Christian Minimalism

Psychological Pricing

It’s no secret that businesses and consumer culture use all sorts of tactics to get us to buy more stuff. We see a lot of these tactics in advertisements and how consumer culture functions– appealing to our base needs, manufacturing a sense of urgency, and perpetuating a sense of dissatisfaction are just some of these ploys.

But one consumer culture strategy that we don’t hear much about is psychological pricing, or using how much a product costs as a way to affect the buyer psychologically. It’s a sneaky way to appeal to our thought processes, so we feel better about purchasing a product and will oftentimes end up buying it.

Also known as charm pricing, psychological pricing uses how our brains work to turn us to buying and consumption. Below are some of the two major instances of psychological pricing we see regularly today.

Odd-Even Pricing

Have you ever noticed that prices often end in a weird amount? For example, it’s pretty normal to see a product being sold for $9.99 or $4.45.

This strange amount is not an accident. It’s a very calculated tactic of odd-even pricing. The basic idea is that we see prices ending in odd numbers (as in 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9) and understand them as discounted prices. And when we think of products as discounted, we are more likely to buy those products because we’ve perceived them to be less expensive.

Because we read left to right, our brains register the first number we read as the most important one. So, when we read the price of $9.99, we think of the price as being closer to 9 dollars rather than 10 dollars. Even though in reality the product is only 1 cent less than 10 dollars, we are more likely to buy it because we understand the price to be 1 dollar less than it actually is.

Interestingly, if a business wants to convey that a product is a luxury good, they will price their products ending in even numbers. Since our brains perceive products with prices ending in odd numbers as discounted, it makes sense that our brains would perceive products ending in even numbers as high-end goods. This is why we see cars or furniture with even-numbered pricing because those selling these products want us to see them as quality products (rather than discounted, or “cheap”).

Knowing is the First Step

The good news is that becoming aware of these psychological pricing tactics is the first step to combating our perceptions. Businesses and consumer culture are literally using our psyches to get us to buy more stuff. When we notice these tricks, we are better able to combat their sway on our thought processes and aim to purchase less.

We were not created by God to constantly buy and accumulate more stuff. Jesus makes this very clear:

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

~Jesus (Luke 12:15)

Consumer culture’s motivations are in direct opposition to Jesus’ motivations. Consumer culture uses psychological pricing tactics to trick us into buying more products so that more profits can be made. Jesus, however, calls us to recognize that our lives are so much more than buying and consuming.

Now that you know about these psychological pricing tactics, how is God inviting you to purchase less?

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Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Will and their son Theo. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.


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