By Christopher Maag
Do you believe that a new purchase will transform your life? That a new set of golf clubs will make you more successful in business, or a new swimming pool will reduce your family strife?
If so, you’re more likely to get into credit trouble, according to recent research by Marsha Richins, a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri.
“(H)igh materialism consumers are more likely than others to expect that acquisition will change in significant ways who they are and others’ perceptions of who they are, improve their relationships with others, increase their pleasure and enjoyment in life,” Richins found. Those expectations “are associated with credit overuse.”
Richins surveyed 400 people. First she used survey results to figure out which people were more materialistic. These people were significantly more likely to believe that the things they hoped to buy would transform their lives in important ways, she found.
[Related: 3 Signs You’re a Compulsive Shopper]
One respondent, named Mike, said that using rented clubs during golf outings marked him as an amateur, reducing his status among his golfing partners. He wanted to buy his own set.
“If you have rental clubs, they’re quick to give you tips on how to hit the ball,” Mike told Richins. “I get annoyed by that. It’s always a better feeling once you get people to stop giving you advice.”
Another respondent, Rita, wanted to buy a dishwasher because she worried what others might think of her dirty dishes.
“I like my home and kitchen clean, and dirty dishes piled up do not make them look clean, and the moment you open the front door that’s what you see in the kitchen sink,” Rita said. “If I don’t do them, the first impression anybody, even the mailman, would have is ‘This lady really needs to get her act together.'”
Time after time, Richins found that many people hoped to buy things not simply to have them, but to fundamentally change themselves and their place in society—to make more friends, improve the quality of their friendships, or create new job opportunities.
These same people were much more likely to use too much credit to attain their goals, Richins found.
“Materialists have higher transformation expectations, and these high expectations are indeed associated with credit overuse,” according to the study.
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Christopher Maag is a freelance journalist for publications including The New York Times, TIME magazine and Popular Mechanics. He graduated with honours from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and has worked as a staff writer for daily newspapers, monthly magazines, alt weeklies and websites. Maag writes about people with big dreams set on little stages, including a teenage girl who races jet-powered tractors, and people who make millions of dollars impersonating Barack Obama.