Full disclosure: I’m not a stranger to the McDonald’s drive-thru. That’s not a statement of pride…just fact. Typically, my visit involves buying a large Diet Coke. And no, this post is not brought to you by purveyors of unhealthy substances, or the Camelback Fund. (link) I’m a fan of the Southwest Chicken Salad, too. I don’t each much else from the menu, aside from the occasional breakfast item.
Still, I don’t know about you, but the first time I encountered a McDonald’s menu that included calorie counts for each item, my behavior changed. A lot. For example, at least once per year for most of my life, I’ve enjoyed a shamrock shake on St. Patrick’s Day. With a name like Kevin Patrick O’Reilly, I’m pretty much entitled, right? That was before they plastered 660 CALORIES right next to that tasty treat. Obviously, milkshakes have calories, and that wasn’t a revelation to me. Nonetheless, staring the number in the face was too much for me. One more tradition, down the drain.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. It’s hard to imagine a lot of people seeing 1,150 calories next to the Big Breakfast and getting excited. If you want to plan your next trip to the Golden Arches, check out the menu with calorie count here. You might just decide to skip the trip.
McDonald’s and Spending
What does this have to do with personal finance, you ask?
We’ve talked before about how the easier it is to spend, the more you will do it. Out of sight, out of mind. When you’re not physically handing over cash, it’s easier to spend money. I’m no psychologist, but I have to believe that the behavioral drivers that allow us to suppress calorie considerations at the drive through are at work in the “ease of spending” dynamic. When I’m faced with a quantitative consequence of my McDonald’s purchase, there’s no way I’m buying most things on that menu. It has a very strong impact on me. Your mileage may vary, but there will be an impact for most people.
What if you were more aware of how much you spend each month? Would that change your behavior? In many cases I’m certain it would. It is not at all uncommon for me to hear “wow, I had no idea how much we were spending” after new clients work through their spending data. Typically, they’ve concluded that they’ve got to curtail their purchases before we’ve even discussed it. That’s powerful!
Try this: write down every dollar you spend this month. Just for one month. You might be in for a surprise. It might even be a pleasant one. If you identify $100 that you can save each month, and that money grows by 7% per year for 10 years, you’ll make yourself more than $50,000 richer.