Imagine your future self: Will it help you save money?

December 22, 2010

Why do people choose present consumption over their long-term financial interests? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that consumers have trouble feeling connected to their future selves.

"This to forego money now and wait for future benefits is strongly affected by how connected we feel to our future self, who will ultimately benefit from the resources we save," write authors Daniel M. Bartels (Columbia Business School) and Oleg Urminsky (University of Chicago).

When we think of for the future, the person we think of can seem different from the person we are now, the authors explain. People have trouble sacrificing in the present for that stranger in the future.

In one study, the researchers had graduating seniors read one of two narratives: the first indicated that their self-identity was already fully formed and would not change after . The other passage indicated that graduation would change their self-identities. "When seniors were told that graduation would lead to major changes in identity, they reported feeling less connected to their future selves," the authors write. "Those thinking about changes in identity were also more impatient, choosing less-valuable gift certificates that would be available sooner over higher-valued gift certificates that required waiting a year."

In a subsequent study, the authors asked people to evaluate their sense of connectedness and similarity to their future selves. Three weeks later, they were asked them to choose between smaller gift cards they could use right away or larger gift cards that would require waiting. "Those who had felt more connected to their future selves then made more patient choices and were more willing to wait for a higher-valued gift card," the authors write.

When people fail to save for the future, they may not be making a mistake or failing to exercise self-discipline; they don't fully recognize benefits that their future selves will receive. "Countering this tendency, by helping people recognize the enduring aspects of their personal identity, may hold the key to making more patient and more willing to sacrifice, save, and invest for the future," the authors conclude.

Explore further: How often will you use that treadmill?

More information: Daniel M. Bartels and Oleg Urminsky. "On Intertemporal Selfishness: How the Perceived Instability of Identity Underlies Impatient Consumption." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2011. Further information:

Related Stories

How often will you use that treadmill?

November 17, 2008

Why not buy that treadmill? You'll be exercising every day, right? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines why our expectations of our behavior so often don't match reality.

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.