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How do you avoid spending too much? Studies on buying behaviour have emphasized that one way to do that is to raise the “pain of paying”. This uncomfortable feeling that comes with paying differs across payment methods and influences our decision to buy. Using a credit card is associated with a lower “pain of paying” – and therefore higher levels of spending – than paying with cash. An increased pain of paying is like a “moral tax”, as researcher Dan Ariely calls it, because it makes us less inclined to make the purchase.

Similar to credit cards, online buying has been associated with a medium to low level of “pain” and stimulates spending. This raises the question how irresponsible online spending that causes debt could be reduced. In our research we study if highlighting the consequences of going ahead with the purchase increases the “pain of paying” and as a result helps people to control their online spending in a responsible way.

Want to learn more about our approach? Read the full story on the Think Forward blog at