How 5 Major Personality Traits Can Determine How Much Money You Save

Fortune Well August 2, 2023

Lifestyle

How 5 Major Personality Traits Can Determine How Much Money You Save
Key takeaways
  • Savings rates for Americans have neared record lows 
  • When people’s savings goals aligned with their core personality traits, they saved more money, according to a new study published this week 
  • For those incentivized with personality-targeted savings emails, they were able to save more successfully 

Whether it’s setting aside money for a down payment on a home, a bigger car for when you have children, or college funds and retirement, many of us aim to master the art of saving for the future. 

 

Still, many Americans struggle to save money. Inflation led Americans to take out an average of $100 a month from savings last year, and savings have neared record lows even for those whose income has increased, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) this winter. 

To better understand people’s financial behaviors and motivations, researchers from Columbia University in New York and the University of Colorado in Boulder found different savings goals resonated with varying personality types, which influenced their behavior. 

 

“We just instill this idea that if you save some money now it’s not just a black box that’s sitting somewhere in your savings account,” Dr. Sandra Matz, author of the study and an associate professor of business at Columbia Business School who studies human behavior, tells Fortune. “But here’s actually what you could potentially do with these savings in the future…it’s about personality psychological targeting.” 

Nearly 2,500 participants in the U.K. answered questions related to their savings goals, whether saving for a car, family, or a rainy day. They also answered questions that helped researchers understand where they fit within the five big personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness, and extroversion. 

When people’s savings goals aligned with their core personality traits, they saved more money, the researchers report in their findings published in the journal American Psychologist. While financial standing inevitably played a role in savings, personality accounted for slightly less than 5% of someone’s savings ability. In their paper, the authors note that while their research cannot influence someone’s ability to save, targeting personality can play a part in influencing someone’s willingness to save.  

To see how a specific intervention influences people’s savings behaviors, the researchers took a step further. They examined how personalized savings-related emails impacted over 6,000 participants in the U.S. who had less than $100 in savings at the start. 

The researchers partnered with SaverLife, a savings app and nonprofit. While some of the participants got personalized emails and goals, others got generic messages or no messages at all. Those who received personality-based emails for saving money had the most success achieving $100 more in savings in one month.

For someone high in agreeableness, the emails framed savings as a direct influence on those they care about, for example. 

“If they care about other people and their loved ones, what you want to do is frame saving in a way that you can say, ‘Well, if you save some money, now, you make sure that your loved ones are being protected,’” Matz says. 

If someone scored low in extroversion, the subject line and body of the savings email read, “Save toward your own self-care: The Race to $100 begins! We know quality alone time is important to you. The more you save, the more you can design your alone time just the way you want it,” Matz shares with Fortune

For someone high in extroversion, it read, “Exciting times ahead: The Race to $100 begins! Even though you may not be able to meet up with friends right now, you can certainly save money for when the time comes. If funding a future full of great times with your friends excites you, we have some exhilarating news.” 

Saving money is an inherently psychological concept. Committing to it delays instant gratification. It takes motivation and self-discipline because it doesn’t reward the brain in the short term, Matz says. 

“You’re putting money into an account, but it’s not that we necessarily have this idea of ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do with those savings,’” Matz says. “That’s a decision that is really difficult for people to make,” highlighting the “intention-action gap” or inability of people to succeed in saving money despite having the genuine desire to do so. 

Understanding personality can help mend that “intention-action gap,” Matz says.  

“Targeted advertising is using exactly the same mechanisms. We kind of try and understand the person, and then we tailor the content so that people buy more,” Matz says. “A lot of the strategies or approaches to personalization that we currently use, mostly in the best interest of companies to be fair, I think we can also use to help people accomplish their goals…once you understand people’s motivations, that’s an amazing tool.”  


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