Want to Stop Spending? Try Thinking About Cash

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Photo Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME; Getty Images

Almost all of us have walked out of a store having spent more than we planned thanks to a salesperson who helpfully suggested that your kids would love the accessories not included with a toy, or that the shirt you’re trying on could be a whole new outfit with just one or two more pieces. That’s because good salespeople are trained to make you more receptive to their pitches and persuade you to buy — maybe more than you intended.

In a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, a team of experts found that thinking about money can short-circuit a salesperson’s attempt to lure you into a purchase. Researchers conducted experiments in which subjects were coaxed in low-key ways to think about money, either viewing images of money on a computer screen saver, or asking them to formulate sentences that had to do with money.

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The researchers theorize that being reminded of money makes people more aware of their autonomy. Subjects who had been exposed to money were less receptive to people who were in an “authority” position and could influence their decisions. In a shopper’s case, that authority is the salesperson who’s telling you that you should buy something.

For instance, one common technique salespeople use is to mimic the shopper with whom they’re interacting, copying the pacing and tone of their speech and even using similar body language. “That tactic will backfire when people have been reminded of money recently, but normally that tactic works quite well to help close a sale or a deal,” said Kathleen Vohs, professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and one of the study’s authors.

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We’re not suggesting you go out and laminate your wallet with pictures of cash, or tie a green string around your finger. (Although if those keep you from overspending, go right ahead!) But the experiment offers a fascinating glimpse into how money impacts the way we interact with the world around us — even if we don’t realize it.