Love stinks when it comes to saving money

Study shows that people are willing to spend more on sentimental puchases.
Calamaga | Getty Images
Study shows that people are willing to spend more on sentimental puchases.

When love is in the mix, watch out for your budget.

Consumers making purchases with a strong emotional connection — say, for a funeral, wedding or even a birthday — are less likely to use tactics to help them get a better deal, according to a new study in the journal Judgment and Decision Making. They are less likely to price compare or to negotiate on price. Even when consumers do find a less expensive alternative, they are still apt to choose the pricier item, the study found.

Typically people are good about seeking out cost savings, said study lead author Peter McGraw, an associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder's Leeds School of Business. But the idea of putting a price tag on love — especially a bargain price — makes people deeply uncomfortable.

"It just doesn't feel right to be negotiating lower prices on a casket for your beloved grandfather," said McGraw.

Or to buy the cheaper of two engagement rings — one of the scenarios the study explored. Love also influences buying behaviors for more common events, he said, including birthdays, anniversaries and gifts for a new baby.

Love's influence over purchases is most easily seen and tallied in big events such as a wedding, where shoppers are making multiple purchases in short order and emotions run high, said Kit Yarrow, author of "Decoding the New Consumer Mind." Almost half of couples married in 2014 said they busted their budget, according to TheKnot.com. Wedding costs also hit a record high that year, at $31,213.

Most consumers fail to shop around for funeral costs, a mistake that could easily lead to bigger bills. Research from price-comparison site Parting.com found that in New York City, costs for a direct cremation — which entails only collection of the body, cremation and return of the remains — can run as low as $550 or as much as $10,125.

But over time, even smaller love-fueled purchases like a pricier birthday cake or extra toys for a child can put a substantial dent in your budget. "At the end of 60 years of spending, this is not hundreds of dollars, this is thousands and thousands of dollars," said McGraw. "There's an opportunity cost there."

Knowing you're likely to prioritize love over money for certain purchases is an important first step to curbing the impulse. "Once people are reminded that the price you pay for something is not actually reflective of your feelings for that person, they tend to make better purchasing decisions," said Yarrow, who is also a professor emerita of marketing and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

Research the purchase in advance to help you figure out your budget and what a fair market price is for that product or service. "Organization gives people a sense of control," said Yarrow. "The more organized you are, the less emotionally driven you'll be."

It can also help to have a support team or proxy, ideally someone with less of an emotional investment, McGraw said. That person might help negotiate with your wedding venue, for example, or take on some of the necessary funeral decisions.

Don't give in to pressure to make a decision immediately. Even for more time-pressed events (say, arranging a funeral), thinking something over for a few minutes can help clarify a decision, said Yarrow.

"Take a little break, call somebody, talk it over," she said. "Any time someone tells you a deal is only going to last a day, it's not a deal."