If you snooze you lose, say tail-enders

Others take action, I lose out. It’s a pattern that’s costing me.

It goes like this: when arranging trips, I line up many facts and some options to help with making decisions – like flights, hotel bookings and various other practical things that need sorting – but then I dither.

By the time I reach a verdict, I find my options curtailed because someone else beat me to the cheap seats, or booked the last room at the hotel I want.


And having read a load of research around how your last name influences how fast you buy stuff, I believe I can safely blame my parents for my predicament.

The tyranny of the alphabet is the reason.

You might have noticed that my surname starts with an A. The very first letter of the alphabet, followed by a “b” – the second letter.

You don’t get much higher up on lists in alphabetical order than me.

And therein lies the issue.

The thinking is that because people like me would often be one of the first to get our turn at whatever’s happening, we early alphabeters acquire a sense of abundance that stays with us for life.

This affects various things, like our buying decisions. We’re more relaxed when it comes to when to buy things – because we’re not fearful that there won’t be any of what we want left.

But people whose surnames are later on, who, as children lining up in alphabetical order, had to queue and watch others get, enjoy, or eat, while they continued to wait – these people are more sensitised to “buy now” and “act now” pitches.

You can imagine what it must be like for a young child desperate for a slice of cake or a turn throwing the javelin, wondering whether there’ll be any left, as the cake gets smaller and smaller, or if the bell will go before their throw as time ticks away and the lesson nears the end.

Fascinating don’t you think? The problem is that life doesn’t factor in how we’re conditioned, and so I must work on shaking off these subconscious behaviours that are penalising me – so that I get the deals that I’m after.

Ditto people who are the late alphabeters.

They need to look at how they react when they’re told there are “only three seats left” or that “tickets will be available for a limited time only”.

Marketing people and consumer behaviour experts know this.

They are feeding off research that consistently shows people whose names are R to Z react significantly more quickly to offers of cash for participating in surveys, or to book seats to sports events if they’re touted as available at a discount to the first 20 buyers, or where the message is that have nearly sold out.

Two-thirds of participants in the study consistently responded in keeping with their alphabetic place in life.

This sense of entitlement versus fear of losing out isn’t restricted to things to own or use – it’s seen across the spectrum of life – with more early on alphabeters peppering top jobs and leading countries.

But what about a person whose surname changes because they marry up the alphabet you might ask, as a friend of mine did?

She’s even higher up than me alphabetically.

Well, it turns out that the surname of your childhood is what affects your behaviour – not one you acquire later on in life – should that happen.

My friend went from being right at the bottom of the alphabet to the very top – she sees her alphabet-conditioning as having given her the opportunity to observe what those who went before her said or did, which gave her a better chance to get things right when her time came.

So as we enter a period of big spending – with various festivities, gift-buying and venue-hunting, will targeting the R to Zs be more profitable for marketing and sales professionals?

The answer seems to be “yes”, unless they take a leaf out of my very successful friend’s book.

As for me, I’m on my way to alphabetism-rehab, with a special focus on dealing with my abundance-itis, but only in the context of making less costly financial decisions.

Given a choice, I’d rather suffer fallout from having abundance at my core than fear.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at nima@cashy.me and find her on Twitter at @nimaabuwardeh.

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