Stress Affects Whether You're a Saver or a Spender

I'm one of those people who likes to spend, spend, spend, married to someone who doesn't like to part with a dime.  Cause stress?  You'd better believe it.

And now a new study is saying that stress affects our spending and saving habits.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure this out but a new study proclaims that if you're feeling overwhelmed? Stressed about work, a family illness or election season? It turns out that worry and anxiety can have an impact on your wallet.

“Stress leads consumers to favor saving money,” says Kristina Durante, an associate professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School who researches the effect of hormones and consumer behavior. Although stressed consumers want to save, when faced with a spending decision, stressed consumers will pay for necessities they think will help restore control rather than splurge on non-necessities, according to

The study found that stress leads consumers to save money in general but spend strategically on products they believe are essential.

Durante says the body reacts to stressful challenges with an increase in the hormone cortisol, which leads us to focus our attention toward the threat so that we can attempt to overcome it or alleviate it. “People lock down and enter survival mode and protect resources as a means to ensure survival,” she says.

When researchers in the study tasked stressed participants with making a decision about how to spend up to $250 – one group on everyday products and necessary household goods, the other on non-necessities including entertainment goods – the group buying items deemed necessary spent more money. Neither group spent all of the $250. (That's because I wasn't in the group!)

In another experiment, researchers restored a sense of control for one group before asking them about spending money by having them write about an instance in their life where their actions led to a good outcome. That group spent more money on purchases.

“What we found was for those with momentary levels of acute stress who then go and make a decision about how to spend their money, they want to save their money,” Durante says. “But for those who were stressed out and then had their sense of control restored, we found they were more willing to spend their money.”

The roots of the stress matter. People who said they were stressed about a current job situation, for example, were less likely to spend money on clothes, while others stressed about starting a new job were more likely to spend money on new clothes because they perceived the purchases as helping alleviate new-job stress.“What people feel is a necessity shifts depending on what kind of stress they have,” Durante says.

Having some control versus no control seems to affect the buying decisions people make when they are stressed, she says. “You can have situations where stress and a high level of control can improve your performance, like it does for elite athletes. But if you have a high level of stress and a low level of control, that’s when our cognitive efforts can get impaired and we want to save.”


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