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Praise the Lord and pass the coupons! A new study says shoppers who are religious spend less money on their groceries than shoppers who aren’t.

That finding is put forward by the authors of the prosaically-titled “Religious Shoppers Spend Less Money”, which is slated to appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The study asserts that “highly religious people are more careful with their grocery spending than less religious people”.

The researchers used county-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau to examine the spending habits of people who live in what are considered to be “more religious counties”. What they found was that “people who live in more religious U.S. counties spend less money on groceries and make fewer unplanned purchases”.

Clipping coupons is also a priority among religious shoppers. The study found that “the likelihood of shoppers’ coupon usage increases with county-level religiosity, further supporting the argument that religiosity is associated with frugal shopping behavior”.

So what’s the connection between praising God and pinching pennies?

It’s likely because “many religions emphasize the value of being prudent with money,” the study noted. “Overspending is not typically a welcome behavior in communities with strong religious ties.”

The researchers also conducted real-world field studies to test the conclusion suggested by the demographic and retail sales data. Before embarking on a grocery shopping trip, shoppers were asked to list all of the products they planned to purchase. Afterwards, they were surveyed to see how much they spent, and whether they stuck to their list.

The average participant spent $62.62 and bought 7.4 unplanned items. But those who lived in more religious counties spent less, and bought fewer impulse items.

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Living in a “religious county” does not prove that an individual is religious, though. So the researchers also recruited volunteers to participate in simulated shopping trips, and specifically asked them about their personal religious beliefs. That test, too, showed that “participants’ spending during a hypothetical grocery shopping trip decreases with religiosity”.

Finally, in one of their more fascinating findings, the researchers learned that a person doesn’t even have to be religious in order to have their spending Influenced by religion. Volunteers were asked to take part in a hypothetical grocery shopping trip, but first they were shown a video. Some of them watched a short incongruous clip about oil painting, while others were shown a clip of “a preacher discussing God’s presence”. And those who watched the religious video spent less on their hypothetical shopping trip – regardless of whether they themselves were religious.

“This suggests that the effect of religion on grocery spending arises from people’s tendency to associate religion and religious cues with frugality,” the researchers concluded. “Religiosity affects people’s spending behavior such that even being reminded of God makes people less likely to spend money.”

One way that God-fearing consumers have often been able to save money is with church bulletins that double as coupons. Many local businesses like to offer Sunday-only discounts to churchgoers, in order to promote themselves as good neighbors while also boosting business at brunch.

While these businesses’ religious patrons do like to save money as the aforementioned study suggests, it turns out non-churchgoers like to save money, too. Many of these discounts have faced legal challenges over the years, by opponents who question why only believers can get a deal.

The latest dustup occurred just last month in Ohio, where a café owner in the suburban Cincinnati community of Cheviot offered a 10% discount for patrons who brought in a church bulletin. But he was surprised to be contacted by an advocacy group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“These types of promotions are illegal under federal law,” the group states. “Church bulletin discounts are restrictive promotional practices, which favor religious customers and deny customers who do not attend church, and nonbelievers, the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of the restaurant, store or other business.”

The café owner ended up changing his promotion to offer a 10% Sunday discount to everyone.

So religious consumers aren’t the only ones who like discounts and deals. But shoppers who believe in a higher power may actually do a better job of saving in the long run. And, as they might tell you – thank God for that.

Photo by tgraham

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One Comment

  1. Andrea D Wiener says:

    i taught a coupon class at church – and people were shocked by all the ways they could save!

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