Monday, February 16, 2015

Ouch! That run sucked.

15 days after the Skydive Ultra, and I finally decided to get out for a moderately long run again. 12 miles, not a big deal. I've run dozens of 12 mile or longer runs over the past several months.  At least that's what I thought. And, boy, was I wrong.

I thought I had recovered well. Week one after Skydive, I did very little exercise. Swam a few hundred yards, ran a mile very slowly with my kids, took a short bike ride. Nothing intense and nothing long and tried to stay away from impact on the legs as much as possible. Week two I did add more exercise by returning to my regular swimming plan - about 5000 yards during the week - plus a few CrossFit WODs at low weight and controlled intensity and one nice and easy five mile trail run.

Saturday, two weeks after Skydive, I added added a little more intensity. A spirited bike ride to the gym, a CrossFIT WOD, and then a gentle ride home from the gym. It was hard work, but everything felt good, nothing broken. I thought I was mostly recovered.

12 Miles, But Really Only 11

So I decided it was time to go test out the running legs on Sunday. I've been itching to get out for a good run, and had been excited about it all week. But even the night before the run, things weren't right. Generally, I prepare the night before a long run to get out the door early. Clothes laid out, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting in the fridge, running pack set up with water and any other needs I might have for the run. I prepared none of this, just didn't feel compelled to because, hey, it was just a 12 mile run. (Maybe completing my first ultra has left me a bit cocky about my running prowess?)

I wasn't inspired, but I got myself out the door in the morning. I expected some soreness still and was hoping that soreness would work itself loose over the miles. Well, the soreness was there, but it never let up. In fact, it only got worse throughout the run. The legs were dead - perhaps an effect of the bike-WOD-bike the day before - and the soreness was uncomfortable and then the pain began. Two spots, my left ankle and right knee. The ankle has been a recurring thing for a long time. Never really significant, but always present and uncomfortable after half a dozen miles or so. The knee discomfort had been coming off an on for some time, and wasn't a total surprise either. But both were intense on this day.

And then the glute pain kicked in...literally a pain in the butt. This pain had come on a few times in training for Skydive and about 30 miles into the race. It felt a lot like the soreness following a day of heavy squats. Pain from the outside of the hip joint along the outer buttock. Again, not horrible, but very uncomfortable.

And I struggled through the dead legs, the soreness and the pain until I got home 11 miles later having skipped out on a one mile extension for the run. I was much slower than expected and in far more pain, but it was done.

Not Recovered?

Now I sit here with a very sore bum and a knee that's unhappy when I walk. The run left me with a very nasty taste in my mouth. And I wonder if I came back too fast. Or perhaps the other exercises I've been doing, while low impact on the legs, were too intense too soon? Maybe I wasn't as recovered as I thought I was. Or possibly it was just a bad day and a bad run.

It could be any of those things, or some combination of them. And now I'm left wondering if I need to take more time off of running or do I push through and hope it was mostly just a bad day?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Impact of Weight

I've been pretty lucky so far. Over the past 12 months, while rapidly ramping up my triathlon and ultramarathon training, I've managed to stay injury free. This despite increasing my running volume from around 25 miles per week in late October to a high of nearly 70 miles per week in early January, far too fast by most conventional wisdom. But I've often wondered how close I've been to an injury, and how much my relatively high running weight increases the risk of injury.

When I started training for my first sprint triathlon last July, my weight was around 205 pounds at six feet tall, well above the ideal triathlete and runner weight. I figured I'd lose quite a bit of weight moving from exclusively CrossFit and strength training and eating lots of calories to much more endurance work. And I did lose weight...for a little while. I dropped to about 195 within a few weeks, but have since stuck there despite increasing endurance volume training for a half iron distance triathlon and then ultramarathon. It's been a bit perplexing that the weight loss didn't continue.

That being said, I don't have any strong desire to lose weight. I'm happy with my current body composition and am carrying more muscle than I ever have in my life, aesthetically a nice thing and helpful when I have to pick up a heavy box. Yet, I do wonder how much less stress I'd put on my body at a lower weight. And at the Skydive Ultra, my biggest limiter was incredibly sore feet. The soles of my feet were in agony by mile 28, when I switched from fairly minimalist shoes to high cushion Altra Olympus. That helped some, but I still dealt with tremendous discomfort the rest of the day. This seems like it's almost certainly a function of weight.

I Have A Problem

Umm...yeah. That's a nutella bacon sandwich.
The thing is, I love to eat and I love some decadent foods. Yes, food is fuel, but food is also a joy in life. I'll forgo some of that joy, but not all of it. In fact, much of the reason I exercise regularly is to be able to enjoy some of those decadent foods with less worry. Simply put, I'm not giving up some food luxuries just to get to an ideal running and triathlon weight.

But I am willing to improve my eating. I don't need to eat decadent foods with every meal. I can certainly eat less or eat better. I've already started this by moving my breakfast to a calorie-packed, but very nutritious, smoothly instead of any old junk I can find before heading out the door.

Will It Make Me Faster?

Another thought I have when I consider weight is would losing 10-15 pounds make me faster? I'm not delusional. I'm not a competitive triathlete and runner, and I never will be. I do these things for fun and to see how far I can push myself and as an example of healthy living for my children and always with the specter of my father's far too early death after living a life free of exercise. But being faster is fun and it is pushing myself a little farther. So I would like to be a bit faster. And I'm pretty sure some weight loss would definitely help my speed both in biking and running. It seems like a worthwhile goal, particularly if I am able to control the weight loss to be mostly fat loss and minimized muscle loss.

180 Pounds, Perhaps

So, I'm thinking the target is about 180 pounds. That's still well in excess of ideal racing weight, and I'm fine with that. Just those 10-15 pounds less being carried around for the thousands of miles I'll run and bike is almost certain to reduce my risk of injury, possibly significantly. Hopefully, that lower weight will allow my feet to be a little happier during ultra distance running. I will appreciate any small speed gains that weight loss brings. And I'll accept the bit of muscle and strength loss that comes with the reduced weight. Hopefully, those will be minimal if I keep up strength training and properly balance my nutrition.

Doing It On The Cheap

And this post really wouldn't be a Cheaply Seeking Fitness post if I didn't bring up the cost concern. Eating healthy can be expensive! For several months, my wife and I participated in a meal delivery service in order to try to eat healthier, but the cost was too much to swallow (and the food wasn't very good, either.) Since then, I do believe we've been eating relatively healthy, excluding a few indulgences such as Yasso Sea Salt Carmel bars and nutella bacon sandwiches and ordering sushi and thai food a bit too often. So, it seems just by cutting portion sizes slightly without any major changes to my diet otherwise will lead to both a bit of weight loss and saving a little money.

And it's time to get started. Nothing major, though. Just a little less on the plate at every meal. Perhaps drop a snack here or there. The tricky part is overcoming constant hunger. I'm always hungry when training. Even when I'm clearly eating at equilibrium, I feel hungry. I can only imagine how much hungrier I'll feel when at a small calorie deficit. It's time to find out.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Choosing a Fitness Regime - The Struggle Is Real!

So, one of my biggest struggles (other than trying to not spend too much money) in my pursuit of fitness is deciding between various different fitness regimes and sports. The problem isn't trying to find one that works well and I enjoy. No. The problem is I enjoy too many and am constantly struggling with determining which I would most like to pursue. And while cost is wildly different among the fitness pursuits I enjoy, cost is only one factor.

My current struggle is really a battle between three different regimes/sports: CrossFit, triathlon and ultramarathon running. Yeah, triathlon and running have a lot in common and I think I could do (and am doing) both at the same time. And yes, the strength and high intensity interval training of CrossFit almost certainly provides benefits to both other sports. In fact, I credit that strength training with my luck so far remaining injury free even while ramping up running distances at a much faster pace than the convention 10% rule suggests. But despite some of the overlap, time and money prevent me from pursuing all three at once.


The most expensive and most time consuming seems to be triathlon. The equipment list, especially now that I'm moving to long-course triathlon, feels almost endless: a bike that can cost many thousand dollars plus all the maintenance costs, wetsuit, goggles, trisuit, biking shoes, running shoes, swim coach, pool membership, running clothes, GPS watch and on and on and on. Plus race fees! Ironman branded races are absurdly expensive and why you're likely never to find me competing in one. Alright, you might find me at Ironman Wisconsin someday. Heading back to my alma mater in Madison to ride up Observatory Drive and run down State Street tweaks a heart string that may just call me there one day. And the time commitment is just as huge. Swimming endless laps in the pool, plus time to practice in open water. Running at least decent mileage. And biking and biking and biking. It's a massive commitment.


CrossFit comes in a close second on the cost scale. The monthly fee is nothing to sneeze at. And there's also a large equipment list here, although much less expensive than triathlon. But CrossFit offers two benefits that neither triathlon nor ultramarathon running can match. 1) It's pretty nice getting stronger and the aesthetics that go along with that. Growing up as the skinny kid, this is a huge draw to me. And 2) CrossFit has by far the smallest time commitment. Even if I attended daily, the time in the gym is dwarfed by triathlon training time and even ultramarathon training time.


Ultramarathoning is by far the cheapest of the three. Some shoes, a good pair of shorts and socks and a few other pieces of gear that last forever is really all that's needed. Yeah, the shoes need to be replaced often (I think I bought three pairs in a one month period during my highest training volume.) But good deals can always be found on shoes. The time commitment is still pretty huge. Long weekend runs can take hours. But the commitment is less than triathlon. The running, however, comes with one major drawback...injuries. I suspect with the running volume needed, injuries are almost a foregone conclusion at some point ranging from minor to very severe.

The problem for me is that I love all three. I'd love to be able to do all three at once. That's simply not a reality, though. The cost alone would drive me crazy, much less my wife. And I don't have the time. I do have a quite busy and stressful job...perhaps the reason exercise is so important to me. And spending time with my wife and children is of paramount importance in my life. That means the fitness pursuits must be compromised.

My plan

My plan is to use 2015 to try to decide what really captures me and where I want to focus. I have my first ultra under my belt for the year. And I think I'll run a 50K at the DTR Endurance Challenge in April to round out that experience. And for the next couple months, I'm going to be attending a CrossFit box regularly as long as possible. At some point, likely in April or May, that will come to an end when I turn my training to the Great Floridian Triathlon in October.

That should give me almost a full year of experiences to make some tough choices. And, perhaps, the real solution is just to keep doing what I'm doing and try to fit all three in. Or perhaps it's to focus on one until the interest in that one wanes and be happy I have to others to fall back on.

I think I'll also use this blog to explore these issues, and make it a series of blog posts. I'll explore cost difference in one post, culture difference in another and so on and so forth.

While the struggle is real, its a great problem to have.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Bike Day!

Well, new bike day was actually a few weeks ago, but I've finally gotten out for a decent ride on my new (to me) bike. In proper Cheaply Seeking Fitness fashion, this was not a new bike nor even particularly newish. However, it was a massive upgrade over what I had been riding previously and still cost far more money than I wanted to spend.

The new bike: a 2005 Litespeed Saber size 55 with full Durace group set and loaded with other little upgrades that I purchased from a fellow Boca Raton Triathletes member.

Frankly, the biggest hesitation to my decision to race a full iron distance triathlon was the need to upgrade my bike. While my old 1980s Cannondale had been sufficient to get me through the MiamiMan Half Iron Triathlon, there was no way I was going to be able to ride that old steed for the 112 mile hilly course at the Great Floridian Triathlon in Clermont. But in November, I decided to suck it up and register for the race while it was at a super-discounted $250 entry fee and start looking for a great deal on a bike.
The old Cannondale

I researched and learned quite a bit about bikes. One of the first things I decided was that I didn't want a full carbon frame. It seems that, while these frames are all the vogue and super aerodynamic, their lifetimes can be a bit short. I wanted a frame that could last me as long as I wanted to race triathlons. That left either aluminum or titanium, and I was going to be fine with either. I'm not competitive and don't need bleeding edge technology. I just needed a comfortable, well-priced, efficient and long-lasting bike.

And with this Litespeed I think I've found it. At $700, it was still a great deal of money. But it checked all the boxes and was on the low end of even the used triathlon bike market. I'm very happy with my purchase.

Riding the Litespeed is a dream. The carbon fork dampens road bumps so well. It seems to fit me extremely well even before a professional fitting. But I do have a little more money to drop on the bike. First, I'll need to purchase shoes and pedals. I'll be looking for used, of course. Likely a set of Speedplay pedals. I also do need to bring the bike in for a fitting (not a cheap thing) and a full tune up. And before race day, I'll have to get a new set of tires and am thinking I might splurge with a used behind-the-seat water bottle set-up.

But this should be my single biggest outlay for anything fitness related. It's done and paid for, and now I can focus on being cheap again. Now it's time to train.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Skydive Ultra: New Experiences Everywhere

January 31st, 2015, I took on my biggest fitness challenge to date: The Skydive Ultra. The Skydive Ultra is an ultramarathon, with a huge twist: prior to starting your run, you have the option and are encouraged to jump out of an airplane at 13,500 feet! I had never been skydiving before, and I had never run an ultramarathon before. This was going to be a day of firsts.

Skydive Ultra offers a variety of distances to run, from the more conventional -- 10K, half marathon and marathon -- to ultra distances -- 50K, 50 miles and 100 miles. I had signed up for the 50 mile distances. This was the first athletic endeavor where I thought there was a real chance I might not be able to finish. Even the half iron distance triathlon last year, I knew if I got through the swim, finishing the race wasn't going to be an issue. Slow perhaps, but not an issue. A 50 mile run, that was an entirely different beast. I hadn't trained enough having only started in mid-November after completing the MiamiMan Half Iron Triathlon. My training in January had been upended a bit by work travel and a cold that sidelined me a few days. And worst, I had gone for a too long training run of 36 miles that turned into a real disaster in early January. I didn't know how this day would go.

The Ultra Community - Something Special

I drove to the skydive and race location the morning of the race. That meant walking out the door of my apartment no later than 515AM to hit the road. Sure, I could have gone the night before and stayed in a hotel, but this is the Cheaply Seeking Fitness blog. I try to do things on the cheap in all my fitness pursuits. This was already a sort of expensive race since entry fee included the skydive. I had to save some money somewhere.

Sunrise at arrival
I arrived at the race location around 7AM and headed to check in. At check-in, it was clear this was different than the few other running and triathlon races I had completed in the past. Eric Friedman, the race director, checked me in and then grabbed a course map and walked me through the race. Then he introduced me to another 50 mile runner, who's name I unfortunately do not recall. However, this other runner was parked a couple cars away from me.

The runner and his wife asked me a few questions about my running experience. They were surprised to learn I was running my first ultra, had never run a marathon and was alone without crew at this event. The wife basically offered to adopt me for the day, and asked me to let her know if I needed anything at any point. And throughout the day and night, she checked in on me practically every time I ran through the start/finish area. It was a wonderful gesture and, as I learned throughout the day, really how the entire ultra community behaved. Help was offered to all runners by everyone. Spectators and runner's crews were always ready to lend any runner a helping hand, a bottle of water, a place to sit for a few minutes. This was like no other race or competition I had ever participated in. A competition, sure; but a competition where everyone wanted to see everyone else succeed.

And it wasn't just the spectators and crew members. Out on the course, runners were just as willing to help a struggling runner out. And everyone (save for those runners in a deep, dark pit of despair) was ready to strike up a conversation for a mile or two and make sure every runner got closer to whatever their personal goal was.

The ultra community is something special. I had a sense of this from participating in the FUR - Florida Ultra Runners Facebook group, but to experience it in person was remarkable.

Skydiving - A New Hobby?

I had elected to skydive before I began my 50 mile run. It was not a requirement of race participation, But if you're going to participate in the Skydive Ultra, I figured I better do the skydive as well as the ultra.

I had never skydived before, and really only had what I'd seen on television or movies to form any expectations from. Well, those expectations were entirely wrong. I met my tandem instructor, Patrick, and went through the instructions for jumping. This took all of about two minutes. Ten minutes later, we were boarding an old propeller powered plane, and heading into the sky on a beautiful sunny morning.

Another ten minutes to reach jumping altitude, a quick refresher on jump instructions from Patrick and a huge roller door was opened in the airplane. Just like that, the people in front of us started tumbling out of the airplane. No preamble, no waiting at the door thinking about it. Just out and gone. And then we were at the door and just as quickly falling through the sky. Yes, falling. No sensation of floating or flying. But incredible falling at awesome, thundering speed. It was exhilarating. Patrick got us leveled out, then put is into a couple spinning dives.

A few second later, the canopy opened. And now we were floating through the sky. It was magnificently quiet. No electrical hum. No sound of cars. Not even animal noises. Just silence. The free fall had been exhilarating, and this flying was supremely relaxing.

After a couple minutes we landed softly, and that was the end of the skydive. A new hobby may have been born. I can't wait to jump again, and have already made plans to get my wife out for her first jump. Who knows, maybe we'll even want to go through training to be able to jump alone.

Edit: No skydive photos or videos for me. Again, the Cheaply Seeking Fitness blog here. Those videos were darn expensive!

The Race

With the skydive done, it was time to change into running gear and get ready to run 50 miles. This race was a bit unusual since all racers didn't start at the same time. As skydivers landed, they simply got ready and could start whenever they they felt ready. Your time started when you crossed the starting mat.

I was ready and crossed the mat at 9:14AM. My heart rate was still high from the skydive, a theme throughout the day. I really never got the heart rate down to where I would have expected it to be for the pace I was running. From this point, my race experience can be broken up into three distinct phases: miles 1-24 "Comfort", miles 24-34 "Deep, Dark, Despair", miles 34-50 "The Other Side".

Miles 1-24 went very well. The first 18 miles, I felt great. Two weeks of hard tapering left my legs feeling super fresh and ready to go. I was running perfectly according to game plan: 25 minutes running at approximately 9 minutes per mile, then 5 minutes of walking to average 11 minutes per miles. This is the plan I used to train and what I hoped to carry me through the entire 50 miles. And for 18 miles it felt like that would be no problem. I was able to breeze around the the double loop 8 mile course, stopping only briefly to refill a bottle with Tailwind or add water to my Salomon pack bladder. Around mile 18, I felt the first twinges of fatigue. Nothing significant and nothing that slowed me down much, but more of an annoyance at the consistent, moderate wind out of a north northeasterly direction. But basically until mile 24, all felt great and the wind was helpful for half of each lap.

After completing my third lap and 24 miles, I headed back out on the first loop. The first turn out of the start/finish area was a right turn directly into the wind. That turn into the wind was the beginning of a dark 10 miles of running. I maintained a run for a few minutes, but eventually found myself walking into the wind despite being in a 25 minute run period. I was convinced that with only a few minutes of walking, and I'd be ready to run. And after a few minutes, I did try running again only to find myself falling into deeper despair at the grinding wind. And I was walking again. This became a common theme over these next ten miles. Walking into the wind feeling defeated and deflated, and running as much as possible with the wind.

If I were running the 50K, I'd be done.
During this ten mile period, my greatest concern struck: sore feet. During my 36 mile training run, among many other problems, I had experienced feet that became so exceptionally sore that I had created fear that I wouldn't be able to run farther than 36 miles. And around 24 miles into the race, the soreness was building. I began the race running in Merrell Bare Access Ultra shoes, my primary training shoes, which I find tremendously comfortable and had mostly held up well in training. However, they skew on the minimalist side with little cushioning. At around 195 pounds, I'm no running lightweight so the lack of cushioning begins to add up over the miles. By mile 28, my feet were killing me. I decided that at my next run through the start/finish area I would switch to a pair of highly cushioned Altra Olympus shoes I had bought a few weeks prior to the race and only spent a little time in. So at mile 32 the change was made along with a fresh pair of socks, switching to Injiinji's. This was the start of a turn around in my mood.

Also around mile 32, I was encouraged in an aid station to have some Coca Cola. I had a cup of it, and started eating Sour Patch kids (I read that it can be helpful to bring a favorite candy as an easy sugar treat during dark periods.) And this brought me out to the other side. I was comfortable having given up on my 11 minute per mile goal pace and decided that I would walk into the wind and be comfortable with it. The coke and candy definitely provided an energy boost, and the race seemed infinitely more finishable.

Sunset on the course
Miles 34-50 definitely weren't easy, but I never had any doubt I would finish. I experiences some of the most excruciating discomfort, and even pain, I can recall ever feeling. But it was simply the pain of sore feet and sore joints, not something indicative of an injury or muscle fatigue or even a dangerous blister. As the sun set and darkness arrived, the race shifted once again, now into a somber and quiet endeavor. I only got to spend about an hour in total darkness, but the solitude and quiet of it have led me to want to run a 100 mile race through the night.

I finished my final lap and had a simple 2 mile out and back to finish the race. Along the way, I spent a few minutes with another 50 mile runner. We talked about the race a bit and I found out that he was still 13 miles from the finish, which shocked me. I figured I was near the back of the pack, having not seen any 50 milers for hours. He and I walked to my turnaround together, then he headed on into his next loop while I turned back. I dug deep and ran the final mile into the finish line.

Finishing time: 10:43:07.2. As I crossed the line and turned in my timing chip, I was told I was currently in third place! But with a lot of runners on the course, some who started after me, it wasn't certain I would remain there.

I walked over to the aid station where Eric Friedman offered me bacon, wonderful bacon. I could think of no better food after 50 miles of running than bacon. Then I headed over to order a finisher shirt and got to have a quote screen printed on it. The quote: damn that sucked.

And the race did suck. It hurt terribly. Miles 24-34 were downright miserable and for most of that period I told myself that I would never do this again. But the other side felt so much better, and finishing was awesome. The race was awesome. It sucked, but it was awesome. I can't wait for it to suck again.

I spent a couple hours relaxing and resting, then started the drive home. And that was my first 50 mile ultramarathon experience.

*Man, this is long. And yet it still feels too short. So many incredible experiences on this day and so much I've left out, like the beaver who watched me and a runner early in the race. I promise to try to be more concise in the future.*

Gear List

  • Shoes: Merrell Bare Access Ultra, Altra Olympus
  • Socks: Icebreaker Hike+ Lite mini, Injinji (not sure which styles)
  • Shorts: Pearl Izumi Infinity Shorts
  • Shirt: MiamiMan finisher tee
  • Arm warmers: Pearl Izumi Select Thermal Lite arm warmer
  • Hydration: Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5, Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Plus bottle
  • Nutrition: Tailwind, Trader Joe's Fig Bars, Sour Patch Kids, Endurolyte Extreme
  • Headwear: Buff - UV, Boca Tri headsweats visor
  • Technology: Garmin 910XT with HRM and cadence sensor, MEElectronics Sport M6 Headphones, Nexus 5, cheap Chinese-manufactured CREE LED headlamp
  • Miscellaneous: Body Glide, BandID

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cheaply Seeking Fitness: Same Address, an Entirely Different Blog.

So has been sitting idle for nearly two years, and I've finally decided what I want to do with this space. Over those two years, I've found myself increasingly drawn into a search for fitness for myself and my children. That search has led me from running to kettlebell classes at the local YMCA to attending a CrossFit box and finally back to running and triathlon. The common theme during that search has been trying - and often failing - to do it on the cheap.

I've decided I'll use this space to jot down thoughts along this journey. Those thoughts might include race reports (the first on a recently completed ultramarathon will be published soon), deals I've found on fitness equipment and perhaps a review of that equipment, personal discoveries along the path, training thoughts, and a litany of other items.  We'll just have to see how this develops.

The banner photo for the website and photo at the top of this post is a picture I took as I pulled up to the location of my attempt to complete a 50 mile ultramarathon on January 31st. This particularly race was a bit unusual, and not just because people would be running anywhere from 10 kilometers to 100 miles. In addition to huge distances, the race began with a skydive. As I sat in my car and took this photo, I thought to myself, "You begin to question your life choices when you are preparing to jump out of an airplane and realize that's the least frightening part of the upcoming endeavor." The photo, while not a masterpiece of photography, seems like an appropriate image of my search for fitness.

That's it. That's what you'll begin to find at in the future. It's a drastic change, and it's what currently captures my imagination. Perhaps this will only be interesting to me, and I'm ok with that. Maybe you'll be interested to join along for the ride.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Buy Stuff And Be Happy

As I've worked on this blog and dug deeper into how people make financial decisions, it's becoming increasingly clear that we really have no idea what the impacts of our financial decisions are. I just ran into a shining example of this a few nights ago as I read about some new research that suggests shopping can make a person less sad. This conclusion runs in direct conflict with many books I've read or discussion I've participated in about the concept of "retail therapy" - shopping to alleviate some emotion.

The Benefits of Retail Therapy

In their paper The Benefits of Retail Therapy: Choosing To Buy Reduces Residual Sadness; Scott Rick, Beatriz Pereira and Katherine Alicia Burson explore what the emotional impact of buying something is on sadness. As they identify, saddened emotional states can lead people to do shopping they may not have done otherwise. Generally, this has been characterized as a negative process, since people spend money they didn't necessarily plan to spend. The researchers, however, set out to determine if this shopping process is actually beneficial from a non-economic perspective.

Across three separate experiments, their results supported their hypothesis: the act of making buying decisions does decrease sadness. What's interesting is that through their experiments, they identify that it's not the acquisition of new products that decreases sadness. They suggest the mechanism that decreases sadness is the actual process of choosing to buy something. This process acts as a way of regaining some control of one's life and a renewed sense of control can lead to less sadness.

Some Caveats

The researchers identify several limitations to their study. The impact on sadness, while viewed across all three experiments, was relatively mild. The "shopping environment" they set up for the experiments didn't perfectly model real-world shopping experiences. The researchers also reveal that there may be other mechanisms at work in addition to the "regaining control" mechanism, which need to be identified and studied.

I'll add some further caveats. The experiments were very small with only a few hundred participants total. Further, this is a single piece of research which needs to be reevaluated by other parties to determine if they can replicate this impact. Additionally, they measured the short-term effect of shopping on sadness without any view on long-term impact.

But the results remain highly interesting to me for two reasons: 1) they run counter to conventional wisdom and, 2) they speak to a non-economic impact of financial decisions.

Why We Know So Little

We really don't have any idea what the impact of financial decisions are. The financial planning profession and society have for so long focused solely on the economic impact of financial decisions, that we've totally missed all the other impact each financial decision has. This research is a perfect example. While as a profession we're ready and willing to admonish people for participating in "retail therapy" because it has an economic cost, we never bothered to figure out if it actually helps those people emotionally and physically!

If the non-economic benefits are great enough, the economic costs may be worthwhile. I'm not suggesting this is the case with retail therapy, but I am suggesting that we begin to try to understand these overall impacts of financial decisions much better. Until we do so, we're really failing at helping people make good financial decisions. Economics play only a small part in the financial decision making equation.