Want to spend less money and make fewer purchases during your next trip to the grocery store? Go to church.
The more religious people are, the lower their grocery bill, according to a series of studies to be published in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. One theory: Because religious people tend to value frugality, this inspires them to spend less, or altogether avoid impulse buys, like candy bars and chewing gum at the checkout counter, the researchers wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
The researchers — who work at Boston University, Harvard University and the University of Pittsburgh — conducted five studies, one of which asked 800 participants to engage in a hypothetical grocery shopping trip that involved purchasing staples like eggs and milk and non-necessities, such as chewing gum (which was priced between 25 cents and $4). Put bluntly: The more religious the person was, the less they spent.
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In another study, the researchers conducted a similar hypothetical shopping trip, but tested the effect of watching a video of a man speaking about God or an artist speaking about oil painting on shoppers’ spending. The participants who watched the clip about God spent less on an impulse purchase of a magazine than the ones who watched the artist. The researchers also analyzed grocery store sales per store across 1,600 U.S. counties in 2012 compared to the number of devout religious people in each county.
This is not the first study to suggest religion has an impact on personal finances. Religious beliefs are correlated with a stronger likelihood to save, according to an analysis of data from the DNB Household Survey of more than 2,000 households in the Netherlands, in some cases a lower likelihood to invest.
When people of different religious backgrounds do invest, they may follow stricter guidelines. For Muslims, there are Shariah-compliant funds, which typically prohibit investing in companies that earn revenue from sales of alcohol, cigarettes, military equipment or pork. There are also ETFs that choose investments aligned with “biblical values” and another aimed specifically at Catholic investors.