Imagine you’ve been stuck in a meeting that ran into the lunch hour and you’re hungry—really hungry. You’ll focus on your hunger, craving whatever is closest and finding it tough to stick to long-term nutritional goals like maintaining low cholesterol. A very hungry version of you will also be more easily deterred by any short-term hassles that stand in the way of your long-term health: the 15 minute walk to the salad bar is no match for the convenience of the fast food burger and fries. On top of making worse choices for your waistline, the hungrier you are, the more mental energy will be tied up thinking about how to solve your immediate hunger problem. Concentrating on your meeting will become an increasingly difficult task as your mind circles around thoughts of hunger and food.
When we are trapped in an environment with limited resources—for example, food, money, or time—human beings naturally experience cognitive quirks that make it harder to manage complex situations and plan for the future. For many Americans, these cognitive challenges take shape in their everyday lives in the form of household finances. In fact, 66% say it would be difficult to pay the bills if their paychecks were delayed by one week, and 92% would prefer financial stability to moving up the income ladder.
Managing our finances with slim resources can be a lot like managing our hunger when we’re hungry. “Tunneling” on today’s urgent problems—like paying for the overdue electric bill—makes long-term goals like saving money tough. Small hassles derail effortful actions like setting up automatic bill payment; and financial scarcity eats up much of our cognitive capacity. This leaves fewer mental resources for dealing with other important aspects of our lives such as work, school, or family.
But with insights from behavioral science, it’s possible to design solutions that make it easier for our “best selves” to call the shots.
- Goal-setting, planning, and tracking tools that facilitate saving can pre-empt the negative effects of tunneling on our immediate problems.
- Using technology to provide assistance and automation in financial services can overcome hassles that get in the way of taking positive steps towards improving overall financial health.
- Behaviorally-designed credit products can relieve immediate scarcity while building a savings buffer against future emergencies.
If we design for real humans, quirks and all, we can help consumers become more financially resilient, freeing up mental bandwidth to focus on what really matters: everything else.
The Financial Solutions Lab is a program that seeks to identify, test and expand the availability of promising innovations that help Americans increase savings, improve credit, and build assets. Lab participants share a relentless focus on building products that will improve the financial health of Americans.
Find out more about how smart behavioral design can make these innovations even more effective in helping Americans manage their household finances by watching this webinar recording and through ideas42’s work in consumer finance.
This post originally appeared on the CFSI FinLab Blog as part of our work as a resource partner in the Financial Solutions Lab, which is managed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase.