Ask Ariely: On Important Impressions and Better Budgets

October 23, 2021 BY Dan Ariely

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.


Dear Dan,

This past weekend I attended a wedding. I enjoyed getting to know the people at my table, but I can’t stop worrying about the impression I left on them, and whether I may have come across as boring. I would like to meet up with these people again, but I am hesitant to contact them after this terrible first encounter. What do you think I should do?


On average, we tend to be more likeable than we think we are. Yet most people hold very low opinions of themselves, and especially of their conversational abilities. This mismatch between our perceptions of ourselves and others’ opinions of us is known as the “liking gap.”

The liking gap was first demonstrated in 2018. Researchers randomly paired people for 5-minute conversations, after which each was asked to rate how much they liked the other and how much they believed their partner liked them. Overall, participants made better impressions than they thought they had and underestimated how much their partners liked them.

The truth may be that we spend so much time and energy worrying about our own behavior and the impressions we’re giving out that we miss positive signals from others, such as smiles and laughter. It may be useful to remember that your conversation partners are also likely to be worrying about their own behavior and impressions, leaving them little capacity to really pay attention to you. Ask yourself if you remember and care about every little mistake your conversation partner made. Assume that your conversation partner is as generous as you are in judging other people and remembers as few of their small mistakes. Chances are that you are much more likeable than you think you are, so go ahead and contact the other guests from the wedding.


Dear Dan,

Why do I always run out of money at the end of the month, even though I’ve created a budget and try very hard to stick to it?


Budgets can be a helpful tool when it comes to forecasting spending on frequently occurring purchases like groceries and gas. Most people, however, fail to account for expenses that feel exceptional and don’t fit a particular recurring spending category, such as fixing the refrigerator or buying a birthday gift for a friend. Exceptional purchases are seen as one-offs: we don’t normally spend on any one of them, and so we don’t make them part of our monthly budgets.

However, while it’s unlikely we’ll need to fix our refrigerator next month, chances are we will have other exceptional expenses, such as new eyeglasses or a car inspection. These types of expenses add up, and before you know it, you’ve overspent.

By their nature, exceptional expenses don’t fit any budget category, and so it is hard to account for them. For example, it would make no sense to create a budget for repairing refrigerators, or even one for repairing appliances more generally. My suggestion is that you look back at the last year, try to estimate the magnitude of your monthly exceptional expenses and make a budget that takes this sum into account. Sure, your budget will be less clean and less satisfying, but it may be more realistic.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.