How spending money can be beneficial to your health

Staying healthy and fit can be quite expensive: subscriptions for the gym and squash courts, sports equipment, etc. It can add up to significant costs. Usually you do not feel happy spending this money; at least I do not. However, you can also use spending money on your health to your advantage. Spending money can actually improve your motivation to stay healthy and stay fit!

Golden Behaviors

– Nudges for a Healthy Lifestyle –

Reading time: 5 minutes

So in my last blog, I described how I struggled with evaluating the underlying reasons for my performance. Was this due to personal factors  which reflect my personal competencies (more training needed) or because of situational factors that have little to do with my personal competencies (old shoes)? In my last blog, I related this to the fundamental attribution error and that provided much insight.

Quality of equipment declines over time

It could very well be that my shoes are not in optimal shape anymore. After all, I do not run very often. I have had these shoes for over 4 years. I assume that the quality of shoes declines when the years go by, even if you do not use them. I could have investigated what experts say about declining quality of shoes over the years and then weigh their opinion against their incentives. Marketeers of running shoes, on one side, would probably be on the safe side and say that shoes should be renewed every few years. Professional athletes, on the other side, may be experts with realistic options, but they may also fall prey to the fundamental attribution error. Or they are sponsored by the marketeers of running shoes. Very complicated. If someone has any opinions on this: please share in the comments and do not forget to mention your affiliation, so I can take that into account.

Using heuristics to make decisions

Anyway, I decided to use a heuristic to decide whether I need new shoes or not: I decided to go with the opinion of my running app. It seemed that my running app does not have any incentive to sell running shoes. However, when I looked it up later, Runkeeper is owned by Asics, so this immediately shows the pitfalls of heuristics: it may lead to errors in your decision making process. Fortunately, this blog is on heuristics, so let’s go with this one and see where it take us.
I checked my running app to see how many kilometers I had ran with my shoes: 446 km. According to Runkeeper you should be able to run about 500km with a pair of shoes. So I still have 54 kilometers on these shoes and I would be throwing away valuable money. On the other hand, your shoes do decline in quality after more than 4 years, right? You do not want to play with your own health. So I decided to buy a new pair of running shoes for €59.

How do we perceive the value of what we buy?

How do we perceive the value of shoes (or other items)? That is not as straight forward as it looks. Say you are buying a new calculator. You are in a store where it costs you €17. The clerk tells you in confidence that 5 minutes down the street there is a store where you can buy this exact calculator for €12. Would you do that? Think a moment if you would walk 5 minutes to save €5.
If you are like most people you would walk 5 minutes to save €5. Now on another day, you are buying a new LCD television. You are in a store where it costs you €1283. The clerk tells you in confidence that 5 minutes down the street there is a store where you can buy this exact LCD television for €1278. Would you do that? Think a moment if you would walk 5 minutes to take advantage of this discount.
If you are like most people you would not walk 5 minutes to save €5,- in this case. If you re-read the first sentence of the previous paragraph and the first sentence of this paragraph, you should be surprised that you would walk 5 minutes for €5 in one case, but not the other. After all, €5 is worth €5, no matter what you buy.
However, we do not value calculators, LCD televisions or shoes in absolute manner, but in a relative way. We compare the relative advantage of the cheap calculator with the more expensive one, and the contrast between prices motivates us to spend extra time to save €5,- The relative advantage of the LCD television is not large enough to justify additional effort. This is an application of the Weber-Fechner law, which states that the subjective value of the discount is proportional to the logarithm of the overall value of the product. Just remember that we perceive the value of what we buy in a relative way. And I can use this to my advantage.

Applying the knowledge of perceived value to buying of sports equipment

So with the knowledge that the perceived value of my new running shoes is relative, I can nudge myself to run 3 times a week, 12 times a month. The first run on my new shoes felt very expensive. I ran only once on these shoes, so this run costs me €59 in sports equipment. No matter what you think of the price of these shoes, that is a lot of money for one run! So that provides a small nudge to run again. After two runs, the average cost for my sporting equipment is about €30 a run; still quite a lot, so I keep on running. The relative cost per run decreases and so does the nudge it provides; however, after 10 runs or so, when perceived costs become acceptable, you usually have  found a rhythm in your exercise activities that keeps you going.
So when you are starting a new sport activity, it may help to buy new sports equipment. But most importantly, keep track how much this sports equipment costs you for each time you exercise. Write it on a Post-It and place it somewhere visible (on your fridge?). If you want to make it more advanced than calculate the cost per kilometer or per minute that you exercise. However, if that is too much of a hassle for most people; you would need an app for that. Perhaps we will develop it in the future.

Improve your motivation to stay healthy and fit 

I hope this helps you improve your motivation to stay healthy and fit. This may especially help you when starting a new sport activity. We all know that the first couple of times is the hardest to complete. I hope this helps you through this first difficult period. Let me know in the comments when you are trying to use this insight and let me know if it works for you.
How spending money can be beneficial to your health. Click To Tweet

Niels Vink (1975) is author of Golden Behaviors and behavioral designer. He uses insights from the behavioral sciences to explain why people often act against their own interests. As a behavioral expert, he explores how you can nudge your behavior for a healthy lifestyle. He has Master degrees in Social Psychology (Leiden University) and Industrial Design Engineering (Delft University of Technology) and holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior.

When you have been inspired to start and maintain your Golden Behaviors, reach out to me.


Golden Behaviors Blog