Colin West, behavioural economist at Evree

Ask Evree: I just got engaged! Now how do I convince my guy to stop spending our wedding budget on video games?

Our behavioural economist explores the sweet science of budgeting for happiness.

Congratulations! But wait, before you go hiding his controllers, I want you to play a game: Ask your self which of the following you think best describes your boyfriend’s attitude about spending money on video games despite the impending wedding expenses looming on the horizon?

Fiancée A

“I like video games and in the grand scheme of things the money I spend on games is trivial. You want me to sacrifice my happiness for a few measly bucks?”

Fiancée B

“I totally agree, babe. The new Call of Duty 9 looks awesome, but our wedding will be ever awesomer if that’s a word. If only I could restrain myself from impulse purchases, I know we’d be happier in the long run.”

Now I’m going to take a bet that even if your guy sounds like Fiancée B, he’s almost certainly Fiancée A. And since you’re asking your boyfriend to give up something he likes, I think you should start by proposing a joint commitment contract: You will both commit to saving more money for the wedding by cutting back on certain “unnecessary” purchases. That way you’ve both got a stake in this challenge.

So what counts as necessary versus unnecessary? Good question. The goal should be to cut back purchases that don’t add much happiness to your life. But behavioural economists know that humans tend to be woefully inept at deciding what kinds of purchases will truly make them happier. They call this “affective forecasting error.” At any given moment, we have a hard time predicting how an event or decision will influence our emotional well-being in the future.

It’s better to look back at past purchases and weigh the cost against the happiness that was generated. So here’s my suggestion: Ask your fiancée to sit down with you one evening and look at the past three months of your credit card statements. With the benefit of hindsight make three lists:

1) Purchases that truly increased your happiness

2) Purchases that had no meaningful impact

3) Purchases that you now regret

You can skip over stuff like rent and groceries for now. But remember that you are trying to maximize saving for your wedding without sacrificing too much happiness today. So if in hindsight your fiancée still thinks his video game purchases have contributed to his well-being, then you might want to let him have this one. However, there are surely more than a few purchases on each of your credit card statements that are costly and do not produce much happiness. Together, you can make a joint commitment to cut those purchases out until after the wedding. Or altogether.

To help you guys stick to the commitment, it could help to assign a third-party arbiter. Tell a mutual friend specifically what you and your boyfriend are committing to cut back on, and have them act as an independent referee. Maybe even put some real stakes on the commitment. Loser has to cook dinner for their respective future mother-in-law?

Colin West is one of three resident Behavioural Economists working at Evree. He’s also happens to be a PhD candidate at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Got a sticky financial situation of your own? Send your questions to askevree@evree.ca and sign up for Evree to receive science-backed advice straight to your inbox.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.