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Can Thrift Bring Well-being? A Review of the Research and a Tentative Theory



Contemporary forms of consumer capitalism encourage people to prioritize materialistic values, an orientation associated with lower personal well-being. Such materialistic values stand in contrast to the economic attitude of thrift, which encourages saving, self-sufficiency, reuse of goods, and avoiding debt. This article reviews the existing empirical literature on thrift and well-being, finding it to be very contradictory, with studies showing positive, negative, and null associations between various operationalizations of well-being and of thrift. A need-based theory is presented to explain these inconsistent findings. The theory suggests that thrifty attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles sometimes can work to satisfy psychological needs for safety/security, competence, relatedness, and autonomy (and thus promote well-being) but sometimes interfere with satisfaction of these needs (and thus diminish well-being). Empirical and anecdotal evidence is reviewed in support of this theory, and future directions for testing and refining it are proposed.