Stress leads consumers to increase saving behavior and increase spending only for those products perceived to be necessities because such products provide a sense of control.
The motivation for this research was the limited and mixed findings on the effect of stress on consumption. Lay theories suggest that consumers over-indulge in times of stress, leading to increased spending. Some studies have found that stress can lead consumers to engage in compulsive or indulgent purchases, which can facilitate increased materialism and consumer debt. However, other studies find a decrease in consumption in response to a stressful event. We hypothesized that consumers manage stress in two ways: an increased willingness to save and spend strategically on necessities.
We manipulated and measured stress (e.g., subjects gave speeches) and examined its effect on consumer saving and spending. We also manipulated and measured perceptions of control to explore an interactive effect. Samples are from the community and university populations.
Stress led consumers to save rather than spend money. When faced with the decision of where to spend money, they preferred to spend on necessities, and this effect was mediated by a willingness to restore control. The effects of stress were attenuated when perceptions of control were enhanced. Manipulating the nature of the stressor (new job versus current job stress) changed perceptions of items typically perceived as nonnecessities, which led to increased spending on these items. Leading people to believe that efforts to restore control would fail reversed the effect.
Although we had some knowledge that stress would influence consumer spending, the nuanced pattern of how stress influences consumption was unclear. Variation in stress can be predicted more broadly across populations, as evidenced during times of traffic congestion, inclement weather, or other disasters. Knowing that individuals spend more on necessities in times of stress can be useful for understanding trends, product planning, and improving forecasts. Marketers may also reposition specific products to alter the perception that a particular product is a necessity or can restore control.
Questions for the Classroom
- Does stress always lead consumers to spend money impulsively?
- Do consumers want to buy certain products but not others in times of stress?
- Why does stress sometimes lead to saving and sometimes lead to spending?
Kristina M. Durante and Juliano Laran (2016), "The Effect of Stress on Consumer Saving and Spending," Journal of Marketing Research, 53 (5), 814-828.
Kristina M. Durante is Associate Professor of Marketing, Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Juliano Laran is Professor of Marketing, University of Miami (e-mail: email@example.com).