Saving’s Biggest Enemy: Food

Question: What are the psychological barriers to saving?

Aaron Patzer: You know, it’s funny. When I look at the biggest areas where people have been cutting back, 40 percent of Mint users say they spend less on restaurants and cook more at home and a full, I think, 90 percent of people say they’ve actually changed their spending habits. So, I think at least for people in their 20’s and early 30’s the biggest problem area is probably restaurants, coffee shops and sort of your going out budget. Getting lunch every day, getting coffee in the morning or the afternoon every day, those sort of daily habits that maybe you don’t realize.

So, sometimes I wonder from a psychological perspective if people have a food and beverage addiction. I’m typically a just drink water kind of guy. I was a bodybuilder in high school, so I used to - food to me was, there are this many grams of carbohydrates and proteins and I need these micronutrients in order to grow and be fit and I ate in order to live and not live in order to eat and I think most people are the opposite.

And so, I know it sounds weird, but the food that I eat, it doesn’t make a big difference and it never has. So, I’ve saved a ton of money not buying a lot of alcohol, not going out to restaurants too much. So, I think it’s part of our culture and it’s part of a social activity more than anything else.

The other thing is I think we’re in a very consumer focused culture where you’re almost taught that in order to be happy or satisfied you have to spend on the latest clothes, gadgets, whatever and I think half the time it’s in order to impress other people. You know, the way you dress or the car you drive or what you spend is to impress other people with how, I guess, successful and rich you are. But, you're not and you shouldn’t and who gives a damn what other people think anyway. So, that mentality, I think, is very destructive. It’s the mentality of being a secondhander; of caring too much what other people think. I know that’s an odd thing to say, maybe, when we’re talking about, like, psychology of saving, but I think it - that has more to do with it than anyone imagines.

Recorded on November 2, 2009

Aaron Patzer, founder of money managing site Mint.com, thinks our culture suffers from an addiction that forces us to buy.

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