Monday, August 1, 2016

Scarcity, Slack and Tradeoffs or Why You Should Read This Book

I love to read fiction. My idea of a really good night is being curled up with a gripping novel and a beverage.

My husband and I went to the Super Bowl a few years ago. After spending the Saturday before the Big Game at various events, most of the group decided to head to a bar to watch the fights after dinner. I elected to stay in the hotel room with a book and a glass of wine. One of the women from the group commented, "Of course I'm going out. It's the Super Bowl. I'll only get to do this once." I was thinking the exact same thing about my book and quiet room!

But as much as I enjoy fiction, wherever I get to read it, I have a real soft spot for non-fiction. It makes me feel smart!

I recently read Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.  It's a fascinating book about money, time and mindset. The concepts from the book are drawn from research in economics and behavioral science. Be still my geeky beating heart.

Scarcity, in whatever form, is managing with less than we need. Scarcity, the authors say, is why the poor stay poor and the busy stay busy. Whenever we have scarcity, we often "tunnel." Tunneling is when we can only see what's immediately in front of us, not future consequences. It's why, when we're running late, we make careless mistakes like pouring coffee while sending a text to save six seconds even though we know that the odds of us spilling the coffee are great, thus costing us more time to fix the mistake. 

The most insightful chapter was the one on "scarcity proofing" our lives via small but effective changes. Most of the suggestions made were obvious, but they were helpful, nonetheless. 

Set Defaults
If you tend to be neglectful of something, set a default so that you've automated that task. For example, if you're bad about paying bills, put them on auto pay. If you tend to snack unhealthfully, only stock the pantry with assorted wholesome goodness so that when you get busy and want to munch, the food on hand won't be eaten to your detriment. 

Convert Vigilant Behavior Into One-Time Actions 
Rather than trying to do the right thing multiple times, which can wear on your willpower, make decisions that eliminate decision making. For example, instead of trying to save money each month, increase your 401(k) or other savings contributions so that you don't have to think about the money - it just happens. 

Think About the Trade-Offs 
The most beneficial concept for me was the one of trade-offs. Instead of thinking, this only costs $29.99 and therefore I should buy it, consider asking, "If I spend $29.99 on this, what else will I not be able to buy?" Unless you're cash-strapped, these kinds of calculations would be overly taxing to make each time you made a small, everyday purchases. This kind of thinking, however, can also be applied to our time. 

With the start of the new school year rapidly approaching, it's helpful to think in terms of trade-off when we sign our kids and ourselves up for activities and volunteer assignments. (The topic of trade-off made me think about this post on Saying No to the PTA and Room Mom Guilt-free.) We can sign our kids up for any number of extra-curriculars activities, but we need to remember it takes away from time for homework and decompressing or just general margin in our days (the authors of Scarcity refer to margin as "slack"). 

May today greet you with abundance or, at least, a better way to tackle scarcity. 


  1. The older I get the more I realize the scarcity of time. Makes me appreciate family more and determined to maximize and cherish times together. How blessed we are to have children, grandchildren and glorious times spent together. Love you Jessica, thanks for giving us more grandchildren!

  2. Opportunity costs are real! - K.