Election stress may be messing with you in all kinds of ways, from triggering overeating to contributing to poor sleep to lowering productivity. But it’s not all bad, especially if you’re on a budget. All that worry and anxiety might actually help you rein in your spending, according to new research.
A study published in October in the Journal of Marketing Research found that people under stress are more inclined to save money. When faced with a spending decision, a stressed-out consumer will opt to purchase necessities because they’re more likely to restore a feeling of control than nonessential or luxury goods.
In a series of experiments, volunteers who had been put under stress were asked to make a decision about how to spend $250, with one group being asked to spend on everyday essentials and household goods, and the other group spending on nonessentials like entertainment. While neither group spent all of the $250, the group buying “essentials” spent more money. In a second experiment, when the participants’ sense of personal control was restored, they were willing to spend more money.
What explains this behavior? When you’re under stress, the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise, causing you to go into survival mode (also known as “fight or flight”). When this happens, you’re likely to focus your attention on doing whatever you can to overcome the current threat to survival. This plays out in consumers spending more money on items they deem to be “necessities” ― in other words, products that restore a sense of control.
“The type of stress you have determines which consumer products are thought to be necessities,” Kristina Durante, a marketing professor at Rutgers Business School who researches the effect of hormones and consumer behavior, told The Huffington Post. “For example, stress related to starting a new job led consumers to feel that expensive clothes were a necessary expenditure because it gave them a greater sense of control of the stress.”
For some people, however, stress can lead to the exact opposite behavior: impulse buying and retail therapy. More research is needed to determine why some people spend less under stress and others spend more, Durante said.
The bottom line is to be aware of how you react to stress and whether you’re under stress when making important purchase decisions.
“Perhaps in times of stress,” she said, “it could help to reflect on how much control we really do have over our lives before making our way to the shopping mall.”