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Thrifty Behaviors and Beliefs: Construct & Scale Development

Project Lead: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Doctoral Student Researchers: Paul B. Reppas and Jessica Nunnally Foss

What effect does thrift have on materialism, negative affect, and depression? What effect does thrift have on patience, self-control, gratitude and life satisfaction?

Very little research has been done thus far on the ideas of thrift and frugality, especially outside of consumer research. We are curious about thrift in terms of its traits as a virtue that individuals foster throughout life, and in this line of study, require an instrument that includes more virtue-based elements than past instruments for assessing frugality, of which there is one commonly used in research (Lastovicka, Bettencourt, Hughner, & Kuntze, 1999). While this current measure has been shown to have valid psychometric properties, upon further review it seems inadequate for a more nuanced understanding of thrift as a virtue. For instance, most of the behaviors or beliefs involved in this current measure are focusing purely on buying habits and price consciousness, whereas we are under the impression that thrift is a more wide-reaching virtuous trait that is grounded in evolutionary principles as discussed by Wells (2009) in the context of adiposity and metabolic thrift. This leads to a wider conceptualization of thrift as something that does not only occur with money, but possibly with social relationships, effort, time, resources and potentially other domains of life.

Another strain of research that led us to be interested in validating a new measure is research on materialism and ecological sustainability. Materialism, as formulated and measured by the Material Values Scale in Richins (2004) was found to be correlated with many different parts of life. These included negative self-identity, negative affect, social anxiety, depressive symptoms, gratitude, meaning in life and money other dimensions (Richins; Kashdan & Breen, 2007). These findings indicate rich clinical data, and as such we began to wonder how materialism may associate with the virtue of thrift and frugal behaviors and beliefs. Will frugality and thrift correlate with similar things as materialism was found to? The need to see how materialism, frugality/thrift and the correlates previously studied with materialism seemed evident by a review of the small amount of literature on frugality.

Another line of inquiry opened our interest into studying thrift and frugality. In a study utilizing the measure discussed above by Lastovicka, Bettencourt, Hughner, & Kuntze (2009), they found that frugality was positively correlated with less student drinking in an undergraduate sample and lower levels of impulsivity (Rose, Smith & Segrist, 2010).  This led us to see frugality as a potential buffer against unhealthy behaviors, and led us to connect it to other virtues that have been researched, including self-control and patience (e.g., Tangney, Baumeister & Boone, 2004; Schnitker & Emmons, 2007). Further studies of these virtues of thrift, self-control and patience may help us understand more clearly how to treat addictive behaviors, compulsive behaviors and therefore many different clinical issues. This type of research could lead to new methods of treatment in clinical psychology.

Therefore, our hypotheses are as follows:

  • That higher levels of thrift negatively correlates with materialism, negative affect, and depressive symptoms;
  • That higher levels of thrift positively correlate with greater levels of patience, self-control, gratitude, and satisfaction with life; and
  • That seeing thrift as a spiritual pursuit is correlated with greater levels of thrift, higher levels of spiritual transcendence, religious commitment and a decrease in the negative correlates of hypothesis a, and an increase of the positive correlates of hypothesis b. We will test the reliability of our proposed measure of thrift using a reliability analysis (Cronbach’s alpha).

We will use correlations to analyze the test-retest reliability of the measure. We will use an exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis as well. We will examine the relation of our scale to others using correlations (and correlations between the scales). Finally, we will use a regression analysis to test the incremental validity of our thrift scale.

Participants for the proposed study will include 500 individuals who will be recruited through Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk  (Amazon Mturk), which is an online recruitment tool for projects that can be completed through the internet. Amazon MTurk has been established by major social science journals such as the American Psychologist, Journal of Politics andPerspectives on Psychological Science to be a valid method of recruiting research participants (Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, In Press; Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava,  & John, 2004). Therefore, it is expected that we will have significant variety in the age, gender, ethnicity, worldview, socio-economic status and state of residence. There will be three requirements for participation in our study: that their Internet Protocol Address (IP Address) designates that they live in the United States, that they are at least 18 years old, and that they have fluency in the English language. The age restriction for our study is based on the inability to know whether guardians of under-age individuals are actually indicating their consent on behalf of the minor. We are only recruiting US participants at this time to initially validate the measure where it was created.

Collection will occur Summer of 2012, until we have collected data from 500 participants. After this period, participants will be invited to participate again for test re-test reliability, a couple months later. The psychological questionnaires to be used are listed below in their full forms. The participants will be asked to fill out these questionnaires, as well as the demographic questions included below.

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