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Marketing Department Study: Stress Can Make Us Spend Less

January 30, 2017
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New research from the School’s Department of Marketing finds that worry and anxiety could have had an impact on people’s wallets - in a positive way. The study, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Marketing Research, found that stress leads consumers to pay for necessities versus splurging on non-necessities because it gives them a sense of restoring control. 

“We found that stress leads people to save money,” said Juliano Laran, a professor of marketing, who conducted the study with a colleague from Rutgers University. “At the point of purchase, they become more strategic with their spending. Especially with a high level of stress and a low level of control, this is when we fight the most to restore control by saving money.”

The researchers conducted several experiments that each created stressful situations as a primer for questions regarding spending. Participants were given stress-inducing writing assignments to either describe in detail what currently makes them stressed out, or to prepare for an upcoming, fictitious presentation. Then, they were asked to decide how they would spend up to $250.

In one study, members of the group that became stressed indicated that they wanted to spend less money than those in the group that did not become stressed out. In a second study, one group was offered everyday household goods where the other was offered non-necessities like entertainment products. Members of the group who was stressed out and were offered the necessities spent more money, which shows that under stress people not only want to save money, but when they have to spend they spend more on necessities than non-necessities.

“We found stress causes us to go into ‘survival mode’ and impacts us when shopping, causing us to protect our resources,” continued Laran. “Also, the root of the stress matters. For instance, people who said they were stressed about a current job situation were less likely to spend money on clothes, but others stressed about starting a new job were more likely to spend on clothes. This occurs because clothes become a necessity especially when we have a new job.”

The implications for marketers are many. When there are unpredictable situations – extreme weather, contentious elections – consumers may be more open to products that are framed as necessities or those that can restore control. For consumers, the findings can help increase awareness of how being stressed cab impact shopping.

The researchers are now conducting a follow-up study on how consumers engage with products during stressful times.

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