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Super spenders vs. maximum misers: Are you saving too much?

Financial Post

Melissa Leong | June 1, 2013

Some people are hardwired to be spenders versus savers.

“Some people are wired not to experience the fear or guilt or anxiety [associating with spending],” says Scott Rick, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan.

“People are by nature prone to experience different negative emotions; but that can be amplified by money practices at home. My prediction is that it only takes one spendthrift to create a spendthrift kid, as long as you indulge their material desires and not make them pay the bill.”

Most neuroeconomists focus their research on super spenders, versus maximum misers. But Prof. Rick believes that a small proportion of people simply save too much.

“They’re kind of like Scrooge McDuck,” he says. “They could afford to buy things that would make them happy but they don’t. They have this fear or guilt response that is not responsive to their bank account. They’re behaving as if they’re in this post-apocalyptic world and they have to be on edge all of the time. Maybe it was once true or maybe it was true for their parents and they’ve been indoctrinated.” People who save or spend too much are not maximizing happiness, he adds.

When people see an item that they want, it triggers the nucleus accum-bens, the so-called sex and money area of the brain. This patch of tissue is active when humans receive a reward, whether drugs, or money, or food.

However, when people are shown the price tag of the product, it stimulates a part of the brain known as the insula, which is associated with pain such as smelling disgusting odours. Where spenders and tightwads differ is how often they experience activity in the pain-processing centre. Spenders don’t feel as much pain as tightwads when buying.

When using credit, however, tightwads and spendthrifts become more equal. Credit cards anesthetize the pain of spending for everyone. That’s why tightwads need to remember to use cash, Prof. Rick says. It hurts to hand over cash.

And to add more complexity to life, spenders and savers tend to marry each other. Spendthrifts admire savers for their discipline and stability; meanwhile, tightwads find spenders exciting. However, a recent survey for American Consumer Credit Counseling revealed that men and women are more attracted to big savers over big spenders.



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