Singles Love Savers

September 2013

You know that moment in a relationship when you realize that it probably isn’t going to last? I had such a moment many years ago when the man I was dating revealed something about his personal situation that I knew would eventually be the death of us. He told me that despite having owned his own home for fourteen years he had opted to never pay down a single cent of his mortgage.

If you are like me, you might wonder how that was logistically possible. Most of us have mortgages with a fixed amortization period over which we work to eliminate our debt. But, apparently, my then boyfriend had an arrangement with his bank that allowed him to annually renegotiate his mortgage back to both the original value and to the original amortization period. So after fourteen years of making monthly mortgage payments he still owed the bank the full value of the original mortgage.

It probably isn’t immediately obvious why this should have mattered to me in terms of our relationship. After all, he had plenty of money and how he chose to manage it was none of my business. But it revealed something about his nature that made him less desirable (to me at least) as a partner – it showed that he was extremely impatient.

When economists describe a person as having “patience,” what we mean is that they are willing to postpone gratification today with the hopes of achieving a higher level of gratification in the future.

People who are patient are in it for the long game and behave accordingly.

Over the six months, or so, following this revelation my then boyfriend’s impatience revealed itself in unpleasant ways; he ate too much and exercised too little, he drank to the point of intoxication on a regular basis and he procrastinated on every responsibility to the point of causing both of us extreme stress.

The fact that he wasn’t paying down his debt that wasn’t really the issue, it was what his saving behavior revealed about his nature that convinced me that we could never stay together.

A new working paper by fellow Psychology Today blogger Rick Scott, suggests that I am not alone in feeling that poor saving habits is an unattractive quality in a potential romantic partner.

In a series of experiments in which participants were asked to rate the compatibility and attractiveness of fictional singles, Scott’s research finds that that the singles that were described as being good savers were perceived to be better candidates for a romantic relationship.

Being a saver may suggest that the single is less-spontaneous, and so might be a little boring, but according to this evidence it also suggests that they are capable of self-control in other areas of their lives, including areas like diet and exercise that improve physical attractiveness.

The take away here, is that if you are single (for both men and women) and actively trying to improve your competitive on the relationship market, it might not hurt to try to work on your financial fitness. Maybe think about savings the same way you might think about working out, except that instead of putting in hours at the gym you are putting bucks in the bank.

Of course, the way interest rates have been lately putting your money in the bank probably isn’t all that different than going to the gym and stopping for McDonalds on the way home. But while you can’t do much about financial markets, you can do something about your personal relationship market.

Reference:

Olson, Jenny G. and Scott, Rick. A Penny Saved is a Partner Earned: The Romantic Appeal of Savers (June 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2281344 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2281344

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