Simply Pretending You're an Expert Can Actually Help You Make Smarter Financial Decisions

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — New research is showing that simply thinking like an expert can make you one—sort of.

Michal Bialek, an assistant professor at Kozminski University in Poland, performed a study on what happened to subjects’ decision-making when they simply thought of themselves as experts. When making a decision, people simply asked themselves, “What would an expert do in this situation?”

Perhaps the most notable benefit he found was that thinking like an expert can help people override their natural impulsivity, making them more comfortable with “receiving less now rather than more later,” Bialek says. One common psychological bias, he says, is that “people who are expecting losses are keen to risk [too much] to avoid the potential loss, but when it comes to gains, they usually prefer small but certain gains.”

For example, Bialek says that most people would rather flip a coin to determine whether they’d have to pay a $100 speeding ticket or no ticket at all, rather than paying $50 for sure. In other words, they’re willing to take a risk to avoid a potential loss of money. But when the situation is reversed—they can flip a coin to determine whether they’ll get paid $100 or nothing for some small amount of work, or they can accept a guaranteed sum of $50—they’ll generally choose the sure promise of payment. That means that most people are averse to taking risks when it comes to gains, but are willing to accept more risk when it comes to losses.

Such a bias can be costly when it leads us to dig ourselves deeper and deeper into debt. Think about a gambler at a casino who’s down but intent on recouping his losses through yet more gambling: would he really take that same cavalier attitude toward his earnings at work?

“I have published a gain perspective,” Bialek says, “but I have recently collected data on losses, where the general performance is increased when taking the perspective of an expert. This means people override their impulse to extensively risk to avoid losses and prevents them from falling into even greater debts.”

In particular, he notes, this approach might be useful when it comes to spending decisions and managing a household home budget. Whether you’re lingering over the decision to buy something big like a fancy new espresso machine or something small like a recurring monthly membership to Netflix or Hulu, try asking yourself, whether an objective outside expert would think this purchase made sense. That’s not to say you should necessarily deprive yourself, just that it might lend you a new perspective to take a slightly detached, rational approach to your finances and lifestyle, to determine whether an item is worth its cost. More than anything, it’ll help you spurn impulsivity and ensure that you’re making a decision you won’t regret later.

All the same, there are some pitfalls to this “think like an expert” approach.
“When it comes to spending and managing a home budget, it can be very useful, but when it comes to complex time-risk involving decisions like investing,” Bialek says. “Relevant knowledge is also required, which is not always available to laypeople.”

In those cases where expertise is actually required, he says, this approach “isn't very helpful, as people use stereotypes rather than reflecting on the problem.”

So, general budgeting decisions? Give it a try. Investing decisions? You might want to read a few investing how-to guides to become more of an actual expert.

--Written by Allison Kade for MainStreet

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