A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Dollars
The old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Recent research about retirement saving suggests that a picture (of yourself) may be worth a thousand dollars, or even more. The study, which was conducted at Northwestern University, demonstrated that young people who viewed computer-generated future pictures of themselves increased the likelihood of saving more for their retirement now. Interestingly, seeing future-aged pictures of other people (such as their friends) did not increase the likelihood to save more now; it was only their own aged picture that mattered.
The study went on to test another variable: people’s emotional reactions to their future selves. Participants in the study were shown aged pictures of themselves with a happy face, a sad face, and a neutral expression. An interactive slider allowed participants to adjust the amount of retirement savings now and see the emotional impact of their decision on their future image. Higher saving now, for instance, led to a happier future image at retirement. The impact now was that participants who went through this exercise were more willing to save more for retirement.
So, what does this mean for you? The software to create these future aged pictures of ourselves is in development now and may be available on the web within the next year or so. If you can’t wait and want to try this on your own, you can use some photo editing software or even apps on I-phones (my niece had fun adding about 40 pounds to my pic on her I-phone). I don’t know that an I-phone image will be able to really age you much, but my initial reaction to the “heavy face” effect (where I looked like I had put on some serious weight) was enough to make me think, “Man, I don’t want to get to that weight level, ever!”
So it’s not surprising (at least to me) that this aging-picture software can shock us into making retirement saving changes now. Apparently the aging pics help us realize that our future selves are the same as our present selves—just older. And in the face of that reality, we’re much more likely to make better long-term decisions now with our current money, like putting away more for retirement in the future. Maybe this is just a simple case of “seeing is believing.” Whatever the reason, a future picture may indeed be worth potentially thousands of dollars in retirement.