Converting foreign prices into your home currency and adding its symbol (i.e. $, €, £) to menu prices, bar tabs, and grocery bills may be enough to trick your mind into spending much less money.
People tend to spend significantly more, no matter what the currency, when prices are displayed without symbols and even more when prices are rounded off or don’t have decimal points. This effect is amplified when the symbols you do read aren’t local to you (like seeing Euro signs when visiting France from the United States).
How To Trick Your Mind With Your Local Currency Symbol
Even travelers who are conscious of their budgets tend to spend more money when doing quick conversions in their heads. To best overcome the symbol effect discovered by Cornell University, it’s best to accurately convert a given price down to the decimal in your home currency, and write it with the appropriate symbol preceding it.
For example, 12 for a salad on a menu might be easy on the eyes, but try writing it as $12 or even better $12.00.
Useful Tools To Converting Prices On The Spot
These are some tools you can use to get accurate currency conversions close to real time so you can save yourself from the “dollar effect”.
- Currency – One of 5 free and useful iPhone apps for travelers, the Currency iPhone app converts in real time and stores the information for quick viewing, even when you don’t have Internet access. (Works on the iPod touch as well.)
- Google – Simply type how much and the currencies you want to convert in the Google search box. For example, “convert 5 USD to GDP”.
- Currency Converter Mac Dashboard Widget – Converts almost all international currencies as well as legacy ones (e.g. German Deutsch mark).
- Currency Converter Gadget Windows 7 – Very similar to the Mac version.
For those of you who don’t have smart phones or dislike carrying them on you, a simple pen and paper with common conversions may help you when ordering a meal that’s “not too expensive.” When all else fails, simply adding a dollar sign next to the prices on any menu (or handy napkin nearby) is likely to subconsciously make you spend less.
Working Against You At Home Too
While the added layer of operating with foreign currency will increase your tendency to spend, the lack of dollar signs has the same effect for you at home too. Hotel and restaurant owners are keening aware of this and manipulate their advertisements and menus to nudge you into spending a few extra bucks. So next time you see a nice rounded off price, convert it into the currency you grew up with (or get paid in) and add the appropriate symbol. Also, don’t forget to add two decimal points over to save even more on your simple travel budget.