HOWTO avoid cognitive blind-spots, save money and be happy

Inspired by Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Lives, Jeff Atwood used its list of cognitive blind-spots endemic to our species and produced a list of nine ways to avoid making decisions that will make you unhappy later.
5. Design for Procrastination

Ariely conducted an experiment on his class. Students were required to write three papers. Ariely asked the first group to commit to dates by which they would turn in each paper. Late papers would be penalized 1% per day. There was no penalty for turning papers in early. The logical response is to commit to turning all three papers in on the last day of class. The second group was given no deadlines; all three papers were due in the last day of class. The third group was directed to turn their papers in on the 4th, 8th, and 12th weeks.

The results? Group 3 (imposed deadlines) got the best grades. Group 2 (no deadlines) got the worst grades, and Group 1 (self-selected deadlines) finished in the middle. Allowing students to pre-commit to deadlines improved performance. Students who spaced out their commitments did well; students who did the logical thing and gave no commitments did badly.

* Steer clear of offers of low-rate trial periods which auto-convert into automatic recurring monthly billing. They know that most people will procrastinate and forget to cancel before the recurring billing kicks in.

* Either favor fixed-rate, fixed-term plans -- or become meticulous about cancelling recurring services when you're not using them.

9 Ways Marketing Weasels Will Try to Manipulate You (via Kottke)


  1. heh! my circumstances make me MUCH more likely to be struck by lightning than most. Much. Yet I’ll still buy cheap entertainment on occasion.

  2. Anytime some sort of offer requires a credit card to sign up for, and I know the offer intends to ‘rebill’ after a trial period, if for some reason I want to try it out, I make sure to use an anonymous prepaid nonrefillable Visa/MC – when they try to rebill beyond the cards balance, it will get denied.

    And for any ongoing services/bills, I absolutely *refuse* to allow them to auto-collect. I demand they send me a bill, and then *I* take action to pay it, assuming its correct, and I desire to continue that service. The only exception is something like my mortgage, where I really have no choice – that I have on auto-collect from a separate checking account.

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