Why It Pays to Be a Patient Shopper

Ever since I learned that consumers who do less research tend to be happier with their purchases, I've been proud of my "good enough" method of shopping. Unlike my husband, who does weeks (or months) of research, seeking out expert opinions, investigating the pros and cons of various options, and weighing his preferences compared to costs, I tend to figure out the minimum I need to be happy and buy the first item I come across that fits my needs and price range.

According to Barry Schwartz, author of the book The Paradox of Choice, my method of decision-making is called "satisficing," while my husband engages in "maximizing." Maximizers believe that there's an ideal version of whatever they're looking for, and make it their mission to find it. But maximizers will sometimes agonize about their purchase even after they've made it, because they're afraid there is a better version out there. Satisficers, on the other hand, focus on what will be good enough to meet their minimum criteria, which means satisficers are generally happier with their decisions.

While I've long felt a little smug about the fact that science has proven my way is better, I recently realized that there are some problems with making good enough decisions that maximizers don't. Here's why satisficing can sometimes lead you astray in decision-making. 

Satisficing can be expensive

I recently purchased a new desk chair for myself. I work from home, and wanted to have a chair that offered more lumbar support and some padding. So I went to an office supply store and picked out an office chair that felt comfortable, looked cute, and was within my price range.

I was happy with my purchase for about six weeks, until the day I put just a little weight on the back of the chair, and it broke. Turned out that the chair's back was made of particle board under the padding, and it was only a matter of time before some kind of pressure broke the board around the screws that held it in place. My "good enough" chair was only usable for six weeks, and now I have to buy a new one. It would have been less expensive if I had spent more time researching which chairs are highly rated, even if I had ended up with a pricier chair.

And this is not the first time my willingness to settle for "good enough" has cost me money. From furniture to cookware, I've found that buying something that fits my minimum criteria sometimes results in a purchase that doesn't work for the long-term. Which means I have to spend more money to buy a replacement.

Maximizers, on the other hand, may not be able to make a quick decision, but their commitment to researching their purchases means they're unlikely to be stuck with a busted desk chair only six weeks in. (See also: How to Use Financial Anchors to Make Better Money Decisions)

Satisficing and satisfaction are not the same

While I am very much a satisficer, there are a few purchases that bring out the maximizer in me. One of them is blank notebooks and journals. I love buying these, and I want the journal I purchase to precisely fit the project I have in mind.

For instance, I recently spent nearly an hour and a half looking through the blank notebooks on display at our local indie bookstore to find the perfect one for an upcoming creative project. While I could certainly use any blank book to scribble notes and draw pictures, the one I found embodied the exact aesthetic I was looking for and had gorgeous, creamy, unlined paper inside — just like I wanted.

Finding the exact thing you want to buy after doing diligent research offers a much higher level of personal satisfaction than settling for good enough ever will. While I'm always glad to be able to make a purchase and move on with my day, I admit that my satisficing ways can sometimes cheat me out of the satisfaction of finding exactly what I want.

Satisficing can prompt careless decisions

Ultimately, satisficers like me prefer not to waste time on making a choice. We often go for the good enough option because we'd rather get the decision made and over with than spend any extra time on it.

This preference for getting it done (as opposed to the maximizer preference for doing it right) can sometimes put unnecessary time pressure on the satisficer. Even though there's no particular urgency for a decision, a satisficer may feel as though they need to just make any decision so they can cross it off their list.

This has happened to me on multiple occasions when I just wanted to move onto the next thing. For instance, when I needed to change a flight because of a family emergency, I chose the first flight the airline offered to me, so I could take care of the next thing that would help my family. But that flight was at an inconvenient time and would cause more stress to my family. My desire to make a decision and move on quickly meant I had to call the airline back and ask again if they would change my flight. 

I made that mistake because my satisficing tendencies prioritized getting things done quickly, rather than getting them done right. (See also: How Projection Bias Could Be Destroying Your Finances)

Learning to maximize and satisfice

While I will probably always lean more toward the satisficing end of the decision-making spectrum, I know that adopting some maximizing ways can help me make better decisions. Making sure that I raise my standards, embrace the enjoyment of finding the right choice for me, and slow myself down when making decisions will all help me to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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