Ask Ariely: On Better Brews, Money Management, and Flirting Forays

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a fan of craft beers, and when I hear about an exciting new one, I’ll get a case or two and invite some fellow aficionados to share the experience. But as we crack open the new beer and sample it, I almost always find myself disappointed. Why does this happen so much?

—Ben 

Your latest beer may just not be that good, but I think something else is probably going on here: Your heightened expectations are working against you. Raised hopes can influence the way that we experience something, for good or ill, depending on the gap between expectation and reality.

Imagine, for example, that the new beer you just bought measures an objective eight on a beer connoisseur’s 10-point scale. It’s a good beer, but not an amazing one.

If you had been hoping that your new brew would be a nine, your expectations can “pull up” the way that you experience the beer, making it taste as if it really is a nine. Your heightened expectations would heighten your experience.

On the other hand, if you were expecting a 10 as you raised your glass, the gap between the beer’s objective eight-point quality and your 10-point expectations will be too large to bridge—so large, in fact, that you’ll be disappointed relative to your expectations and feel like you’re drinking a mere seven.

All of this means that the trick to happiness (with beer as with much else in life) is to tame your expectations. Maybe try telling yourself that your latest brew is unlikely to be a 10, or remind yourself that the odds that your next beer will be spectacular are very low—and then be ready to enjoy it if that first quaff surpasses your less-than-great expectations.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve set myself a weekly budget of $500, which should cover groceries, lunch, coffee and nights out. I used to put everything on my credit card and try to keep track of my spending in my head, but I inevitably wound up spending more. To fight this credit-card temptation, I started taking out $500 in cash every Friday and spending only that. This strategy leaves me more aware of my outlays—but I’m still running out of cash by Thursday. What else can I do?

—George 

Your dedication is impressive. Having a budget for discretionary spending isn’t easy, but it is the first important step toward better finances. It’s also good that you’re managing your weekly budget without credit cards, which are designed to make it hard for us to remember how much we’ve spent.

With that in mind, let me suggest two things. First, instead of using cash, switch to a prepaid debit card that you load with $500 a week. With cash, you tend to estimate how much is left just by looking at the piles of bills you have; the debit card can tell you after each transaction exactly how much is left in your weekly budget.

Second, start your budget week on Monday, not on Friday. With your current method, you’re giving yourself the largest amount of money to start the most tempting part of the week—the weekend—which leaves you more likely to overspend. If you start your budget week on Monday, you’ll be more likely to try to save some cash to have a fun weekend.

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Dear Dan,

What is the most effective pickup line?

—Janet 

A good pickup line should show some interest but not too much, and it should put the burden of proof on the other person. I’d suggest trying, “You don’t seem like my style, but you intrigue me.”

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.