Impulse purchases – new spring clothes or an expensive dinner out – can create a rush. But a few minutes of pleasure can blow a hole in the budget for a month. If it’s chronic, it can eat into savings for a down payment or retirement.
The reason for these rash decisions is obvious: see it, want it. But for people who want to better understand – and prevent – their impulse buys and remain on budget, FinCapDev, which is hosting an online competition for a financial literacy app, recently posted a reading list of three research papers that explain why we can’t resist buying stuff.
One study has confirmed that store browsers actually are vulnerable to impulsive purchases, because the act of browsing through a store’s merchandise produces positive feelings. “It is a state of high energy, full concentration, and pleasant engagement,” researchers wrote in a 1998 paper that is probably relevant to online browsing. Can you relate? …
The American psyche gets a lot of credit for fueling the boom in U.S. home prices, which ended in 2006. As houses increased in value, homeowners felt richer, and they spent more. Similarly, falling house prices led to declines in consumer spending as households found themselves poorer and less able to access credit, according to a new paper, “Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012,” by economists Karl Case, the late John Quigley and Robert Shiller.
In this interview, Case explains this “wealth effect.”
Q: Why were our spending decisions influenced by our psychology during the housing boom?
Case: The increase in house prices was like magic. They went from the 1950s until 2006 without ever falling nationally. The numbers are astonishing. If you look at the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds Accounts, the value of the owner-occupied housing stock in the United States increased from $14 trillion to $24 trillion. All of a sudden the collective balance sheet of U.S. households had $10 trillion worth of assets that it didn’t have before. That’s a very big number.
The first thing I asked myself is, How did I behave? I bought a house in Wellesley [Massachusetts] for $56,000 in 1976. When I sold it in 1991, it was a $240,000 asset. I know my behavior changed. I was in my 40s, and I found myself with a quarter million dollars that I didn’t know I had. It made me feel wealthier, and I spent more and saved less than I otherwise would have. Home equity loans and second mortgages made it possible for homeowners to withdraw their newly acquired equity to finance a higher level of spending and/or a new or bigger home.
Q: How do we decide we’re feeling richer?
Case: Household wealth is made of many things: houses, cars, and financial assets. The value of any asset, including housing, is determined by what people are willing to pay for it. What determines that? Our expectation of whether it will go up in the future. If you have a house I think is going to go up 10 percent per year, I’m willing to pay more for it than if I think it’s not going up at all. That’s how psychology drives the housing market.
In annual surveys for another paper, we asked 5,000 people going forward 10 years, what do you expect the average annual increase to be in the value of your house? They said 8-10-12 percent per year. They were feeling better because their house was worth more. That leads to more spending.
Q: Is it fair to say the housing market was one of the primary influences on the economy?
Case: Absolutely. Our finding has been very controversial. Some people say housing’s wealth effect doesn’t exist. Our own earlier work suggested that it works when the housing market is on the way up but not on the way down. We now have evidence that it works in both directions. …Learn More
Young adults, when asked if they have college loans, often just sigh or groan quietly.
But how much does this debt really matter to their lives? Conflicting trends make this difficult to answer. College graduates have ample time – decades of employment – to pay off their student loans, economists argue, and they’ll bring in more earnings to pay them back. A college education is worth $1 million in extra earnings over a lifetime.
Behind the student-loan sigh is anxiety that the post-Great Recession job market makes it tougher for many graduates to earn what they need to pay their loans back. Indeed, the rate of delinquencies has risen in tandem with increased borrowing. Payments on half of all student loan accounts are now being deferred, the consumer credit firm TransUnion reported last week, and these deferrals are the first step to still more delinquencies.
Some researchers are warning about the additional financial risks facing graduates with large loan balances. “That didn’t happen in previous generations,” said Ohio State University’s Lucia Dunn, whose study published last month in Economic Inquiry found that young adults are on a path to having far more credit card debt in middle age than did their baby boomer parents. Credit cards, student loans – debt of all kinds – she said, “is just an overwhelming burden for many young people.” … Learn More
Women with large student loan balances are less likely to marry than their girlfriends who’ve graduated debt-free, new research shows.
Men, in contrast, are immune to this impact. Their marriage prospects are the same regardless of how much they owe for their education, according to Fenaba Addo, who studied the effect of college and credit card debt in the “marriage market.”
As U.S. college debt outstanding has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, the fallout is widening. Recent graduates complain that paying off their student loans affects their ability to take critical steps to improve their future finances, such as buying a house or saving for retirement. But there are psychological effects too: young adults who carry a lot of debt, for example, are more stressed, even depressed.
It was only a matter of time before student loans started messing with their love lives.
Addo, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Population Health Sciences, became interested in the topic as she watched her girlfriends taking on “crazy amounts of debt” to finish college or complete graduate degrees… Learn More
As delinquencies by college graduates have increased, so have their personal financial risks: 15.1 percent of loans originated in late 2010 are now delinquent, up from 12.4 percent of late-2005 loans, according to a January report by FICO, creator of the credit score. More students are also delaying their loan payments.
“This situation is simply unsustainable,” warned Andrew Jennings, head of FICO Labs. “When wage growth is slow and jobs are not as plentiful as they once were, it is impossible for individuals to continue taking out ever-larger student loans without greatly increasing the risk of default.”
American Student Assistance (ASA) is a non-profit that helps college graduates with the complex task ofmanagingtheir loans. Debtpreventionis the best course of action, and an increasingly urgent one for students. For those who are already in debt, clickherefor how to call an ASA counselor. Click “Learn More” to read a May 2011 article about ASA. …Learn More
This blues lyric by Buddy Guy probably sums up your reaction to news that debt can make you depressed.
But what’s also true is that one’s reaction to debt hinges on what type of debt the person has – and not all debt is depressing. Further, people approaching their retirement years and those with less education who are in debt are more likely to get the blues, according to new research.
Lawrence Berger, an associate professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, determined that a 10-percent increase in the dollar amount of an individual’s debt increases his or her depressive symptoms by 14 percent.
To be clear, having debt does not lead to full-blown clinical depression. But it does trigger the garden variety blues that most people experience. Symptoms vary from losing one’s appetite or being unable to shake the blues to feeling lonely…Learn More