The Hawthorne Effect (also known as the Observer Effect), is something I have observed in my life more than once. The main thing I have seen is that when I start observing and taking close note of what I am doing, financially, I change how I act with money, thus I end up changing my lifestyle, but then having the wrong perspective on my financial life.
The specific example I can give, is when I decide that I am spending too much money (usually happens at least 3 times a year) and I want to see where the money is going. I start watching what I am spending, by becoming (even more) anal about recording expenditures in Quicken (my normal method for watching spending).
Typically when I start noting my financial life I end up:
- Not buying lunch at the cafeteria at work, or limiting it to 1 or 2 meals a week, and eating more left overs for lunch
- Attempt to have “no spending days” where at the end of the day I have the same amount of money in my pocket as when I started, but that becomes a bit of a cheat with Interac and Credit Cards.
- Doing weekly and monthly reports to look at where the spending is happening and then “discussing” that with Mrs. C8j (OK, so it ends up in a fight because inevitably in the discussion I use the “What were YOU buying at Store Z?” phrase).
Doing all of this causes me to alter my spending habits, thus the data I am collecting is at best skewed and at worse, incorrect.
The best way I can do a real study on my spending habits is by looking at past data (in Quicken) and act on that data, however, when I do try to watch myself financially, I end up acting like I am supposed to act, so maybe that side-effect makes the whole exercise well worth while ?
We see a similiar effect by using a fee-based financial planner for our income/spending monitoring.
Once a month we meet, review what we’ve done, look at where we’re going, etc. Keeps us on track by having a look at it.
Gotta do it. it’s too easy to forget to pay attention and slip back into imperfect financial decisions.