The 'spend to save' bug is spreading, study finds

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on May 23, 2006

Smart shopping and bargain hunting is playing an increasingly important role in ordinary American consumers' lives, with many feeling their lives are improved by the need to go 'treasure hunting' in the stores, according to a survey by Harris Interactive commissioned by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The survey's findings confirmed not only that Americans approach shopping - and their quest for low-price, high quality goods - as a sport but also that new patterns of spending and bargain hunting are enabling them to better balance their budgets, improve their family life and even satisfy emotional needs.

These new spending patterns (including "spend to save" techniques) are, the survey suggests, partly a result of a new crop of manufacturers and retailers that understand the emotional dimension of spending and are able to deliver what many middle-market players (e.g. department stores, car makers, and so on) aren't currently delivering: excellent quality at very low prices.

Key findings
The survey's main findings included:

  • Half of American shoppers (50%) said they enjoy a higher standard of living because of smarter shopping habits;
  • On average, Americans save over 20% of their discretionary spending by smart shopping and bargain hunting;
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of Americans said there are more places now than there were five years ago to find real value for money when shopping;
  • 73.1% of Americans identified themselves as "savvy shoppers".

Good financial health
The survey also suggested that the majority of middle-class Americans are currently confident about their finances:

  • 72% said they are in control of their finances;
  • 67% said they balance their budgets;
  • 45% said they are able to save adequately for the future;
  • More than 70% said they save money (on average, about 13% of their total income);
  • 70% said they believe they will be better off financially in the future, with 71% saying they would have a higher income, 60% saying they would be able to buy more of what they want, and 58% saying they would have adequate savings.

Confidence building
Consumers indicated that smart spending habits contribute to their confidence about their financial situation. For example:

  • 65% said that "it feels like I'm doing something good" when they purchase an item because it's good value for money. Importantly, 41% say "it feels like I'm putting money into savings" when they purchase such an item;
  • More than half of the consumers surveyed (56.3%) said it "feels like I'm contributing to savings when I invest in home goods and improvements";
  • Nearly two out of five shoppers (39.4%) said they "save a lot in some places and splurge in others".

Emotional purchase motivation
And the emotional side of smart shopping can't be ignored. In fact, it's a major purchase motivator waiting to be tapped by retailers:

  • 71% said "it makes me happy" when they purchase an item because it's good value for money. More than half (59%) said "it's exciting" and the 51% said "it feels like I'm on a treasure hunt";
  • Most consumers (92.3%) said they tell people about their successes - and how much they paid - when they get a great deal on something special to wear or for their home;
  • Almost three-quarters (73.3%) of Americans said they had purchased an item that they didn't need at the time, simply because it was good value for money;
  • Three-quarters (75.1%) said they believe "cheap is good" in some categories.

The survey
The survey of 1,042 adults (aged 18+) with annual household incomes of at least US$50,000, was fielded in conjunction with the publication of Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer (published by Portfolio in May 2006) by BCG senior vice president Michael J. Silverstein. The book explores how most middle class consumers are now on a "treasure hunt", intelligently seeking good quality products and services, from clothing and luxuries to food and hotel rooms, at very low prices. The book argues that manufacturers and retailers are no longer in the driver's seat, unless they're both innovating and cost cutting to deliver more value. According to the book, consumers save over $100 billion this way.

For additional information:
·  Visit Boston Consulting Group at
·  Visit Harris Interactive at