What Can Netflix Teach You About Your Finances?

The user experience of a website is akin to the flavor medley of a dish at a restaurant. It can be extraordinary, abysmal, or anything in between and, similar to a patron at a restaurant, it’s typically a primary factor for whether or not the user returns to a website in the future. Like anything else, there’s an exception to every rule and when it comes to websites, Netflix exemplifies one with a sub-par user experience, but exceptional user retention. The 21st most popular website on the internet, according to Alexa.com, doesn’t have a bad design, per se. Instead, Netflix just has too many choices.

We’ve all been there, sitting in front of your screen, excited to unwind with a new show or movie. In the back of your head, recommendations from friends and family are swirling, but the name of a specific title doesn’t quite come to mind. Instead, you’re consumed by the exhaustive array of titles that seem to be sequestering any hope of a decision. Eventually, we retreat to one of two safe havens: either we re-watch something like The Office for the countless time or concede entirely and seek out a source of relaxation that provides genuine relaxation.

This scenario isn’t unique to Netflix or streaming sites in general. In fact, it’s been studied for decades, in many different contexts. One particular June, 2000 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Drs. Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper entitled ‘When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing,” found that too much choice is a good and bad thing; as you might have expected. Of course, voluminous options foster a landscape where you’re free to make a choice that’s perfectly suited to your tastes. Though, that pursuit of perfection might be a double-edged sword.

All of those titles on Netflix that keep you searching aren’t inaccessible. In fact, you’re just one click away from your original intention of watching something new. However, as Iyengar and Lepper described, all of those choices motivate users to seek out the perfect option, rather accept than one sufficient to satisfy their needs. This phenomenon is true for your money as well.  Investors in constant pursuit of the best return, rather than one that is sufficient to achieve their goals, often find themselves realizing a lower annual return than those investors who worried only about an annual return sufficient to fund their goals.

Accepting a sufficient return should not be confused with settling for a mediocre return, compared to the rest of the market. Rather, expecting a return that is sufficient to keep your financial plan on pace is the path of least resistance toward accomplishing your goal. It will be one of the cornerstones for avoiding the temptation to excessively trade, in response to events that have no bearing on your goals and likely an ultimate detriment to your success, in pursuit of the perfect return.

When it comes to your financial plan, we don’t want to cave to the demotivation of choices and retreat to the familiar, like when we can’t find that perfect Netflix title. Instead, we want to know the number that will spell certain success for achieving your ultimate financial goals and make that our way-point. Your financial goals are defined, measurable, and within a specific time-frame; perfection is not. When we focus on your financial goals, not perfection, you’re in a much better position to sit back and relax, rather find yourself eclipsed in an endless pursuit of the arbitrary; the perfect.

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Tom Markowitz, PhD

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