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People in the marketing-to-mothers profession refer to mothers as chief financial officers of their households. The phrase suggests a comfortably solvent enterprise—prudent about money, but able to command it as needed. The reality of mothers and money is more complicated and less cheery, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “US Mothers and Money: How Much They Have, How They Get It, How They Spend It” (eMarketer PRO customers only).
For one thing, a mother these days is often in charge of household finances because she’s the only adult present. While mothers shown in advertising almost invariably look middle class—even as they have become more diverse in ethnicity and even marital status—a large number of real-life mothers are downright poor, while others struggle to keep their heads above water. One striking sign of this: 66% of mothers in a June 2016 BabyCenter survey said they worry about having enough money to raise their children. Meanwhile, lots of mothers who are affluent are tightfisted in their spending.
Many mothers operate on tight budgets. Even at the upper reaches of the income scale, mothers are determined not to spend more than they must. Bargain hunting, sometimes via digital tools, is a recurring theme in their shopping.
About eight in 10 mothers have smartphones, according to January 2016 polling by Edison Research. So, that device is well-positioned to power their shopping. A September 2015 survey by Research Now for Roth Capital Partners (ROTH) asked millennial mothers to cite smartphone activities they conduct while in-store or out shopping, and the most mentions (by 75.2% of respondents) went to “search for better prices elsewhere.” More than six in 10 (62.1%) said they “search for/download mobile coupons.” In AOL’s survey, 42% said they look for coupons and deals via smartphone when food shopping, though even more (67%) do so via computer.
A Simmons survey found mothers in general intent on deals. Seven in 10 “always look out for special offers” nearly six in 10 “tend to hold out on buying things I want until they go on sale.” In both cases, mothers were a bit more likely than women in general to do so.
As kids grow up, back-to-school shopping brings out mothers’ economizing impulses. In a June–July 2016 survey of parents by the National Retail Federation, “discount stores” topped the list of channels they used for such purchases, cited by 60.5% of respondents. Likewise, when Field Agent polled mothers on their back-to-school shopping aims this year, 55% picked “price” as their top priority.
Low-income mothers may not have a car to go from store to store in pursuit of specials. The upper-income mothers are apt to be better equipped with digital devices for comparison shopping. And a mother in whose household a father can take his turn watching the kids may have more time and energy than a single mother for hunting the best buys. Moreover, lower-income mothers may be reluctant to take a chance on a low-priced product that could turn out to be a dud, thus necessitating a further expenditure. Income level aside, the same mother can be economizing in one shopping trip and splurging in another.
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