We all possess a deep-seated, primal urge to search for something we want or need. We scour dusty thrift stores, comb through online auctions and secondhand markets, and spend hours wandering antique shops in pursuit of an elusive object that calls our name. This same impulse has been around since time immemorial—in fact, it's hard-wired into human nature—and it helps explain why many of us get so excited about finding certain special items. But what is it about the hunt that brings such pleasure?
Today, let's unpack some of the psychology behind our obsession with hunting down and searching out that sought-after item.
Why is bargain hunting so hard-wired into us?
The psychology behind finding a bargain is rooted in the concept of "loss aversion" and the positive or feel-good emotions we associate with getting a good deal. Loss aversion refers to the idea that we feel more strongly about losses than gains.
In other words, the pain of losing something is greater than the pleasure of gaining something of equal value. It's a strange quirk in our psyche. We feel the loss is greater than the gain even when the value is the same.
So, when we find a bargain, we feel like we've gained something valuable while avoiding the potential loss of paying full price. That is the core difference between playing for something at its normal price versus when it is on sale.
Finding a bargain activates the reward centres in our brains. The release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, gives us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This satisfaction can be further exaggerated if we feel like we've outsmarted the seller or if the bargain was hard to find or involved some effort on our part.
For some of us, finding a bargain can also provide a sense of status and self-esteem. We feel like we are savvy shoppers who can find fantastic deals and save money. We tell ourselves that we have the edge and feel more confident in ourselves as a result. Who wouldn't want that in their lives? Hence finding bargains can be a source of genuine excitement and joy in many people's lives.
Our brain and money
When we find a bargain and save money, the brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that is associated with feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation.
Dopamine is released in response to various stimuli, including food, sex, social interaction, and achievement. In the context of finding a bargain and saving money, dopamine is released when we perceive that we have gained something of value. This may happen when we see a discount, coupon, or sale on an item we want or need. The release of dopamine gives us a sense of satisfaction and pleasure, which can reinforce the behaviour of seeking out bargains and saving money.
Research has shown that the release of dopamine in response to gaining a bargain is more pronounced in people who are more sensitive to financial rewards. This suggests that some people may be more motivated to seek out deals and discounts due to individual differences in their brain's response to rewards. So if money is a focus in your life, you are more likely to seek out that bargain than someone who isn't.
This release of dopamine in response to finding a bargain and saving money reinforces the behaviour of seeking deals. It can contribute to a sense of satisfaction and pleasure, and the cycle continues.
Does bargain hunting increase when times are tough?
There's likely an increase in the drive to bargain hunt during times like we are in now, and there is a cost of living crisis. When in general, we may have less disposable income, we can become more aware of the price of things. This makes us more price-sensitive and pushes us to look for ways to save money.
During a cost of living crisis, we often feel a sense of financial insecurity or uncertainty about the future. Humans, in general, don't do so well with uncertainty. We unconsciously like routine and predictability and are constantly searching for it. Bargain hunting can be a way to give a sense of control over our finances. By finding bargains and discounts, we feel like we are taking proactive steps to manage our money and protect our financial well-being.
There is often an increased desire to bargain hunt during these times as we look for ways to save money, become more price-sensitive, and feel a sense of control over our finances. It's all about trying to regain our sense of control when life around us seems out of control.
Tips to follow when hunting down a bargain
While bargain hunting can seem like a great way to save money, it is important to be careful not to fall down the rabbit spending hole.
Do your research
Before buying anything, research the item you want and compare prices at different online and in-store stores. Check for any ongoing sales, discounts, or coupons you can use.
Set a budget
Determine how much you will spend on the item and stick to your budget. Don't get swayed by a seemingly good bargain if it pushes you into debt.
Sometimes, waiting for a sale or discount can help you get a better deal. Don't rush into a purchase unless you really need the item immediately. If the thing is worth it now will still be worth it in a few months' time.
Check for quality
Just because something is on sale or discounted doesn't mean it's worth buying. Make sure to check the quality of the item before making a purchase. Quality will give it longevity, and the longer something lasts, the better value it is.
Beware of scams
Be wary of scams that promise unrealistic discounts or deals that seem too good to be true, tend to be just that, too good to be true. Always buy from reputable sellers and retailers. Check their review and always look for the lock in the top left-hand corner of the computer screen.
Remember: it is only a bargain if you NEED it.
While finding a bargain can be a great way to save money, there is a balance to be found as sometimes it can be taken to extremes.
The warning signs for taking bargain hunting to the extreme
When it comes to warning signs for taking things too far, here are a few things to keep in mind:
If you find yourself buying things just because they're on sale or discounted and not because you actually need them, you may be taking things too far.
If you're spending more money than you can afford to take advantage of a bargain, you may be putting yourself in financial danger. Very few things in life are worth the cost of financial stress.
If you're buying things in bulk just because they're on sale and not because you need them, you may be hoarding and wasting money in the long run.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about bargain hunting and it's affecting your daily life and relationships, you may be developing an addiction to bargain hunting. No items are worth sacrificing your close relationships for.
Finding a bargain triggers the release of chemicals on a fundamental level. The reactions we have a real and quite often very potent. Neurotransmitters are potent things that can swing our moods in all directions. When we derive joy from something such as bargain hunting, dopamine is released and feels elated, driving us to want more of that emotion.
Bargain hunting can be a great way to save money, but it's important to set a budget, be patient, check for quality, and beware of scams. Also, be aware of warning signs for taking things too far, such as impulse buying, overspending, hoarding, and addiction.
Like everything in life, enjoy bargain hunting as long as it is making your life better. However, if it is impacting your life in negative ways, read the warning signs and act accordingly.
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