Your Brain Thinks 300 Cents Is Bigger Than $3

Perhaps you can use this new study to trick yourself into curbing your spending. Researchers found your brain interprets the difference between increasing from 3 cents 300 cents as being bigger than going from 3 cents to $3. So if you’re trying to talk yourself out of buying something that’s $200, visualize it it for a second as costing 20,000 pennies.

Behavior: $1? No Thanks. 100 Cents? You Bet. [NYT] (Photo: EricGjerde)


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  1. "I Like Potatoes" says:

    I think I actually have 20,000 pennies.

  2. Plates says:

    I just use $2 bills. I find it stops me from buying all sorts of things like candy and such.

    • netcrusher88 says:

      @Plates: It’s a great idea, but where do you get them? Last couple of times I’ve asked at my bank, they said they didn’t have any.

      • Plates says:

        @netcrusher88: I bank at Commerce, and I always ask when I go to the bank. Sometimes they have them, sometimes they don’t. It is a bit of a craps shoot. They can order them if you really need them, but I usually pop in after I go to the ATM which just gives out 20s.

      • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

        @netcrusher88: at Bank of America here in Charlotte, they have $2s at all of the medium and larger branches, but never at any of the in-store locations (no/small vault = minimal cash-on-hand)

        • geoffhazel says:

          @Gstein: I cashed a 10.00 check at a Wells Fargo and asked for 2’s and got 5 — she said I cleaned her out. They’re around.

          Of course, you might run into trouble if you try to spend too many of them, like these guys:


    • KMan13 still wants a Pontiac G8 says:

      I buy them in bulk straps of 100 from my bank. Sequentially numbered. But, I know all of the tellers there. And I have them specifically cuz nothing costs a doller anymore … so it just facilitates me buying the cheap shit lol

    • Jeff Winter says:

      @Plates: I work at a local bank around here in Milwaukee. We usually only have the $2 bills that customers deposit. We can order some from the main vault, but usually only for customer requests, and sometimes the main vault doesn’t even have them.

      On another note, a majority of the people asking for them are older men so they look better at the strip club…

      • Leksi Wit says:

        @Jeff Winter:

        On another note, a majority of the people asking for them are older men so they look better at the strip club…

        Nice! Sounds like “cheap, older men” to me ;) I’m going to share that story with a friend, thanks for the smile.

    • nonsane says:

      @Plates: I prefer to use 3 dollar bills.

  3. Blaaaah says:

    It’s called the ultimatum game.

    I’ll leave this here so everyone takes this post with a grain of salt.

  4. Connie Lee says:

    I actually used to do a variation of this when I was a little kid, around 8-10. I’d imagine “Could this toy contain 600 pennies? If not, it’s a bad deal.” Except my thinking didn’t account for small valuable things like diamonds. But who buys diamonds as a kid?

    A penny-pincher from birth.

  5. dohtem says:

    I want to know more about these participants. Where they average joes picked off the street?

    I’m no genius but with basic math it is easy to lob off the last 2 zeros to convert a nice round number like that from cents to dollars.

    • floraposte says:

      @dohtem: It’s not an issue of math failure, though, it’s an issue of psychology. Money isn’t merely abstract, and we respond differently to it in its different physical incarnations.

      • johnva says:

        @floraposte: Being “psychology”, I don’t think this is true of everybody. I think it’s probably true that it’s a tendency/cognitive bias, but I know for a fact that I don’t think like this. Money IS merely abstract to me, when I’m thinking about numbers. It really does not make me emotional or anything like that.

  6. ojzitro says:

    This is also why news outlets have begun rounding up to 1 or 2 trillion, instead of numbering the government plans in billions.

  7. krispykrink says:

    300 pennies are bigger than three dollar bills… in weight, mass, and value of materials. ;-)

  8. ryohazuki222 says:

    I guess I’m a “freak.” I see “pennies” or “cents” and I instantly think: “worthless.”

    Put into terms like the experiment. My brain will more likely think $3 is worth more than 3,000 pennies. At least, initially.

    • geoffhazel says:

      @ryohazuki222: 3000 pennies or 300 pennies?

    • Narockstar says:

      @ryohazuki222: No, I agree. Multiples of pennies really hold no reference value for me. 10,000 pennies, 12,000 pennies. I can’t really judge the difference. It sounds like less than $20. You might as well tell me to convert my dollars to Yen.

      • Tzepish says:

        @Narockstar: I’m in this camp. I’m far more likely to part with 300 pennies than $3. My mind even does a double take comparing $3 to 3,000 pennies – $3 at least has value, but 3,000 pennies is just 3,000 times nothing.

  9. corsec67 says:

    And some people think that 0.02 cents is equal to $0.02

  10. HogwartsAlum says:

    I put my pennies in a jar. I roll them when it’s full. The jar is a clown-shaped jelly jar with a slit in the lid, a la a piggy bank. It’s probably worth more than the amount of pennies it holds.

  11. TrueBlue63 says:

    Man am I glad that I passed math.

  12. rinse says:

    I wish I can get back the 5,000 milliseconds it took me to type this. :(

  13. drdoombot says:

    Forget this 300 cents vs $3 crap… I want to know how to fold up a dollar bill to hold two half-dollars!

  14. Meathamper says:

    I stack my coins in a pile on my desk. Sometimes they fall.

  15. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Bleh. This is like people who set their watches to be 5 minutes fast so they’re never late for anything…how in the hell do you fool yourself like that?

  16. Robotic Bilbo Bagins has no use for fleshy ones says:

    @undefined: Going to have to try this. I absolutely adore $2 bills. I know it’s strange to adore a denomination of money, but I do. No one has them and when you whip them out everyone wants to take a gander. They’re like cute cuddly baby pictures, that no one can resist.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I think they’re on to something.

    When I was in Japan not long ago, 100 yen was worth just a few percent more than one dollar. I found myself being more frugal about many purchases, when I had to mentally multiply and shift the decimal point over.

    Just looking at a price tag of 4870 yen for a fugu dinner felt more extravagant than “fifty bucks”, either way a lot of dough for a plate of potentially deadly fish.

  18. Justifan says:

    i just want to know how to fold like that:P

  19. kyle4 says:

    We learned this in Marketing class, it’s the same as “Psychological Pricing” where items are $299.99 instead of $300.00.

    As for the $2 bill trick, guess I’ll just have to stick to my toonies then.

  20. geoffhazel says:

    For some Penny visualizations check out the mega penny project. Here’s a link to one picture that’s a cubic foot of pennies, which is about $491.00

    They go up in scale until they are making really big things out of pennies.


  21. SacraBos says:

    What I usually do it figure out how many hours I’ll have to work in order to pay for it. I.e. @ $20/hr, a $40 item will cost me almost 3 hours (adjusting for taxes).

    When you start thinking in terms of how much indentured servitude you’re getting into for what will likely bring little pleasure, you really start realizing what’s important.

    • oneandone says:

      @SacraBos: Absolutely.

      “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” – Thoreau

  22. IC18 says:

    Change the dollar amount to the yen. Then things will seem to cost a lot more than it looks. $10 ~ 1000Y. Makes you reconsider your financials when your spending thousands a day!

  23. Smorgasbord says:

    I am going to guess a lot of it has to do with the level of education of the test subjects. Public schools are graduating kids who can’t fill out a job application.

    If my bill at a fast food restaurant was $7.29 and I gave them $10, and they start getting the change, I sometimes realize I have the correct change and give them the $0.29 so they can keep from running out of coins. They look at the $0.29, then at the $2.70 change they were going to give me, and can’t figure where to go from there. I tell them to give me back the $0.29 and let them give me the change. They can’t do simple math in their head.