Study: What Your Spending Habits Reveal about Your Personality
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4 min read

Study: What Your Spending Habits Reveal about Your Personality

What do you spend your money on? I don’t mean the essentials in life like food, bills and rent.
Study: What Your Spending Habits Reveal about Your Personality

I mean, what do you love to buy? Do you buy material things like books, clothes, music or jewellery? Or do you prefer to purchase experiences like holidays, theatre tickets or trips to the cinema or restaurants? Do you lust for designer labels or seek out vintage bargains? More to the point, can I predict your personality through your spending habits? Our spending habits are of vital use to all kinds of businesses. Some will target us with adverts of the kind of products they know we like, and others will sell this valuable data on. But it’s only recently that experts have linked personality to spending habits. Every one of us spends money on the essential things in life, but do the things we buy as individuals reveal our personalities? One man who thinks it does is Dr. Joe Gladstone from University College in London. In his study, he used a money-tracking app and the consent of over 2,000 UK spenders to gather data on their spending habits. He also asked them to fill in a personality questionnaire. Using the Big Five Personality Traits, the results were then analysed. Along with colleagues at Columbia’s Business School, Gladstone then examined spending habits and personality traits: “Our findings demonstrate for the first time that it is possible to predict people’s personality from their spending.” Joe Gladstone Before we carry on, let’s just remind ourselves of the Big Five and their definitions: The study found several interesting patterns in people’s spending and their personality: If you are always buying plane tickets or spending your money on trips, you are likely to open-minded and fit into the openness category. This would make sense as people in this category are open to new experiences so their spending would reflect that. Extraverts like to spend their money on food and drink, presumably in a social setting.

They use their money to connect with friends and family. People who scored highly in conscientiousness tend to put their money away in savings accounts and not spend it at all.

They derive pleasure from watching their savings grow. This personality trait is associated with agreeableness. Again, this makes sense; agreeableness is linked to empathy and being warm-hearted. Those who scored highly in neuroticism would buy nonessential items such as jewellery and clothes. Neuroticism is associated with loneliness, so perhaps people who are lonely feel better when they buy these things. “We expected that these rich patterns of differences in peoples spending could allow us to infer what kind of person they were.” Sandra Matz, co-author These differences were so great that the researchers were able to predict in advance the spending patterns of particular personality groups. In fact, they were able to make these predictions across wide categories such as age and income: “It didn’t matter whether a person was old or young, or whether they had a high or low salary, our predictions were broadly consistent.” Matz Researchers also analysed the data for specific traits such as materialism and self-control.

They found that those spending more money on jewellery scored highly for materialism, while those who paid less on banking charges scored highly for self-control. However, the team had problems predicting spending habits in very socially deprived areas. This could be because in highly deprived areas people have to spend the majority of their money on the essentials.

They don’t have the freedom to buy the things that afford them psychological pleasure. Gladstone took his research one step further and explored spending during the holiday season. During periods such as Christmas, we all tend to overspend, or do we? These can be times of great stress and worry, for a number of reasons. So does it affect our spending habits? Gladstone used the same method to collect data, but this time, it was over the Christmas period. How would the results correlate with the Big Five Personality Traits? Christmas means different things to different people. For some it’s all about the entertaining, for others, the food and drink are essential components, others want to spoil their family and friends. And all these impacts on their spending.

The results may surprise you. Gladstone found spending went down for two groups of the Big Five – openness and neuroticism. Now, I can understand why a neurotic person may struggle with spending at Christmas, they will stress over money. But why would someone who fits into the openness category spend less? Gladstone believes that as people in this group are typically open to new ideas, this makes them less likely to partake in the traditional ones.

They will not conform to conventional practices like giving gifts, just because everyone else does.

The results found two of the Big Five traits that like to spend more at Christmas; extraversion and conscientiousness. Extraverts love the socialising aspect and as they will have a wide circle of friends, they’ll spend their money on entertaining or going out. For those in the conscientiousness group, these people are highly organised and ready for the holidays well in advance. So is there any point to knowing which personality spends their money on what? Knowing why you keep buying clothes and jewellery might help you understand that you are a little lonely and you could do with being more sociable. Likewise, if you want to save but you are always jetting off on holiday, you may be able to start putting something aside for a rainy day. Understanding our spending habits can be useful. But probably more so to those businesses that capture our spending data than for us. R.

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