Are frugal people more attractive?
If you’re looking for love, show your thrifty side. It will reassure that potential mate that you’re responsible, sensible and healthy. Plus, they’ll find it sexy, new research suggests.
“If you show people the exact same picture of a person who you identify as a saver and as a spender, the saver is always seen as more sexually attractive and hot,” says Jenny Olson, a Ph.D. candidate at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
That’s as true for men as it is for women, according to the recent study “A Penny Saved Is a Partner Earned: The Romantic Appeal of Savers,” which Olson co-authored with Scott Rick, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan. The two set out to challenge the long-held perspective that men look first for sensual stimulation in their mates while women search for men of means.
“There is no gender difference. Males and females find savers more attractive,” Olson says. Why is that? Because saving involves a lot of self control, the researchers reported. And those who can successfully pull in the reins on their spending are also more likely to be able to restrain themselves from overeating or heavy drinking, the thinking goes. And potential partners also see them as likely to have better work-out habits, a good credit score and a retirement plan.
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And they’re probably healthier, both mentally and physically, according to another university study. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found direct links between debt and psychological health (as well as general health) in a study of 8,400 people ages 24 to 32. Those with higher debt-to-asset ratios had greater perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure when tested. (In blood-pressure readings, the diastolic measure is the bottom number, which is the minimum pressure of each heartbeat, or your heart at rest.) Higher debt was correlated to a 1.3% increase in diastolic blood pressure, which is clinically significant, according to the study. A two-point hike in diastolic blood pressure can be tied to a 17% higher risk of hypertension and a 15% higher threat of stroke.
“You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see associations between debt and physical health in people who are so young,” says Elizabeth Sweet, lead author of the study. “We need to be aware of this association and understand it better.”
If savers are generally perceived as having greater self-control than spenders, Olson says, it’s logical to assume they would be more attractive relationship partners than spenders. “It’s really self-control that drives the relationship,” she says. “Self-control over a variety of issues is important because it prevents partners from saying hurtful things or engaging in infidelity.” In other words, they are seen as nicer and more trustworthy. But if someone did choose a spender over a saver, he or she would expect to be compensated for it. Monetarily. In a side study, Olson asked two groups what their income expectations of the saver vs. the spender would be and respondents said the saver’s annual salary could be well below the spender’s, as in $63,340 vs. $236,250. This underscores that the primary appeal of savers is not their financial viability.
“It’s not just about raw income levels but how you use those resources,” Olson says.
But let’s not liken savers to cheapskates; there is a big difference between the two. “There’s nothing attractive about cheapskates,” Olson says, drawing a comparison to George Constanza in the “Seinfeld” TV series. A tightwad hoards money; a saver merely accumulates it, most likely for a greater reward later, like a house or a vacation.
And there are telltale signs, even on a first date, that someone is cheap rather than a saver. “With tightwads, there will be a little bit of anxiety about spending,” Olson says. “It’s about the pain of paying, parting with money.
Consider tipping at a restaurant. A cheapskate may not be willing to tip the wait staff because he or she doesn’t want to give up the cash. A saver, on the other hand, will recognize that this is the server’s livelihood and that this is not the time or place to bank money. “The saver will choose other ways to save, like not having that extra latte,” Olson says.
Before you savers all start patting yourselves on the back, there is a caveat: Savers tend to be boring. “Self control is likely viewed as a force that favors prudence over fun,” according to the results, which note that spenders tend to engage in more exciting and risky activities. “This potential excitement deficit could prove costly.” Olson, who’s married to a saver — “I came to recognize it pretty quickly” — says savers should still take pride. “They’re boring, but guess what? They’re still more attractive partners.”