Middle Class Budgeting: Thrifty & Traditional

More interactive and imaginative mobile apps could help families budget better, researchers say.

AsianScientist (May 19, 2015) – Middle-income earners are just as thrifty as those less well-off when it comes to budgeting the family finances, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) research has found.

Researchers from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty investigated the budgeting techniques of families whose average household incomes were more than A$100,000 (~US$80,000)—the upper middle range of income in Australia. Their study has been published in Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference Companion on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing.

They uncovered a “strong tendency” to live frugally, aided by a series of “creative” ways to pinch more pennies.

“With the average credit card debt in Australia [of] A$3,700 (~US$3,000), the management of money on a personal level is clearly a social problem,” Dr. Dhaval Vyas, from QUT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science School, said.

“We found families were concerned about their spending and employed various and creative mechanisms to minimize expenses and save money, despite their affluent position compared to the rest of the population.”

The researchers found that a common way to do this was to hide money from themselves, such as putting cash in the hidden part of a wallet or in a locked drawer. Some others were more creative in preventing themselves from spending their savings.

“Another example was a participant who was saving up for a holiday to Bali with her partner. To ensure the couple didn’t spend the money before the trip, she changed Australian cash into Indonesian rupiah months in advance so they couldn’t spend it before leaving.”

Vyas, who has co-authored several recent papers with QUT colleague Mr. Steve Snow on budgeting practices, said families budgeted to meet short and long-term goals, focusing on smaller expenses they could control rather than larger, regular bills like electricity or water.

“Our research found people with bigger budgets still place a high value on thriftiness. The difference is that austerity employed by low income earners is motivated by a desire to make ends meet, whereas for our participants it was motivated by a desire for future economic security or to meet a specific goal,” he said.

Vyas found traditional methods were preferred to technology as a means to manage money.

“The families we spoke to were happy to use technology for day-to-day financial transactions or monitoring of finances, for example internet banking, but not for budgeting,” he said.

“There are numerous budgeting apps available but the families found them too time-consuming or confusing and instead turned to technology-free options like dividing the week’s spending into envelopes for things like coffee, petrol and lunches.”

Vyas said the research would help developers design more effective apps that were better aligned with family budgeting strategies.

“The design of budgeting apps needs to be receptive to the creativity employed by households in being thrifty with their money,” he said.

He also noted how such apps could aid in financial planning for families.

“There is potential for apps to foster, encourage and support the types of creative financial management strategies we observed organically.”

“Rather than simply recording and presenting data, we envisage a future for financial management apps as more informative, interactive and imaginative co-creators of a wider range of family-appropriate saving and budgeting strategies.”

The article can be found at: Vyas et al. (2015) Being Thrifty On A $100K Wage: Austerity In Family Finances.


Source: Queensland University of Technology; Photo: Morgan/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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