IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/hbs/wpaper/08-024.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Mental Accounting and Small Windfalls: Evidence from an Online Grocer

Author

Listed:
  • Katherine L. Milkman

    () (Harvard Business School)

  • John L. Beshears

    () (Harvard Business School)

Abstract

We study the effect of small windfalls on consumer spending decisions by comparing the purchases online grocery customers make when redeeming $10-off coupons with the purchases they make without coupons. Controlling for customer fixed effects and other variables, we find that grocery spending increases by $1.59 when a $10-off coupon is redeemed. The extra spending associated with coupon redemption is focused on groceries that a customer does not typically buy. These results are consistent with the theory of mental accounting but are not consistent with the standard permanent income or lifecycle theory of consumption. While the hypotheses we test are motivated by mental accounting, we also discuss some alternative psychological explanations for our findings.

Suggested Citation

  • Katherine L. Milkman & John L. Beshears, 2007. "Mental Accounting and Small Windfalls: Evidence from an Online Grocer," Harvard Business School Working Papers 08-024, Harvard Business School, revised Sep 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:08-024
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/08-024.pdf
    File Function: Revised version, 2008
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1797-1855, December.
    2. Malcolm Baker & Stefan Nagel & Jeffrey Wurgler, 2007. "The Effect of Dividends on Consumption," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 38(1), pages 231-292.
    3. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244.
    4. Zeldes, Stephen P, 1989. "Consumption and Liquidity Constraints: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(2), pages 305-346, April.
    5. Thaler, Richard, 1981. "Some empirical evidence on dynamic inconsistency," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 201-207.
    6. Richard H. Thaler, 2008. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 15-25, 01-02.
    7. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
    8. Nicholas S. Souleles & Jonathan A. Parker & David S. Johnson, 2006. "Household Expenditure and the Income Tax Rebates of 2001," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1589-1610, December.
    9. Klaus Wertenbroch, 1998. "Consumption Self-Control by Rationing Purchase Quantities of Virtue and Vice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(4), pages 317-337.
    10. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    11. Keeler, James P & James, William L & Abdel-Ghany, Mohamed, 1985. "The Relative Size of Windfall Income and the Permanent Income Hypothesis," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 3(3), pages 209-215, June.
    12. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-1248, September.
    13. Nava Ashraf & Dean Karlan & Wesley Yin, 2006. "Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence From a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 635-672.
    14. Thaler, Richard H & Shefrin, H M, 1981. "An Economic Theory of Self-Control," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(2), pages 392-406, April.
    15. Wilcox, David W, 1989. "Social Security Benefits, Consumption Expenditure, and the Life Cycle Hypothesis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(2), pages 288-304, April.
    16. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
    17. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    18. Kahn, Barbara E & Isen, Alice M, 1993. "The Influence of Positive Affect on Variety Seeking among Safe, Enjoyable Products," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(2), pages 257-270, September.
    19. Milton Friedman, 1957. "Introduction to "A Theory of the Consumption Function"," NBER Chapters, in: A Theory of the Consumption Function, pages 1-6, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Shefrin, Hersh M & Thaler, Richard H, 1988. "The Behavioral Life-Cycle Hypothesis," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(4), pages 609-643, October.
    21. David I. Laibson, 1996. "Hyperbolic Discount Functions, Undersaving, and Savings Policy," NBER Working Papers 5635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Stefano DellaVigna & Ulrike Malmendier, 2006. "Paying Not to Go to the Gym," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 694-719, June.
    23. Arkes, Hal R. & Joyner, Cynthia A. & Pezzo, Mark V. & Nash, Jane Gradwohl & Siegel-Jacobs, Karen & Stone, Eric, 1994. "The Psychology of Windfall Gains," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 59(3), pages 331-347, September.
    24. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
    25. Read, Daniel & Loewenstein, George & Rabin, Matthew, 1999. "Choice Bracketing," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 171-197, December.
    26. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
    27. Shapiro, Jesse M., 2005. "Is there a daily discount rate? Evidence from the food stamp nutrition cycle," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2-3), pages 303-325, February.
    28. Milton Friedman, 1957. "A Theory of the Consumption Function," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie57-1, Juni.
    29. Souleles, Nicholas S., 2002. "Consumer response to the Reagan tax cuts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 99-120, July.
    30. Chang-Tai Hsieh, 2003. "Do Consumers React to Anticipated Income Changes? Evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 397-405, March.
    31. Poterba, James M, 1988. "Are Consumers Forward Looking? Evidence from Fiscal Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 413-418, May.
    32. Drazen Prelec & George Loewenstein, 1998. "The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debt," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(1), pages 4-28.
    33. George-Marios Angeletos, 2001. "The Hyberbolic Consumption Model: Calibration, Simulation, and Empirical Evaluation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 47-68, Summer.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:08-024. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (HBS). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/harbsus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.