Splurging after reaching your goal: How and when a used (vs. unused) account affects consumption behavior?

Insights Report
Research Report

How does the relative amount remaining in an account influence the extent to which the account is used to buy non-essential items?


People often spend their resources on items they may not need, but want (i.e., non-essential items), or alternatively, hold onto their resources to buy something else later. This study examines whether people are more or less likely to purchase non-essential items if the money is coming from an account that has yet to be used versus one from which a portion of the balance had previously been spent. The findings have practical implications for marketers as well as consumers.

Key Insights

  • People are more likely to spend on non-essential items when using funds from an account that is partially depleted (vs. an account that has never been used).
  • When people have less remaining in their account relative to what they had originally, they infer they have accomplished their purchase goal. As a result, they perceive the remaining amount as "leftover" and thus are more likely to spend it rather than save it.
  • Used account effects are contingent upon the relative proportion of the account remaining, such that people are unlikely to spend their remaining balance if a large proportion of the original balance is still left in their used account.
  • People are equally unlikely to spend from their used and unused accounts when told they have not yet achieved their purchase goal, because people are motivated to spend on goal-consistent items over non-essential items.

The research shows it's possible to curb unnecessary spending and improve consumers' financial well-being simply by altering how an account balance is framed or displayed.


The authors conducted a series of experiments with 13,948 participants across a wide variety of consumption contexts—including credit card reward points, gift cards and checking accounts—to gauge spending patterns from used and unused accounts.

The likelihood of spending $25 on lunch special


Siyuan Yin

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

Marissa A. Sharif

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

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