Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

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Working Paper

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How does spending from a used (vs. unused) account affect consumption behavior? In ten studies (N=13,948), we find that consumers are more likely to spend resources on non-essential items from a used (vs. unused) account. This is because consumers perceive they have accomplished their purchase goal when they have relatively less remaining in their account. We demonstrate the robustness of the effect of a used vs. unused account across several domains, including checking accounts, credit card reward points, and gift cards. Further, we demonstrate three boundary conditions of the effect, revealing that the proportion of the account remaining, whether the purchase goal has been reached or not, as well as whether the purchase is on essential vs. non-essential items moderate the subsequent consumption behavior.


consumption, goal, relative judgments, accounts, partitions

Working Paper Number



The project described received funding from the TIAA Institute and Wharton School’s Pension Research Council/Boettner Center. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the TIAA Institute or Wharton School’s Pension Research Council/Boettner Center.

Copyright/Permission Statement

All findings, interpretations, and conclusions of this paper represent the views of the authors and does not represent official views of the above-named institutions. © 2023 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.

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Economics Commons



Date Posted: 26 May 2023