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The First of the Month Effect: Consumer Behavior and Store Responses

  • Justine S. Hastings
  • Ebonya L. Washington

Previous research has used survey and diary data to carefully document that Food Stamp recipients decrease their expenditures and consumption of food throughout the benefit month, the beginning of which is defined by the date on which benefits are distributed. The reliance on survey and diary data has meant that researchers could not test two rational hypotheses for why food consumption cycles. Using detailed grocery store scanner data we ask 1) whether cycling is due to a desire for variation in foods consumed that leads to substitution across product quality within the month and 2) whether cycling is driven by countercyclical pricing by grocery retailers. We find support for neither of these hypotheses. We find that the decrease in food expenditures is largely driven by reductions in food quantity, not quality, and that prices for foods purchased by benefit households vary pro-cyclically with demand implying that benefit households could save money by delaying their food purchases until later in the month. The price effects are small relative to demand changes and relative to impacts found for other subsidy programs such as EITC, suggesting that most of the benefits accrue to the intended recipients particularly in product categories and stores where benefit recipients represent a small fraction of overall demand. We conclude by concurring with previous literature that food cycling behavior is most likely due to short-run impatience.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14578.

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Date of creation: Dec 2008
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Publication status: published as Justine Hastings & Ebonya Washington, 2010. "The First of the Month Effect: Consumer Behavior and Store Responses," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 142-62, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14578
Note: IO PE
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  1. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Greg M. Allenby & Peter E. Rossi, 1991. "Quality Perceptions and Asymmetric Switching Between Brands," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 10(3), pages 185-204.
  3. David Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 2000. "A Debt Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 7879, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Dora Gicheva & Justine Hastings & Sofia Villas-Boas, 2007. "Revisiting the Income Effect: Gasoline Prices and Grocery Purchases," NBER Working Papers 13614, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Joseph Altonji & Ernesto Villanueva, 2003. "The marginal propensity to spend on adult children," Economics Working Papers 667, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  6. Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Is there a Daily Discount Rate? Evidence from the Food Stamp Nutrition Cycle," Microeconomics 0304005, EconWPA, revised 21 Apr 2003.
  7. MacDonald, James M, 2000. "Demand, Information, and Competition: Why Do Food Prices Fall at Seasonal Demand Peaks?," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(1), pages 27-45, March.
  8. Parke E. Wilde & Christine K. Ranney, 2000. "The Monthly Food Stamp Cycle: Shooping Frequency and Food Intake Decisions in an Endogenous Switching Regression Framework," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 82(1), pages 200-213.
  9. Peter E. Rossi & Judith A. Chevalier & Anil K. Kashyap, 2002. "Why Don't Prices Rise During Periods of Peak Demand? Evidence from Scanner Data," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm291, Yale School of Management.
  10. Dobkin, Carlos & Puller, Steven L., 2007. "The effects of government transfers on monthly cycles in drug abuse, hospitalization and mortality," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(11-12), pages 2137-2157, December.
  11. Jesse Rothstein, 2008. "The Unintended Consequences of Encouraging Work: Tax Incidence and the EITC," Working Papers 1049, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
  12. Warner, Elizabeth J & Barsky, Robert B, 1995. "The Timing and Magnitude of Retail Store Markdowns: Evidence from Weekends and Holidays," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(2), pages 321-52, May.
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