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What Science Reveals About Your Money Habits

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If an anthropologist were to have access to your bank account, what would they learn about you? Are you constantly carrying a credit card balance and spending beyond your means? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, do you miss out on life’s experiences because you’re constantly worried about your future nest egg?

Below, we turn to science for a glimpse of why we’re spenders or savers — and the role personality plays in your financial habits.

Your genetics can determine your spending and saving habits

When it comes to our finances, what is it about one person that makes them a spender while the other is a saver? Some studies say it’s learned behavior from your environment and upbringing, while other researchers point to genetics as a determinant for our financial choices.

A 2011 study titled “The Origins of Savings Behavior” found that DNA determines one-third of adults’ wealth and saving habits. Researchers examined the genes and spending habits of nearly 15,000 identical and fraternal twins from Sweden and noted that while “parenting contributes to the variation in savings rates among younger individuals,” the effects wane over time. By age 40, the spending and saving behaviors one learns from their upbringing revert back to their genetic predispositions.

According to the study, your genetics determine your self-control and how patient you are. This, in turns, impacts your money-handling habits. What this means, said Stephan Siegel, professor of finance and economics at the University of Washington and co-author of the study, is that while there is “a long list of small things that add up over time,” what’s instinctive is more important than learned behavior.

“It’s a little bit of a puzzle because people do think that, on the one hand, parents are important,” said Siegel, “but the evidence suggests they’re more important in terms of handing over their DNA and less important on shaping the environment for their kids.”

Use it to your advantage: Accepting that some behaviors are beyond your control is the first step to addressing what you want to change. But it’s not just about financial literacy, Siegel told MagnifyMoney. It’s learning to recognize your financial predispositions and managing them accordingly.

“Some of these tendencies are set early or at the point of conception,” he said, adding that thinking of spending habits as a biological issue can help you put a framework in place that protects you from your instinctual money habits.

This framework could mean coming up with a plan to save more early in the year, then using tools like direct deposit to pull from your paycheck and store funds safely in an outside savings account. It works for Siegel.

“It basically doesn’t even show up on my radar screen that I have that money and I can spend it,” he said. “Ideally, I don’t even see it in my checking account.”

If you feel pain during unpleasant experiences, you’re likely to be a saver

There is a region in the brain called the insula that “lights up” when you experience something unpleasant. The more activity or stimulation in the insula, the more “pain” you feel, likely resulting in you not doing the action again. This can influence whether you reach for another cookie or cigarette, are able to see disgust in someone’s face or have risky spending habits.

For the 2007 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, participants’ brains were scanned while they pretended to shop. Researchers later found that the more stimulation in the insula, the less likely participants kept spending. In other words, if spending money gives your brain an unpleasant feeling, then you’re less likely to keep doing it.

Use it to your advantage: What if you have a high pain threshold? Make spending as difficult as possible. Try drawing out cash so that you get out of the habit of spending on credit, and make sure you know where your money goes. In fact, tracking your spending with mobile apps has been shown to cut back on individual spending by 15.7%.

Also, as Siegel mentioned above, make a point to automate your savings, then leave the account alone. “If people have to actively think about saving, then they probably won’t do it,” wrote Shlomo Benartzi, a professor of behavioral decision making at UCLA, in a 2017 article for the Harvard Business Review.

Benartzi’s well-known “Save More Tomorrow” study with Nobel Prize laureate and renowned behavioral economist Richard Thaler found that people are more successful at saving when they commit to it in advance. In other words, when people set their future savings rate to increase annually with their raises, they’re more likely to stick to the plan.

In the study, Benartzi and Thaler proposed a savings program that allowed 21,000 workers at three different companies to allocate a portion of their future savings toward their retirement fund. The researchers followed the participants from the late 1990s to early 2000s and found that savings increased from 3.5% to 11.6% over the course of 28 months.

If you’re a master at delayed gratification, you may be a good saver

A series of experiments conducted on preschoolers in the 1960s called the “marshmallow test” has become an iconic example of the relationship between savings and delayed gratification.

For the study, researchers informed the participants, who were nursery school children at the time, that they could choose one sweet treat from a tray and could either eat it immediately or wait 15 minutes. If they were able to wait 15 minutes, then they were rewarded with a second treat.

The researchers found that 70% of the children chose to eat their treat immediately. Decades later, the researchers followed up with the same participants who were now adults and found that the 30% who were able to practice self-control were more successful and in better physical health overall.

However, in the years since the study, researchers have criticized the marshmallow test, pointing to various factors that impact a child’s level of self-control.

For instance, a 2018 study published in the Psychological Science journal, replicated the marshmallow test and found a strong correlation between delayed gratification and various controls like a child’s cognitive functioning, home environment and family background. Jessica McCrory Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, wrote in The Atlantic that “the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background — and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success.”

And this 2013 study published in Cognition journal noted that a child’s self-control abilities may be closely correlated to their “beliefs about the stability of the world” and whether a second treat would actually be available.

Use it to your advantage: Regardless, it makes sense that the more willpower you have, the better you can be at regulating your need to spend money. Psychologists Walter Mischel told The Atlantic in 2014 that what we should be getting from the marshmallow test are ways to curb our impulses. He recommends what’s called “if-then” strategies, saying: “If I want a cigarette, I’ll take a break to play a game on my phone instead.” So instead of focusing on delaying gratification, turn your attention to something else in order to distract yourself in satisfying ways.

Final thoughts

The research above can provide some valuable insight into your actions. It also highlights the importance of automating your financial decisions and tracking your spending — two relatively easy ways to trick yourself into making better financial choices.  Learning to work with your predispositions, instead of fighting them, will help you cultivate financial behaviors that work for you.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Investing Regrets Among U.S. Investors

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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As the coronavirus pandemic took a hold of the global economy in early 2020, investors everywhere panicked and sent the stock market plummeting to some of its worst days in recent history. Now that some of the immediate panic has subsided, many American investors are reflecting on recent investment moves that they now regret.

In a new MagnifyMoney survey, we found that many Americans regret their previous investing decisions in light of the COVID-19 crisis. However, many investors are also hopeful for the market’s future, which could make this a perfect time to plan your own future investing moves.

Key findings

  • More than half of investors regret past investing decisions brought to light by the COVID-19 crisis.
    • Younger generations, who are arguably less experienced investors, have more regrets than older investors. A whopping 92% of Gen Z investors admitted to an investing regret in some form or another.
    • Still, 79% of Gen X had regrets, compared to much lower numbers from baby boomers (33%) and the silent generation (24%).
  • About one-third of investors have full confidence that their investments will rebound by the end of 2020, but some have more hope than others.
    • Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats and Independents to be very confident that their investments will recover by the end of the year.
    • Meanwhile, baby boomers and the silent generation are much less confident in their investments’ recovery than younger investors.
  • Consumers with investment accounts estimate their stock market losses are about $24,400 on average since the coronavirus outbreak slammed the United States in March.
    • Baby boomers and the silent generation lost the most, at roughly $56,000 and $63,300, respectively. Unfortunately, these are the generations likely relying heavily on their investments in retirement.
    • Women estimated they lost about $32,300 through the stock market, while men estimated their investment losses to be around $18,700.
  • More than one-third of Americans think it will be at least a year before the stock market recovers from the pandemic. 
    • However, it’s worth noting that more than 1 in 5 (22%) respondents believe the market will recover in just two to five months.
  • As the stock market shows signs of growth despite the bleak financial picture of many Americans, more than half of respondents agreed that the stock market does not completely depict the financial picture of the average U.S. consumer. 
    • Republicans and those who have investment accounts (including a retirement savings account) are more likely to believe the market mirrors the average consumer (around 35% in each group), compared to Democrats (24%) and those without investment accounts (13%).

The most common investing regrets amid coronavirus pandemic

Among our respondents, the top investing regret was a lack of portfolio diversification, a regret cited by 23% of respondents. Gen X respondents regretted this mistake the most at about 29%, with millennials not far behind at 27%. At 30%, men also cited this regret more than the 13% of women who admitted to making this error.

The second most common investment regret cited (19%) was taking on risky investments. Nearly one-third of Gen Z investors got burned by a risky investment. And while baby boomers and the silent generation were less likely to make this mistake, a quarter of Gen X confessed regretting this potentially costly move.

Some examples of high-risk investments can include initial public offerings (IPOs), structured products and venture capital trusts. You also may take on considerable risk if you’re trying to time the market for maximum returns, which many experts caution against.

The third common investment regret among respondents (13%) was keeping all of their savings in the stock market. Gen Z investors were the most guilty of this mistake, with 27% regretting keeping all of their savings in investments, followed by 15% of millennials, 13% of Gen X, 7% of baby boomers and a mere 2% of the silent generation.

How to avoid investing regrets

Luckily, these investing regrets are easily avoidable. Even if you found yourself regretting your pandemic-induced investment moves, there’s still time to recover.

Diversify your portfolio

For starters, it’s important to keep your assets diversified, or spread among different investments and across industries, whether you’re a beginner or an investing veteran. That way, when one part of the market takes a tumble, the other parts of your portfolio aren’t hit as badly, or at all. Essentially, by avoiding putting all of your eggs in one basket, your investments can be better protected in a downturn.

Cushion your risky investments

Keeping your portfolio well-balanced and diversified can also help mitigate risky investments that you might have taken on. It also helps to invest your money incrementally rather than in lump sums. That way, you’ll invest in both down and up times, balancing out your investment gains rather than going all in now and regretting your risk-taking later.

Acting reactively to the market is also a risk of its own. If you sell your assets just because everyone else is panicking, prices are driven down and you end up losing money because you’re making less on the sale than what you paid when you bought the asset. Instead, ride it out and keep your money invested. The markets will recover, and your assets’ valuation will go back up, too.

Invest toward long-term gains

Due to its nature, investing is a risky business. There’s the chance of losses and there is no guaranteed payout amount waiting for you. Because of these factors, it’s generally a bad idea to place all your savings bets on your investments. If you need cash in a downturn, you’ll be selling at a loss to withdraw from your investment accounts. Even further, selling off assets and turning them into cash takes time, making this a much less convenient method of withdrawing money than, say, heading to the ATM.

Instead, you should keep your investments geared toward the future, establishing more long-term goals for your investment accounts. This is why retirement accounts are often investment-based — it gives your investments time to accumulate, but also to ride out the many fluctuations of the market.

For your more immediate cash needs, keep money in a high-yield savings account. This allows for easier withdrawals and transfers, and ensures your money still grows. You can also open an interest-bearing checking account to make sure your money is growing no matter what account it’s in.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,008 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The sample population included 1,183 investors and 866 non-investors. We defined the generations in 2020 as follows:

  • Gen Z is defined as ages 18 to 22
  • Millennials as ages 23 to 38
  • Gen X as ages 39 to 53
  • Baby boomers as ages 54 to 73
  • Silent generation as ages 74 and over

The survey was fielded from April 28 to May 1, 2020.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Study: The Best U.S. Cities for Working from Home

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change life across the nation, many workers have shifted to remote work to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Luckily, working from home has never been easier. Thanks to advances in technology, many professionals have been able to continue plowing through their to-do lists from the comfort of their couch.

However, some cities are better for remote work than others. Cities that are more appealing to telecommuters have higher earning power for the remote workers who live there and more remote work opportunities. Additionally, cities with longer commute times also make it more appealing for residents to choose to work from home.

To determine the best cities for working from home, MagnifyMoney combed through the Census Bureau’s 2018 1-Year American Community Survey (conducted before the coronavirus pandemic began). We examined the 100 largest U.S. cities by the number of workers, classifying them by metrics related to how many people work from home, their earning power and their cost of living.

Key findings

  • Gilbert, Ariz. is rated the best place to work from home, due to a sharp rise in the number of people working from home, which indicates more remote work opportunities, as well as the fact that remote workers there make $1.32 for every dollar earned by the average worker.
  • The second best place to work from home is Atlanta, thanks to factors like a rise in people working from home from 2017 to 2018 and good pay for remote workers. Additionally, local housing costs in Atlanta were equal to just 27% of earnings for the average person who works from home.
  • Aurora, Colo. comes in third, with residents who work remotely skipping out on the 30-minute average daily commute there.
  • The worst city to work from home was Toledo, Ohio, which had a low and stagnant number of people working from home, indicating few remote work opportunities. Those who do work from home in Toledo generally earned less in comparison to average earnings.
  • The second worst city to work from home was El Paso, Texas, followed by Greensboro, N.C.
  • On average, across the 100 cities analyzed, working from home tended to pay better than not working from home.
  • Overall, the number of people working from home is fairly flat, suggesting that the so-called “telecommuting revolution” had yet to come to fruition before COVID-19.
  • Long commutes did not necessarily translate to more people working from home. While New York and New Jersey had the longest average commutes, they did not see much of an increase in the number of people working from home.

Best cities for working from home

Topping our study’s ranking of the best cities to work from home is Gilbert, Ariz. Gilbert, a suburb located southeast of Phoenix, measures just over 72 square miles and has a population of more than 230,000.

Our study found that the average person working from home in Gilbert makes $1.32 for every dollar the average person makes, earning it a tie for the 20th spot regarding that metric. Gilbert also ranked high for two metrics measuring the city’s overall work-from-home climate. It ranked fourth for its share of remote workers, with 4.90% of residents working from home, and sixth for the percent change in the number of people working from home from 2017 to 2018, a 1.20% year-over-year increase. Additionally, the average commute time of a typical worker in Gilbert is 28 minutes, earning Gilbert the 27th spot for that metric as telecommuters are saving nearly half an hour each way.

All of these metrics contributed to Gilbert’s overall top ranking, making it a great option for telecommuters looking for a balanced lifestyle of good pay, a remote work-friendly culture and a decent chunk of time saved from commuting.

Atlanta snags the spot for the second best city to work from home, thanks to the high earning power of remote workers and a culture friendly to telecommuting. Atlanta has a high work-from-home rate, with 4.50% of people working from home, earning it a sixth-place ranking for that metric. Remote workers in Atlanta make $1.13 for every dollar the average worker pulls in, and housing costs accounted for just 27% of a remote worker’s earnings, landing it the 22nd spot for that metric.

Rounding out the top three for our study on the best cities to work from home is Aurora, Colo. Aurora’s rankings were boosted by the fact that remote workers in Aurora make $1.41 for every dollar that the average person makes — earning the city the 11th spot for that metric. The city also boasts 3.50% of people working from home, which landed it in 19th spot for that metric. Additionally, workers in Aurora had an average commute time of 30 minutes, which means, conversely, remote workers get to skip out on a half hour long-commute, earning the city the 18th spot for the commute time metric.

Overall, the best state to work remotely seems to be Arizona — three cities, all Phoenix suburbs, cracked our study’s top 10 best cities to work from home ranking: Gilbert (first), Chandler (seventh) and Scottsdale (tenth). Another state with a strong presence in our study’s top 10 best cities to work from home is Colorado, with Aurora ranking second and Denver ranking sixth.

Worst cities for working from home

The U.S. city falling to the bottom of our study’s ranking — making it the worst city to work from home — is Toledo, Ohio. Located in the northwest region of Ohio, Toledo has a population of around 276,000.

Remote workers in Toledo pulled in far less than the average worker, earning just $0.58 for every $1 earned by an average worker and resulting in the city ranking 99th for that metric. Additionally, remote workers in Toledo spent an average of 51% of their earnings on housing, underscoring remote workers’ overall low earning power. Toledo also had a staggeringly low percentage of residents working remotely — 0.90% — which indicates the poor overall culture of remote work and opportunity in the city.

The second worst city to work from home, according to our study, is El Paso, Texas. Remote workers in El Paso also had dismal earning power, with people who work from home making just $0.81 for every dollar earned by the average worker, and housing costs accounting for 45% of remote workers’ earnings. Like Toledo, El Paso also had a relatively low percentage of remote workers overall, with 1.60% of people working from home, placing the city 87th for that metric.

Meanwhile, our study found that Greensboro, N.C., is the third worst city to work from home. Greensboro ranked last for the metric measuring the growth in the number of people working from home, with 1.90% fewer people working remotely in 2018 compared to 2017, indicating a possible decline in remote work opportunity there. Remote workers also weren’t saving a particularly significant amount of time by telecommuting, with the average commute time for residents in Greensboro being just 21 minutes.

Overall, our study found that there are bad cities for working from home nationwide, from the Northeast all the way to the West Coast.

Advantages and disadvantages of working from home

As is the case with clocking your 9-to-5 hours in a cubicle, many of us have discovered during the pandemic that there are both advantages and disadvantages to working from the comfort of your couch.

Advantages of working from home

  • Potentially higher pay: Our survey found that in many cities, remote workers raked in more money than non-remote workers. For example, in Norfolk, Va., the average remote worker made $1.68 for every dollar earned by the average worker. One reason for this could be that, according to the BLS, the more popular occupations for remote work include jobs in management, business and finance, all of which tend to be higher-paying.
  • Money saved on transportation: The cost of commuting is not something to overlook. Depending on the state in which you live, you could spend between $2,000 to $5,000 a year on commuting costs. Working from home enables you to save thousands of dollars a year.
  • Money saved on childcare: One of the biggest incentives for working from home is the flexibility it allows — especially for parents with kids to care for. For working parents, the cost of childcare can add up to hundreds of dollars a week. If a parent works from home, they might be able to avoid paying for a daycare service or nanny.

Learn how you can maximize your savings with the best online savings account offers. 

Disadvantages of working from home

  • Strain on relationships with colleagues: Working from home could have a negative effect on your relationships with your colleagues. At least one study has found that remote workers were more likely to report that their co-workers treat them poorly and exclude them.
  • Lack of work-life balance: When your home doubles as your workspace, it can be difficult to unplug. Indeed, one survey from Remote.co found that unplugging after work hours is the biggest challenge among telecommuters. Achieving a healthy work-life balance when you work from home can certainly be a challenging obstacle to overcome.

Methodology

For our study, we looked at data from the 2018 Census Bureau’s 1-Year American Community Survey. Metrics analyzed included:

  • The percentage of people who work from home.
  • Earnings for people working from home relative to average earnings of local workers.
  • The percentage point change in the share of workers working from home from 2017 to 2018.
  • The percentage point change in earnings for people who work from home from 2017 to 2018.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income for people working from home.
  • Average commute time.

To create the final rankings, we ranked each city in each metric. Using these rankings, we created a final index based on each city’s average ranking. The city with the best average ranking received the highest score, while the city with the lowest average ranking received the lowest score. The cities were then indexed based on the best possible score.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.