How 'temptation bundling' can help you achieve your money resolutions



Myles Ma

Myles Ma

Senior Reporter

Myles Ma is a senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covers personal finance and insurance and writes the Easy Money newsletter. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

Published January 13, 2020 | 3 min read

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Achieving New Year's resolutions takes willpower. But when it comes to difficult tasks like working out or saving money, willpower can sometimes dry up.

The couch will always tempt us away from the gym; buying nice things always feels better than austerity. Katherine Milkman, a behavioral economist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, came up with a way to overcome this lack of willpower: temptation bundling.

Temptation bundling is the idea of pairing actions that take a lot of self control with guilty pleasures. For example, hitting the treadmill while reading a trashy romance novel or clearing out your inbox while getting a pedicure.

Smart money habits also take willpower, and temptation bundling can help. We talked to financial advisers about how temptation bundling can help people reach their money goals.

Reviewing finances with a partner

Communication is key in a relationship, especially when it comes to your finances. (Check out our survey to learn why.) But talking about money is hardly anyone's idea of romance.

Katrina Soelter, a certified financial planner and director of wealth management for KCS Wealth Advisory, suggests couples conduct their regular financial review together during a night out at a restaurant or over a bottle of wine at home. That way, couples can get on the same page about money while indulging in some quality time together.


"When you update your budget and review your spending, ideally weekly or every other week, combine it with an activity you really like," Soelter said.

Have your favorite tea or coffee, eat a tempting snack or your reward yourself afterward with a good book or TV show.

Celebrate wins

"After you pay off or pay down a credit card, celebrate in some fun way that you don't usually do," Soelter said.

A weekend away or a night out can be a good way to reward yourself for getting rid of debt.

Social drinking

For Alexander G. Koury, a certified financial planner and wealth advisor for ValuesQuest, saving money is his reward for not drinking.

"Instead of indulging myself in a few drinks, I would rather just have one and save the rest of the money," Koury said. "What I will do is consider the benefit of saving my money versus buying another, and when I decide not to have that extra drink or two, I will log into my bank account at the table and transfer the cost of that drink to a special savings account."

This makes saving fun for him and comes with health benefits.

Going to the gym

A gym can be a significant financial investment with significant health rewards, but only if you actually go. Milkman's original 2013 study on temptation bundling aimed to motivate people to work out.

As part of the study, researchers gave participants iPods loaded with audiobooks like "Hunger Games." The catch was, they could only use them at the gym. Those who received this nudge ended up going to the gym 51% more often than a control group.

Not sure where to invest your fitness dollars? Read our guide to the best gyms for your wallet.

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Image: Phillip Blackowl