What your spending on others (and yourself) says about your emotional stability

Nervous people spend less on other people during the holidays.

What do your shopping sprees say about you?

Personality is related to several big outcomes in life, including how much money you make or how happy you are or even how long you live, but psychologists are still grappling to understand one piece of the puzzle: Why we spend money. After all, that’s key to living within our means and having a happy life, said Joe Gladstone, researcher a University College London, and co-lead author of a new study entitled, “Who are the Scrooges? Personality Predictors of Holiday Spending.” (Americans racked up more than $1,000 in holiday debt last year, up 5% on the previous year.)

Also see: This explodes the myth that American men don’t like to shop

People who are nervous and have and have lower stress — or “higher neuroticism” in psychological terms — spend less during the holidays, research published Thursday in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found. Meanwhile, more conscientious people spend more on others at the end-of-year shopping spree. In other words, people who are more emotionally vulnerable may actually be cautious shoppers, but Gladstone said this may also prevent people from opening up to others. “If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else?” he said.

Researchers examined 2 million individual transactions from 2,133 participants’ bank accounts from a U.K.-based money management app and compared Christmas spending to average spending during two months of non-holiday shopping. They tied these findings with the “big five” personality traits: Openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They concluded that our state of mind plays a big part in how we spend money on ourselves and others. (Those traits have also been tied to health, happiness and how long people life.)

Also see: The shocking things you reveal about yourself when you ‘like’ things on Facebook

Emotions are also thought to play a role in how we shop for ourselves. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping for toilet paper, bleach, cleaning products and disinfectant wipes. A study published last year in the Journal of Consumer Research suggested that people get a kick out spending money on the hoof, but they typically end up buying necessities like Tide PG, +0.19%   and CLX, +0.11% instead of luxury products. That contradicts the stereotype of men buying flashy cars or, according to popular TV shows and movies, women buying expensive shoes.

Don’t miss: America has a billion-dollar drunk shopping problem

“Consumers who experience a loss of control are more likely to buy products that are more functional in nature, such as screwdrivers and dish detergent, because these are typically associated with problem solving, which may enhance people’s sense of control,” the authors wrote. Another theory: It may be that they are familiar household brands and simply remind them of their childhood. Either way, the researchers also came to a similar broad conclusion as the latest study: People who have different emotional states of mind tend to shop differently.

The good news: The study, aptly entitled “Control Deprivation Motivates Acquisition of Utilitarian Products,” found that shopping on even the most boring household items is enough to satisfy the cravings of compulsive shoppers. Given how easy it is to shop for household goods “as a means to cope with psychological threat,” the authors suggest that impulsive shopping doesn’t need to have an adverse impact on a person’s finances — not if they’re buying Tide Pods or Clorox wipes. Shopping during the holiday season, of course, may be an entirely different matter.

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