Spending, Saving, and Owing: How Finances Intersect with Behavior and Emotions

About this series

Financial journalist Mona Chalabi once described her fears of destitution, despite her relative financial security. She described this emotion “money dysmorphia.”  

“I worry that if I actually let myself accept that I have money now, it will be even more of a shock if poverty does come,” Chalabi wrote in a 2019 article for The Guardian.  

The psychological burden that money creates, even in the best of times, was the focus of “Financial Debt and Mental Well-being,” an APS Science for Society webinar held February 21.  

University of Michigan scholar Scott Rick, who studies consumer financial decision-making, pointed to Chalabi’s piece to describe differing attitudes about spending and saving. Many people resist spending money as a protective response to real or perceived economic distress, he said.  

“It can make sense in that time when things are tight,” Rick said. “But if your career gets better or you come into some money later in life, it can be hard to shake these reactions that were formed in your formative years.” 

Rick discussed his research on spending mindsets, including their effects on relationships. Joining him on the webinar were clinical psychology researcher Robert F. Krueger (University of Minnesota) and Min Zahn, professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois-Champaign. Krueger, a top investigator in the federally funded Midlife in the United States study, discussed his research on the Great Recession’s impact on individuals’ mental health.

Zahn discussed her findings about the financial stressors among young adults, particularly those with student loan debt. Borrowers in minority groups grappled with an especially large amount of stress, largely because of systemic racism that impedes their job attainment and income, she added. Zahn and Krueger emphasized the need for young adults to receive better financial literacy training as a way to help young people understand borrowing, saving, and money management. 

A recording of the webinar is available below for registrants and APS members. 

The full webinar is available to APS members and registered attendees.

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