just don't have the hand eye coordination or the patients or anything. But somehow I ended up like when I was in support, just trying to look at my hair stuff ended up. In like eye shadows and, and seeing what the most popular I showed appellant's work.

I'm not good at it when I put it on. And but there, I had like two different palettes that I was like, Oh, which one should I get?

I was able to run through the questions and be like, I don't think I would actually. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it didn't get it, but it was really kind of a funny experience of it. Makes me think if there's something you just land it. Yeah.


Kriti: [00:19:25] That's funny.

So you also talk about how to train our brains to prioritize long-term gains. That rhymes. I just realized that. And Klontz the psychologist. He said that so much of what we do around money and life relate back to what I call our "cave person brain". Can you explain this a little bit more? Quite intriguing?


Kenadi: [00:19:50] Yeah, totally. And I just wanted to clarify beforehand as well. I'm not a psychologist, I'm not a therapist, I'm not a scientist or anything like that. I've taken a few psychology and sociology courses here and there, but just keep in mind that this isn't me making any empirical claims or anything.

But basically the idea is that there is a psychological theory, which I believe has some empirical evidence, that a lot of our modern day like drives and reactions and how we go about life. It used to serve as some sort of survival function in a way. It still technically does serve as a survival function.

But way back in like prehistoric times, for example, early clans would have to gather and stockpile supplies altogether to feed themselves and protect themselves and keep warm and everything like that. And that's still that drive still exists today. But if you've got secure food, water, shelter , the bottom of the Maslow's hierarchy. Then your stockpile tendencies are going to go towards collecting things that aren't necessarily for survival per se. So, you know, like find a bunch of clothes.


Kriti: [00:21:06] That's so interesting.


Kenadi: [00:21:07] Yeah. It's, it's really interesting. And the being eaten by a lion type thing is interesting too. Because like a big thing, obviously with the concept of like a clan or like a tribe or something like that is a form of protection, so you're right. You're integrated to something. So you're not likely to get eaten by a lion cause there's a bunch of you. A lot of psychologists even believe that there's evidence that there's a survival basis for, like trying to fit in with your peers.


Kriti: [00:21:36] So I'm assuming, you're going to say like when I'm with my friends and I see them, maybe if they have an Apple watch, then I think, Oh, it it's like offers me protection or something to be like them.


Kenadi: [00:21:49] Totally. Yeah. I literally lose the example. But basically, yeah, the rejection from the group meant your whole life was at risk. You were , someone who was just traveling kind of on your own. You didn't have that protection. So obviously your life is not risky. If your friends have an Apple watch, can you tell. Part of your brain and the root of the phone is according to, um, some research is still the same.

This is so interesting.

Yeah, no, it's super. I was like, I want to do more of these texts. It's super, super fascinating.


Kriti: [00:22:22] So, you do talk about how sometimes when we want something very bad, bad, very badly. And when we get it and we acquire it, we feel good about ourselves. For me on the other hand, sometimes I feel really guilty. Can we talk a little bit about this difference?


Kenadi: [00:22:42] Yeah. it can be linked back to survival in some cases. So, like every animal in the kingdom as far as researchers know, has some sort of reward center of their brain. This is where, when we hear about like dopamine and everything, cause it's like where that is. It's, you're feeling rewarded for accomplishing something, for completing a task or for acquiring something. And that's how, our ancestors and all other animals and stuff, they're driven to gather and hunt. I mean, you even still experience that today. Like if I'm super hungry and then I finally eat, it's a really rewarding. Because otherwise if we didn't have that, you wouldn't have that motivation to do that.

And obviously there are people that struggle with that with over-producing or under-producing, you know, that's more scientific than I can even get into. But, part of what Brad Klontz was talking about which didn't make it into the final story was this idea of money scripts. You know, like I don't think anyone hasn't felt guilty or just had that like what have I done a feeling after they spend a lot of money?

I wouldn't feel after I would paid my tuition bill and stuff. I'd be like, Oh my God. But one of those obviously I was getting, I was going to college getting an education. But it was still like, like it's choking, spending as much money. But if you are constantly thinking, think that buying something you like, is something that might be morally wrong , falling prey to consumerism, it's wasteful, it's risky. Then there's probably something deeper going on. It's really based on the messages you receive about spending money. So that can come from your parents, but that can also come from like media and everything as well, that can come from all sorts of stuff.


Kriti: [00:24:42] This is really interesting. So, I also want to talk about the 50, 30, 20 breakdown that you write about. Can you tell us what it is?


Kenadi: [00:24:53] Yeah, totally. I will say as teenagers, you probably would not be, it might not totally apply, but it's still a great thing to know.


Kriti: [00:25:02] As we get older, it can be helpful.


Kenadi: [00:25:05] Exactly. If you already have it in your mind that you're like, Oh, I need to do it this way or not me too. But, so first of all, the 50 , 30, 20 method, is an idea that financial experts and advisors came up with which like most personal finance rules. I would say it's better to think of it more as a goal then as some sort of inflexible standard.

So basically it's 50% of your net income, which is the actual total you get after your taxes and any, pre-tax deductions are taken out. So if you have a 401k or if you have healthcare or anything like that, that's not included in this. This is the literally like what gets deposited into your account. But anyway, that 50% should be targeted toward all of your basic cost of living expenses, so housing utilities, groceries, student debt. And obviously you're a teenager and your family covers those expenses. Then this doesn't really apply to you.

Next step, but 20% of your net income needs to go towards savings or it should go towards savings. And that means if you're brand new to saving, that means building an emergency fund, um, that can cover about six months worth of expenses. We know a lot of people can't reasonably do this with the income they hype from the research that shows this. Most people don't have enough or would struggle to cover a $600 expense. I personally. So just setting 20% as like your target goal. Because suddenly cutting how much money you have on hand by one fifth is a really big shock to your financial system. When I started at money in 2019, I had I been job hunting for a while, so I kind of blown through a lot of my money. And so I was only saving at first, I think like 6% of each paycheck. But I've gradually increased that over time to be where it's supposed to be.

And then finally, 30% of your money should go towards discretionary spending, which I didn't get to elaborate in that much of the story. But discretionary spending is basically. Everything else. So like your Netflix subscription , if you have to pay a parking ticket. If you wanna buy someone a birthday gift or this is where you treat yourself. So discretionary doesn't just mean fun money, but it does mean like fun money would fall under discretionary spending.


Kriti: [00:27:18] Okay. I think that was really helpful. A breakdown that I think I'll definitely use one I start making money in the future.

And can you give us an example of what delayed gratification would be?


Kenadi: [00:27:32] Yeah, you want to upgrade your mattress, with the super nice Tempur-Pedic topper, it costs $250. You could technically live without it. It's just, it would be a really nice upgrade to your life and it might help you sleep better at night.

Even if you can technically buy it right now. You can just pay 250 right now in full. The idea is that if you put like a chunk of money toward the purchase, every few days or every day over the course of weeks, then the ultimate purchase would be more reporting cause you've been working towards it. If it works for you you can pair it with like a difficult task. So, for work or school, it can be a big presentation or big projects that is going to take you like two weeks to work on. So technically you can reward yourself for every day that you worked hard on it until it's over.


Kriti: [00:28:21] Yeah. I think that kind of relates back to tapping into survival mode or like cave person brain.

One of my first episodes of the podcast was about advertising and conspicuous consumption.

And how, starting like the eighties up until now, how advertisements have always influenced society. How do these influence our decisions and lead to conspicuous consumption?


Kenadi: [00:28:51] Yeah, that's a really good question. And actually, interestingly enough, my degree is in media studies and