Looking for love, people try all sorts of things to appear more attractive. As any online dater can tell you, self-descriptions may be... let’s just say more optimistic than realistic. But what’s really appealing to most people when they're dating? Is it the ‘generous’ spender or the ‘tight-fisted’ saver?

When requested to evaluate dating profiles, researchers Jenny Olson and Scott Rick of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business found that participants in their experiment rated 'savers' as preferable to ‘spenders.' In fact, savers routinely outperformed spenders in measurements of attractiveness, averaging nearly ‘five’ on a scale of one to seven while spenders averaged a mere ‘four.’


In their aptly titled study, “A Penny Saved is a Partner Earned: The Romantic Appeal of Savers,” Olson and Rick found that, generally, people perceive savers as possessing greater general self-control than their less thrifty counterparts. “Because general self-control also encourages healthy behaviors that promote physical attractiveness, savers are viewed as more physically attractive as well,” the authors wrote.

And this jibes with the oft-quoted findings of Ron Lieber, a New York Times columnist who requested the dating website, eHarmony, scan through the millions of matches made in July 2010. According to Lieber, “Both men and women were 25 percent more likely to have a potential mate reach out to them if they identified themselves as a saver rather than a spender.”

Many believe that these statistics fly in the face of romanticism. If we were to believe Valentine’s Day advertising, dating is all about bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolates, and expensive clothes worn in lavish restaurants. “You would think that spending would be more attractive, because things like flashy watches or purses are so visible,” Olson told Reuters. “Those things can also be perceived as wasteful and lacking in self-control.”

Individual Appeal

In their study, the authors noted that just as people may misrepresent other aspects of their personality, they may also "deceptively describe" their spending habits and financial attitudes to capitalize on what they intuit to be a preference for savers. And such self-descriptions of thriftiness may also be about trend and time. If these same experiments were conducted during a better economy and not the Great Recession, would people still favor savers over spenders? A follow-up study during better times is needed!

Beyond dating, the real decision to partner up with another person usually occurs over time, with many opportunities to see exactly who a person truly is. Financial behavior is just one aspect of an overall portrait. According to Dr. Kathleen Gurney, author of Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit From It, awareness of your own and someone else's attitude toward money is the first step in becoming financially ‘healthy' and financially compatible.

On her blog, Gurney describes nine psychological stances toward money: Hunter, High Roller, Producer, Entrepreneur, Optimist, Safety Player, Perfectionist, Achiever, and Money Master. Each attitude has both an upside and downside, and an individual may fit one or more descriptions while also changing and evolving over time. In the end, like any aspect of our character, our ‘money personality’ needs to be understood and refined in order to achieve harmony with a mate... and also meet with a positive outcome in the world.

Source: Olson JG, Rick S. A Penny Saved is a Partner Earned: The Romantic Appeal of Savers. Social Science Research Network. 2013.