Young woman smiling putting a coin inside piggy bank as savings for investment

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WASHINGTON — It doesn’t hurt to be a little mean if you’re looking to save more money. A new study says nice people finish last when it comes to managing their finances, since they don’t value it as much. Researchers from Columbia University explain that those who are more agreeable are the least likely to save money, because they prioritize hanging out with people over material wealth.

Meanwhile, highly conscientious people may be more motivated to plan for the future and save funds. Moreover, if your personality matches your saving goals you will keep more cash, the research shows.

According to the study, Americans save just 2.3 percent of their income, the lowest portion in nearly two decades. However, experts found people will save more with sacrifices to benefit their futures. The personality-match effect stayed the same for wealthy and poor participants. Experts also found people were 3.57 times more likely to save if they received emails encouraging them to put money away in a tone that matches their personality traits.

“We tried to think of ways we could motivate agreeable people to save more,” says Dr. Sandra Matz of Columbia University in a media release. “Could we simply highlight how saving money would help them protect their loved ones? This suddenly makes money a means to an end that they care about.”

A team from Columbia University and the University of Colorado Boulder asked 2,447 U.K. participants about their “Big Five” personality traits — agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion. They also studied saving ambitions, including stashing away money for a car, a holiday, a “rainy day fund,” and retirement.

Independent experts compared saving goals with personality traits. Wealthy participants saved the most, but self-reported saving goals matching participants’ personality traits explained around five percent of the variance across all income levels.

Family putting savings in piggy bank
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A second experiment included 6,056 participants, each taking part in a saving incentive program through non-profit money saving app SaverLife. Those involved had less than $100 stashed away. They were tasked with saving $100 a month. Every member took a 30-item personality assessment, dividing them into five groups.

Over the course of a month, one group received five emails encouraging them to save towards a goal that matched their most prominent personality trait. Another set received emails that did not fit with their personality, and a third team received randomly-selected goal messages.

The fourth group received emails with a generic statement encouraging savings without a particular aim and the fifth control group did not get any emails in their inboxes. Not everyone opened these emails. Among those who did, the personality-matched condition had the highest success rate with 11.4 percent reaching their saving goals.

Meanwhile, participants in the standard messaging group saved 7.42 percent, 7.46 percent in the random group, and 7.85 percent in the personality-mismatch group. Only 3.4 percent of those without an email saved money. If someone didn’t open their emails, their funds went down by three percent. In total, those who received the matched emails were 3.57 time more likely to reach the $100 target versus those in the control group.

“It was wonderful to see this approach worked,” says Dr. Robert Farrokhnia of Columbia University.

“It was important for us from the get-go to not only contribute to the existing literature and have a vigorous research study, but also to deploy the findings in the real world and come up with something companies could actually use and implement. Given the dire facts about savings in the U.S., we were particularly interested in helping to alleviate some of the challenges low-income and distressed households face in managing their finances. The recent economic downturn, including rising prices and higher challenges around achieving personal savings goals, made this pursuit even more important to us.”

The study is published in the journal American Psychologist.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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  1. D.L. Moore says:

    Slight mischaracterization. Some people that value money less value taking care of people more. The goal for some is establishment of the correct priorities. This is related to my Christian standards, in my case and is an ideal.

  2. Amber meeks says:

    Your terms are vague and prejudiced. Kind – what does that mean? Generous? Stupid? Conscientious? Does that mean, “prone to leave a puppy dying in the street with no food”? You are using huge vague terms. Ridiculous.

  3. CB says:

    You have to read the actual study. ‘Agreeableness’ is the psychological term. ‘Kind’ is the colloquial term.