Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Don't save yourself to death

While stashing away cash for the future is the ideal goal, do so in a way that will not cost you more further down the line

Making the wrong decision can lead savers towards a premature financial or literal demise. Getty Images
Making the wrong decision can lead savers towards a premature financial or literal demise. Getty Images

I recently came across a social media post that stated: "If something cost Dh1,000, but is on sale for Dh750, and then you decide to buy it, you didn't save Dh250, you spent Dh750."

This is the hard truth for many who love to shop. Sales, according to American neuroscientist Dr Claudia Aguirre, are designed to activate our amygdala and limbic system, the parts of our brain that trigger emotion and cause them to short circuit our cortex and pre-frontal cortex, which are the rational, logical centres.

If you take the time to research and track the price over a series of months, you quickly realise that amazing deal you can't pass up actually happens quite frequently.

Zach Holz

The word "sale" can see us swiping our credit cards before we even have a chance to process the realistic outcomes of our actions and their effects on our finances. Suddenly, we have a shiny new purchase but significantly less in our bank accounts. For a few hours we feel great, but by the following morning that excitement is gone and we're back to our normal selves.

The fact a product is "on sale" helps us rationalise the purchase not only to ourselves, but also to our spouses who weren't there to see the giant red sign that triggered the less-evolved parts of our brain. We are not only harming our own financial well-being through impulse spending, but also our entire family's.

This is just one way we can "save ourselves to death". The word death is used in a variety of ways here; firstly financial death where we stay beholden to the credit card companies, unable to leave jobs we dislike, and secondly sometimes even literal death.

Here in the UAE, there are shopping festivals, special holiday offers and other purchasing opportunities that see advertisers encouraging us to pay even more for that thing we've decided we can't live without. But I have the inside scoop, and I'll let you in on a little "retail secret". Before becoming The Happiest Teacher, I worked in retail in the US and I found many items in the store (and I worked at several) were always on "sale". Sure, the price might go up and down a few dollars, but no matter what, that sale sign was always on.

The sign itself was the marketing tactic, making you imagine that the offer would be gone before you could come back, creating a sense of urgency that the retailer is counting on. This is why it's so important to be an informed consumer; if you take the time to research and track the price over a series of months, you quickly realise that amazing deal you can't pass up actually happens quite frequently.

Another way to "save ourselves to death" is when we purchase the cheapest option on the market, whether it's shoes, a car, a mattress, or anything else we frequently use. Sometimes it's unclear why one option costs so much less than all the other ones, and it seems too good to be true - usually because it is. In America, we call these products "lemons", as they fall apart very quickly, requiring costly repairs far too often.

You certainly don't have to buy the most expensive version of whatever it is, because that can be a rip-off too, but when you just buy something because it's super cheap, you may have to replace it with a more expensive version later on. This is why people say "the poor man always pays twice" because not only does he buy the inferior product that breaks, because he felt he couldn't afford one that was more expensive, but then he has to buy a second, more durable replacement. He would have been better off buying the slightly more expensive but much more reliable item in the first place.

The final way to save money badly is by putting off going to the dentist or doctor. While there is plenty of debate over the need for an annual healthy check, especially for those under 50, what the healthcare industry does agree on is that you need to consult your doctor when you are feeling unwell or have a family history of illness. Many try to power through symptoms or sleep off conditions that don't go away, just to save a few dirhams. Ignoring sickness can lead to far more serious problems that end up costing you huge amounts of money to fix later, if you're lucky. The unlucky ending is that you die.

While I am all about saving money, make sure you're doing it in a way that contributes to your financial and physical health.Your future depends on it.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: May 30, 2019 03:49 PM

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