1 easy email tweak can help you save money, according to science


Newsletters and email promotions can be a good way to receive deals from stores you already frequent. But the constant flow of sales to your inbox could be costing you more than you think.

Those promotional emails actually cause feelings of impatience, according to a recent study published by the Journal of Marketing Research. That can lead to impulsive decisions in all aspects of our lives, including spending.

Here's how email promotions might be affecting you, and how you can make a tweak to your inbox that will allow you to take better control of your spending.

What sale emails can do to your brain

When we think about discounts, we are triggered to think about reward-seeking, says study co-author Franklin Shaddy, an assistant professor of marketing and behavioral decision-making at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Reward-seeking behavior refers to our brain's release of dopamine, a chemical that helps us feel pleasure, when we are anticipating or pursuing a reward.

"A lot of past literature says that being in a reward-seeking mindset is associated with impatience," says Shaddy. "We found that promotions and discounts and sales is another way to trigger people's reward-seeking. You're more likely to say, 'I'd like $50 today rather than $100 in a month.'"

If you get a promotional email from a favorite store that is offering 30% off lamps, for example, it could trigger a feeling of impatience, pushing you to not only purchase a lamp but also spend extra money on expedited shipping.

If you see a bunch of ads for discounts, that would make you less likely to put money away.
Franklin Shaddy
Assistant professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management

The excess spending might even continue beyond the one purchase. The researchers found that the action the email inspired, to take advantage of a promotion on lamps, could also affect how you spend your money in other parts of your life.

For example, Shaddy says, if you give someone a cookie, "they'll find the prospect of getting an hour-long massage more appealing." It can trigger reward-seeking for the reward itself or for anything that is rewarding.

"That mindset itself causes people to become more present-biased and impatient," he says. "If you see a bunch of ads for discounts, it would make you less likely to put money away" for savings.

How to use email to curb spending

There are ways to keep up with your favorite stores without being triggered to spend tons of money by a flood of promotional emails.

"Create a separate email account just for retailer newsletters," says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. This way, you can check your personal or business accounts without being tempted by sales.

You can also delete them altogether by using a subscription editing service. For example, Unroll.me connects to your email, rounds up all the the emails lists you've subscribed to, and puts them in alphabetical order. Then you can scroll through the list and unsubscribe to whichever ones you don't want to receive anymore.

If you curb how many promotional emails are sent to your inbox, you might be able to put some money back in your pocket, too.

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