Here's How Too Many Decisions Costs You Money


If you were in jail and you had a parole hearing coming up, would you rather have it in the morning or the afternoon? It doesn't really matter as long as you present a good case, right? As it turns out, the timing of your hearing matters quite a bit.

A study conducted by the Department of Management at Ben Gurion University showed that the number of decisions a judge has had to make in a row, and how long it's been since he's eaten, drastically affects the outcomes of these hearings. The more decisions that a judge makes consecutively, the less of a chance a prisoner may have of going free. (So if you ever have to schedule your parole hearing, try for one of the first slots in the morning or right after lunch!)

This phenomenon doesn't just apply to judges, though. We all tend to suffer from decision fatigue, and when we do, it can lead us to bad choices.

What is decision fatigue, exactly?

Decision fatigue is what happens to all of us when we have to make too many choices in a row. When we have too many individual choices, or a few choices with too many options, we get tired and we stop choosing based on our values, our logic, and our best selves. Instead, we begin to choose anything just to get the choice made.

How it affects your money

Decision fatigue can affect everything, including your money. I have a friend who always tells stories about making choices for her new home. She and her husband were building, so they went to the design center to select flooring, cabinets, add-ons, and other things. They had a limited budget, so they went in with a list of what they wanted, hoping it would keep them on track. (See also: How One Nice Thing Can Ruin Your Whole Budget)

The way she tells it, everything went well until they got to the flooring, because with flooring, there were a million options. First they had to choose where they wanted carpet. Then they had to choose what kind of carpet they wanted. For the rest of the house, they had to choose between wood, laminate, and other materials. And then they had to look at samples. She talks about how inundated they were with samples and information, and how eventually they looked at each other and just chose something, anything, to make the situation better. They blew through their budget because they were tired and overwhelmed from all of the decisions.

Even if your story isn't as drastic as that, you can probably think of a time when you bought something just so you didn't have to think about it anymore. So often, throwing money at a situation makes it go away, even if we regret it later. This isn't usually good for your budget, though. (See also: 5 Mental Biases That Are Keeping You Poor)

How to fight it

So what can we do? How can we mitigate the effects of decision fatigue?

Take choice out of the equation

Whenever possible, eliminate superfluous choices from your life. Maybe this means having a simple wardrobe, eating the same thing for breakfast every morning, or always renting the same model car when you go out of town for business.

Because we live in a world with so many choices, taking the ones that don't matter out of the equation will leave us more energy for the ones that are more important to us, or that we can't remove.

Become aware

So often, it helps just to know what is happening and why. When you come to understand decision fatigue and see how it's affecting your life, you'll be in a better place to combat it. This can take some time, especially if you haven't thought about the phenomenon and how it intersects with your life before. But be patient, and pay attention.

Make important choices first

You can lower the impact that decision fatigue has on your life by making your important decisions first thing in the morning, before fatigue has time to set in. This means that you have to decide what is important and organize your life so that you face those decisions first.

This might mean exercising early in the morning, or setting up your business meetings so they are as early as possible. Basically, it means looking at what is important to you and prioritizing that when it comes to your time and decision-making energy.

Flip a coin

Let chance make some of your decisions for you (obviously ones that aren't terribly important) and save your decision-making prowess for the things that really matter.

Make some things nonnegotiable

When something is nonnegotiable, you don't have to think about it because the decision is already made. The more things you can make like this in your life, the better you will be at living according to your values. So that 5 a.m. workout? Not even a choice.

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