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I Made One Simple Financial Change and It Lowered My Spending

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A few years ago, when I was reporting a story on personal finance, I became fascinated by a concept that behavioral economists call the “pain of paying.” The phrase refers to the psychological discomfort experienced when parting with one’s money, and it varies by medium: At one extreme would be painstakingly counting out each penny at the register (a high pain of paying, because of how tactile the transaction is), and near the other would be credit cards (which, by postponing payment and offering rewards programs, ease the agony of depleting funds).

A lower pain of paying feels nicer, but it also tends to lead to higher spending—as research indicates credit cards do. As I familiarized myself with that research, I viewed the plastic rectangle in my pocket with increasing wariness (though it should be noted, credit cards increase spending much less if one pays off the balance in full each month, as opposed to carrying debt and racking up interest payments and fees). “The overspending induced by a credit card will, except in tandem with the most un-fun, disciplined rules, outweigh its perks,” I wrote at the time.

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Photo by Bettmann / Getty.

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