How Your Last Name Affects Your Spending Habits
You may think it sounds ridiculous, but there's pretty compelling evidence that your buying patterns and, in essence, financial outcomes in life, may actually be influenced by your last name. I came across a study that used a pretty broad data set and sound design to highlight that depending on where your last name falls in the alphabet, you may be inclined to jump at "deals" and spending opportunities more than others. (See also: When Deals Matter)
Why Being a "Z" Is Expensive
According to the study (as highlighted by Time) since Zs and other people with end-of-alphabet last names are generally at the back of the line from schooldays onward, there's a pattern of getting things after everyone else. From the lunch line to recess, this pattern is pounded into the psyche so much so that it actually carries forward with people who change to an earlier-letter last name later in life. While children who are always at the front of the line become accustomed to the luxury of going first, children at the back of the line start to become anxious and fearful of "missing out."
I know, you're skeptical. But the data doesn't lie. In an experiment where subjects received emails with offers of free tickets to a basketball game, the average response rate was significantly faster for R-Z names versus A-I names. In a second experiment, subjects were enticed by the prospect of being entered into a drawing to win $500 and again, the end-of-alphabet names had the quickest replies. The article outlines a few more experiments with concurring results.
What Does Your Last Name Mean Then?
Does this mean if you have a late-letter last name you're doomed to a lifetime of financial failure? Of course not. And like any broad statistical set, there will be outliers. I know plenty of impulse shoppers with names that span the alphabet.
But if you have a late-letter last name, you should be aware of the potential forces that may be at play here. And while there may be a higher propensity for a certain behavior in your cohort, it shouldn't justify that behavior. Rather than using this new-found link as an excuse, recognize in advance that you may be predisposed to harmful consumer behavior. As the author of the Time article suggested, perhaps retailers might even focus increased marketing efforts on people based on their last names to boost their bottom lines! Think about that the next time you get an "exclusive" offer or have an impulse to make an unplanned purchase. Social deal sites like Groupon play on our fears of missing out on a deal. This is the perfect setting for frenzied impulse buying, and retailers are experts at shopping Jedi mind tricks. This tidbit may may save you thousands over your lifetime!
Personally, my last name's in the middle of the alphabet, and I can't say I'm any more prone to impulsive spending behaviors than anyone else. But I'd be curious to hear your take. Are you close an A or a Z? Do you feel any influence from your place in line as a child?