While it seems like a utopian concept, the argument that some consumers could be addicted to saving money might not be as inconceivable as it sounds.
A study conducted by professor George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon found that despite the challenges people have with saving money, a significant 25 percent of the general population actually found it painful to spend money.
Loewenstein studied 13,000 people to examine their brain activity patterns and response to desirable items (e.g., chocolate candy) versus undesirable items (e.g., the candy’s price tag), using functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques.
The results uncovered that if participants liked the chocolate, the brain’s reward center (the nucleus accumbens) demonstrated a positive reaction to seeing the candy. Upon seeing the chocolate’s price tag, however, the pain and disgust regions of the brain (the insula) showed activity.
These findings suggest that the brain’s negative response to tapping into a bank account is its inherent way of reeling in consumers from seeking out too many pleasure-seeking experiences. This adverse response to the thought of losing money is what might have paved the way for the different types of savers who seek to pad their savings accounts with extra cash.
There is no way to pigeonhole savers into a single, collective bunch, however. Money hoarders come with a variety of characteristics and have different motivations for saving money. Here are four different types of ultimate savers:
Financial philosophy: “It hurts to spend money.”
Think of the tight-fisted personality of Ebenezer Scrooge, and that’s what you’ll find when faced with a tightwad. This group of cheapskates is the sort that Loewenstein’s study identified as being pained or “disgusted” at the thought of spending money.
It’s likely that the very thought of being social sends shivers down their spines for fear of what expenses might lurk behind a seemingly innocent night out with friends. These individuals are so addicted to saving that even spending on basic necessities becomes an issue.
What to do: If you’re a tightwad, Lowenstein recommends experimenting with different bank accounts to help keep budgets and savings priorities reasonable. For example, keep one account strictly for an emergency fund, and dedicate the other to covering discretionary items like personal hygiene products, groceries, etc.
Financial philosophy: “Saving money brings me joy.”
Savers who consider themselves to be frugal, rather than tightwads, relish in the act of saving money. Their joy is not tied to material goods, and they experience a freeing and enriched lifestyle without relying on consumerism.
“While much attention is focused on consumption, saving can also deliver joy and satisfaction: The feeling that financial security is not a destination, but a lifetime journey with a positive trajectory,” said Karen Carlson, director of education at InCharge Debt Solutions. “Happy savers are typically independent and unconcerned with social pressures to drive a flashier car or have the latest gadgets.”
What to do: Being frugal is not necessarily a bad thing. But, it can be a problem — and annoying to the people around you — if you start to become less of a frugalist and more of a tightwad. So pay attention to your spending habits. If you find yourself declining invitations to hang out with friends or family because you don’t want to spend money on lunch, or you stop doing the things you love because of the cost, you might be becoming a little too tight-fisted.
The food hoarders
Financial philosophy: “The more I buy, the more I save.”
With the rising popularity of Costco and Sam’s Club, it’s no wonder some people turn to big box retailers with the erroneous assumption that just because the products are packaged in bulk, they’re automatically a better deal. But in reality, many people incorrectly estimate their savings based on the cost per item or unit.
Bulk-buy warehouse stores also bring with them additional concerns that families need to remain conscious of:
■Overconsumption. Sure, a family might like the taste of Honey Nut Cheerios, but being forced to eat the same cereal day in and day out just to avoid wasting the money spent on a bulk-sized family pack of cereal is simply excessive.
■Storage space. Once the groceries and canned food exceed the available cabinetry in the home and begin encroaching upon the living space, there’s a problem.
What to do: Always read the price tag as you go through the warehouse aisles. They typically have the cost-per-unit price clearly shown on the tags. This can help you make the decision between buying bulk or at your local grocer much easier.
Also, being realistic about purchases can make saving money almost instinctive. If you know you’re not going to have that cheese-stuffed ravioli you sampled anytime this week for dinner, pass on it — chances are, you won’t miss it.
The extreme couponers
Financial philosophy: “I enjoy getting more for less.”
Another type of savings addiction is extreme couponing. Couponing has been a widely publicized phenomena. But before you adopt the coupon-stacking lifestyle, you need to take certain precautions.
Extreme couponers experience similar dilemmas as food hoarders; some justify a purchase just because the item is on sale or at a discount rate after stacking a few coupons. Shoppers who are addicted to saving money by stacking coupons could save on household items such as laundry detergent, but the real trouble arises when their hauls overflow with processed food filled with empty calories and high-sugar sports drinks.
What to do: Saving money is an admirable accomplishment, but always ensure that you’re keeping your family’s health in mind. Are these six boxes of Ritz crackers really necessary? How about the 12 two-liter bottles of Coke? You might be saving money now, but the hundreds of dollars being saved by extreme couponers won’t compare to the thousands spent on long-term medical bills down the line.
Carlson explains that, like an addiction, “the more you save, the more you want to. Security feels good.”
And there’s nothing wrong with being addicted to savings. For those accomplishing their financial goals with these extreme savings methods, a savings addiction can feel extremely rewarding.
The key for money hoarders, however, is to always be aware of their savings habits and be willing to reign them in if they go overboard.