Personal finance is all about time: Interview with Nick Clements from Magnify Money

Time Talks: International Time Perspective Network editorial interview series

International Time Perspective Network | Diversity of Approaches, Unity of Passion


Nick and Brian made a very remarkable presentation during our 2nd International Time Perspective Conference in Warsaw in 2014. It stayed in memories of many people for long after. Therefore it was very easy for us to make this choice and interview Nick for these series.

What impressed me the most that both Nick’s and Brian’s background is not in psychology, but they combine different disciplines and in their daily work they apply the results of the study they have conducted. I think that the story behind Magnify Money startup is very inspiring in many ways. So I hope you’ll enjoy it and if you are interested to meet Nick and Brian — you are more than welcome to join our next meeting in Copenhagen, August 2016.

We are partnering up with Magnify Money to make the next edition of the time perspective conference more cross-disciplinary and engaging. They are also making possible for participants of the event to meet the grand-father of the time perspective community — prof. Philip Zimbardo.

I am equally joyful that illustration for this issue was created by Tracee Vetting Wolf, with whom I took a creativity course on Coursera some time ago. Tracee is also very cross-disciplinary and amazingly creative. You should really take a look at her recent book Artist rEvolution on the power of collaborative art.

Anna Sircova, Time Talks creator and editor


What’s the story behind Magnify Money? How did it get started?

I spent nearly fifteen years working in banking, and witnessed firsthand the need for improved financial literacy and financial health globally. Consider the example of the typical middle class American family. The average family has more than $10,000 of credit card debt. Student loan debt has now crossed $1.2 trillion. Auto loans and mortgages are growing rapidly.

I wanted to create a business that helped the typical American family do three things.

First, MagnifyMoney is a friendly place to get your basic financial questions answered. We have an ever-expanding team of talented writers who are publishing answers to complicated financial questions every day. And our answers need to be thorough, accurate and easy to understand.

Second, we wanted to make it easy for people to compare prices between financial products, so that they can find the best deal. People feel very comfortable shopping online to find the cheapest airplane ticket. But far too often, people borrow money based upon the proximity of their bank branch or advertising received in the mail.

And third, we wanted MagnifyMoney to be a platform that rewards financial services companies that offer transparent and fair financial products. Far too many financial institutions generate profits by creating incredibly complex products and selling them to people who don’t understand the terms and conditions. Our goal is simple: we want to reward companies that provide transparent and fair products.


During last international conference on time perspective which took place in Warsaw in summer 2014 you and Brian Karimzad gave a talk on finances and time perspective that was of a big interest for participants and generated many fruitful discussions.

How do you describe the connection between finances and time perspective to people and why does this connection exist?

MagnifyMoney is doing an excellent job of providing answers to financial questions. We have already helped over 2 million people find answers and save money. However, our site is most helpful for people who are confident enough to ask questions and look for answers.

Although we are proud of the product we have created, we didn’t want to ignore people who wouldn’t naturally look for a better financial deal. So, we reached out to Professor Zimbardo* for help, and he suggested we consider Time Perspective. As readers of this interview are aware, our approach to time has a big impact on every decision we make. Our time perspective is a lens through which we view the world, and it can impact a wide variety of decisions. We hypothesized that it would have a big impact on how financial decisions are made.

We conducted a six nation study, and the results were clear. Your approach to time has a big impact on the financial decisions you make. Most importantly, your approach to time was more important than your financial acumen when determining financial health. In other words, a present hedonist** would be more likely to end up in financial difficulty, regardless of whether or not that individual could pass a standard financial literacy exam.


You took an interesting approach identifying different time perspective profiles which lead to different money-spending habits. Can you talk more about how these time perspective profiles differ one from another and how they are linked to the financial decisions we make?

The most obvious relates to present hedonists. When a present hedonist makes a decision, they are maximizing their pleasure today, regardless of future consequences. Businesses that lend money (like credit card companies) love present hedonists. And the data showed us that present hedonists were much more likely to end up in debt or bankruptcy.

Illustration by Tracee Vetting Wolf

Past negative** individuals were very interesting. They have a high level of skepticism. While this can be negative in many aspects of life, it can actually be very positive in financial terms. When someone comes along and tries to sell you a “hot new investment,” the chances are high that a past negative will say no. That means past negative individuals will miss out on big returns, but they will also tend to avoid big losses, which tend to come much more frequently than gains.

Future oriented** individuals have a mixed bag. Because they want to think of the future, they are likely to take action. However, because future oriented individuals never have enough time, they often make bad decisions. Traditional financial literacy education is extremely important to people with a future orientation.


How can people identify what time perspective profile they have and how it influences the thickness of their wallet?

We have created a “Money Personality Quiz” here:

We don’t really talk about time perspective in an academic way. Instead, people can take a personality quiz and hopefully learn about their situation in a friendly way.


Have you taken the test yourself? So, what’s your time perspective profile?

Yes, I have. And it has changed. I first took the test when I still worked in banking, and I was off-the-charts future and present hedonist. I guess that was a typical banker profile. I worked hard and I enjoyed life.

Since leaving banking and creating MagnifyMoney I have become much more balanced. I just recently took the test and I am much more in balance.


We were excited to know about your recent book Secrets From An Ex-Banker: How To Crush Credit Card Debt. We would be interested to know how did it come about and if you teach people to recognize their over-reliance on Present Hedonistic when they feel tempted to buy something and pay with a credit card?

I am a regular contributor to Forbes, where I write about personal finance. They asked me to write a book on how to get out of credit card debt. And the ideas behind time perspective played an important part of the book.

At the beginning of the book, I want people to understand why they ended up in debt. For many people, it is because they are present hedonistic. And if you understand that you are a present hedonist, you should really just cut up your credit card and use only cash.


It’s been now almost a year since the Conference, what have you and Magnify Money been up to since? What are the main challenges your startup is facing now?

We have been expanding content, building tools, and forming relationships with key partners. Our audience has been growing 30% every month, and we have helped people save millions of dollars. I am most proud of the financial literacy course that we have developed for Brooklyn College, which will be expanded to other schools and universities.


The outcomes of your research open new opportunities for the managing one’s finances. We would really appreciate some tips from you on how to become more successful in financial decisions.

Personal finance is a combination of understanding math, understanding the rules and understanding yourself.

If you don’t understand the math, there are plenty of calculators out there that can help you, including at MagnifyMoney.com. If you don’t understand the rules, we can help you. But psychologists can play a big part in helping people understand themselves. Personal finance is all about time. Taking the time today to build a plan. Thinking about the future when building that plan. And ultimately you need to decide on how to best balance pleasure today versus rewards in the future.

And here are just a few general tips:

· Everyone should have a written budget. And if you are married, you should write that budget together

· Your written budget should take into account your plans and goals for the future

· Avoid debt. If you are borrowing money, it should only be for assets that can appreciate, like a house.

· Cars are depreciating assets. Stop worrying about what other people think. Automobiles eat up so many years of retirement savings for so many people.

· Don’t think you can be an amazing investor. Look for low-cost index funds and take a long-term view. 99% of people who try to beat the market, fail. And they lose a lot of money in the process.

· Make sure you budget for some fun. Life is too short to stay too serious.


*Philip G. Zimbardo is an internationally recognized scholar, educator, researcher and media personality, winning numerous awards and honors in each of these domains. A professor emeritus at Stanford University, Phil has spent 50 years teaching and studying psychology. The author of more than 500 publications, including 50+ books in many areas of psychology, among them time perspective, shyness, terrorism, madness, and evil. His current focus is promoting heroism around the world with the non-profit he founded, The Heroic Imagination Project, http://heroicimagination.org/

For more info about Professor Zimbardo please visit http://www.zimbardo.com/

** — Present Hedonistic, Past Negative and Future are the scales of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) — the tool that measures individual’s time perspective biases and which has been translated and validated in almost 45 countries.

Present Hedonistic — reflects a hedonistic, risk-taking, “devil may care” attitude toward time and life. It suggests an orientation toward present pleasure with little concern for future consequences.

Past Negative — reflects a generally negative, aversive view of the past. Because of the reconstructive nature of the past, these negative attitudes may be due to actual experiences of unpleasant or traumatic events, to negative reconstruction of benign events, or to the mix of both.

Future — reflects a general future orientation. The Future scale suggests that behavior is dominated by a striving for future goals and rewards.

For more info please visit http://www.timeperspective.net/adaptations.html


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Join us at the #TPCPH2016 — Celebrating Time: 3rd International Conference on Time Perspective, 15–19 August, 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark

This interview is brought to you by:

Interviewers | members of the International Time Perspective Network’s leading committee and Organizing Committee of the Celebrating Time: 3rd International Conference on Time Perspective

Anna Sircova, independent researcher, photographer, event organizer, creative thinker and doer, creator of a few scientific communities. Believes in Open Access and power of recycling. Curious about design thinking, hopes to create usable science and struggles to make sound on the Persian flute. @anna_bki

Oksana Senyk, assistant at Psychology Department, Ivan Franko National University of L’viv, Ukraine, working on the topic of social roots of individual’s time perspective.

Illustration — Tracee Vetting Wolf, is an artist, designer, maker and mom. She lives in the Hudson Valley in New York. Tracee is an advocate for personal artistry, self-agency and creative aptitude. Tracee worked as a graphic designer, newsroom artist, architect, and user experience designer, done design at IBM Research (with a list of patents, publications and products to show for it). Conducted design workshops, lectured at Universities and atelier leader and lecturer for a repeating design camp in Europe. Currently, she fosters artistic inquiry, she brings people along the journey of self-reflection through various creative processes including art journaling.

Proof-reading — Natalie Odisho, interested in the intersection between well-being and time perspective. As a wellness specialist, Natalie investigates motivation of the individual and how this shapes mass behavior. Her experience includes intensive detoxification training, Refugee: The Eritrean Exodus documentary, and Style’s New York Fashion Week.

Assistant editor — Oksana Senyk

Idea and realization — Anna Sircova, Twitter @anna_bki

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