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Monitoring personal finances: Evidence that goal progress and regulatory focus influence when people check their balance

Chang, BPI and Webb, TL and Benn, Y and Reynolds, JP (2017) Monitoring personal finances: Evidence that goal progress and regulatory focus influence when people check their balance. Journal of Economic Psychology, 62. pp. 33-49. ISSN 0167-4870

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Abstract

When do people check the balance of their personal bank accounts? To investigate this issue, we examined whether the monitoring of personal finances is influenced by peoples’ perceptions of their progress toward financial goals and their regulatory focus (i.e., whether the goal involves attaining a positive outcome or avoiding a negative outcome). Study 1 examined how often participants logged into their online bank accounts to check their balance and found that the worse they perceived their progress toward their most important financial goal to be, the more often they checked. In Studies 2 and 3 we developed a simulation of personal financial management in which participants were given financial goals that involved attaining a positive outcome and avoiding a negative outcome. Goal progress was manipulated via the balance in participants’ account at the start of the simulation (Studies 2 and 3) and the rate at which their balance increased (Study 3). Participants in Study 2 checked their balance more often when they perceived their progress toward financial goals to be poor and when they considered avoiding the negative outcome to be important. In Study 3, the frequency with which participants checked their balance was influenced by an interaction between goal progress, the regulatory focus of the goal, and the importance of the goal. Participants who felt that gaining money was relatively important were more likely to check their balance when their progress was good, whereas participants who felt that avoiding losing money was relatively important were more likely to check their balance when progress was both good and bad. Taken together, these findings contribute to our understanding of how people manage their personal finances, and self-regulation more generally, by revealing that how often people monitor their personal finances depends on perceptions of goal progress, regulatory focus, and the importance of the goal.

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