When You Can’t Have Any Brownies

The result of wanting what you can't have

It’s fascinating how badly we want what we cannot have. Specifically, let’s apply the concept to food. After that, let’s switch to money.


In college, wife was trying to lose a few pounds. She tried to be strict about her food intake. No second helpings, no candy, and no dessert.

But in the stress of the moment, she found herself collapsing under the weight of her desire for brownies she couldn’t have.

And she gave in.

What if willpower depends on your current progress and momentum?

If it does, it would explain why the adult in good shape can easily ignore junk food and desserts. It would also explain why the person trying to lose a few pounds is powerless to resist.

When you can’t have any brownies, you eat two. But when you can afford to eat a brownie, you decide to pass.

The parallels to finances are undeniable.

Your neighbors complain about credit card bills, yet they just got a new car — and a monthly payment with it. Your coworker’s wife wants to stay at home with the babies, but now that they closed on a bigger house, she’ll have to keep working to cover the mortgage.

Odd, yet incredibly common.

Compare this to those who could afford a car payment or the latest in gadgets, but choose to do other things with their expendable income, like give to charities and save for college.

When you can’t have it, you get it anyway. Whether it’s a brownie or an iPhone or a cruise.

But when you can afford it, it is much easier for you to ignore your impulse and use your resources otherwise. This is the power of opportunity cost hard at work.

It’s also the result of long term, big picture thinking.

Are you choosing brownies over wise financial goals? Is it a good trade?