Spendthrifts, Tightwads, Equally Unhappy

Published on November 25, 2010   ·   No Comments

Not only do people at the extremes of shopping both feel unhappy, they also frequently end up marrying each other.

By Emily Sohn
THE GIST

  • People who spend too much or too little money are less happy than people who feel content with the amount of money they spend.
  • Spendthrifts and tightwads frequently marry each other, and end up with marriage troubles.
  • Understanding the relationships between emotions and shopping can help marketers and consumers.

As the mega-sales ramp up for Black Friday, some shoppers will rush to the malls ready to spend. Others will stay home and pinch their pennies.

Both groups, according to a growing body of research, will probably end up unhappy.

“Some people experience this distress a lot, where they typically spend less than they would like to, they pass up on indulgences, they buy cheaper versions when they could have bought higher quality items, and they end up kicking themselves afterwards,” said Scott Rick, a marketing professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“On the other end of the spectrum,” he said, people “chronically spend more than they should and end up kicking themselves, too.”

By studying the relationship between emotions and shopping habits, Rick and colleagues are finding ways to help companies inspire the shopping-averse to loosen their wallets. The work may also help people boost their own happiness and even improve their marriages by adjusting their shopping behaviors.

To understand why we shop and how shopping makes us feel, researchers talk about three categories of people. The first group, called the unconflicted consumer, defines about half of us, said Cynthia Cryder, a consumer behavior researcher at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. Unconflicted consumers feel relatively content with how much they spend and what they buy.

A smaller percentage of people are spendthrifts who thrive on luxury purchases. At the other extreme are tightwads, who avoid spending altogether. When they do buy things, they always pick the cheapest options.

Tightwads seem to outnumber spendthrifts by a ratio of three to two, Cryder’s research suggests. And when you ask people, she added, just about everyone can say which group they belong to.

Those differences may be rooted in our brains. In a 2007 study that scanned the brains of people as they made purchases, Rick and colleagues found that the distress that tightwads experienced while spending money was accompanied by extra activity in a brain structure called the insula, which is associated with negative feelings.

That finding, reported in the journal Neuron, suggests that the “pain of paying” is a physical experience, not just a metaphor.

Discovery News

Read More: http://news.discovery.com/human/shopping-black-friday-spending-behavior.html

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