Studies show how to be better consumers

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That's as opposed to revisiting the decision and continually reassessing the options.

Examples? In a restaurant, decide what you want to order and then close the menu. Or, when selecting from a chocolate box, choose a candy and replace the lid. In both cases, you're likely to be more satisfied with your choice because you physically closed something, indicating an end to the decision process.

"Consumers are less likely to be satisfied with a purchase when they compare it to other options," the authors wrote. "Physical acts of closure enable consumers to perceive a difficult decision as complete and limit their tendency to compare their selection with the options they have rejected."

When wanting is better than owning. Materialistic consumers might get more pleasure from desiring products than actually owning them. Yet, they are willing to overspend and go into debt because they think future purchases will transform their lives.

They tend to believe an acquisition will improve their relationships with other people, enhance the way they feel about themselves, enable them to have more pleasure in life, and allow them to carry out life tasks more effectively. 

They're often wrong. The high is usually short-lived. That's the upshot of research by Marsha L. Richins of the University of Missouri.

"Learning that acquisition is less pleasurable than anticipating a purchase may help (people) delay purchases until they are better able to afford them," Richins writes.

Flush upbringing and later money choices. How wealthy your family was as a child shapes how you respond to economic stress later in life, contends a team of researchers in a study published by the Association of Psychological Science, "When the Economy Falters, Do People Spend or Save?"

Faced with economic crises as adults, those who grew up with plentiful resources tend to become more risk averse and slow down spending.

However, people who grow up in poorer environments tend to spend money faster during those times, acting impulsively, taking risks and succumbing to temptations. The reason probably traces to our human ancestors who would try to attract reproductive mates before they died from the hardship, researchers say.

"If you are from a poorer environment and hit with a recession, you might think your chances of weathering the storm aren't great, so you put your resources into other outcomes that are more tied to reproductive pursuits and interpersonal displays intended to show off, with things like jewelry and cars," said one of the researchers, Joshua Ackerman of the MIT Sloan School of Management. "That might seem foolish from an economic perspective, but this behavior can be deeply rational from an evolutionary perspective."

gkarp@tribune.com

Twitter @spendingsmart

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