One of the legendary figures of my high school years was a teacher named Mr. Canova. A burly, balding, faintly simian-looking dude, he was someone you didn’t want to tangle with in a dark alley, or in the brightly-lit classroom where he presided over a senior-year course called Problems of Democracy.
A big reason he was legendary was his unpredictable nature. One day, he departed from his lesson plan to lecture the female members of class on their choices in boyfriends. Why, he asked, was it always the jock or the flashy guys the girls went for? Why didn’t they notice the quiet, studious boys who never got any female attention? Mr. C. went so far as to single out for attention a kid named Rick, a bespectacled blond lad many viewed as the archetypical nerd.
Rick was just the kind of guy the girls overlooked — to their own detriment, the instructor opined.
Canova’s riff was destined to loiter in my memory forever, perhaps due to the image of it being greeted by languid yawns from the classroom’s mini-skirted lovelies, whose evident ennui made it clear his pontifications had fallen on deaf ears. But there was one more reason the recollection has caromed around my brainpan for 40 years. Read on.
Ahead of his time
Mr. Canova proved a visionary, in more ways than one. I was able to keep tabs on Rick, who was the cousin of a college friend of my sister’s, and later learned he’d retired to a Florida beach in his 40s, having salted away multiple millions.
If only those girls in Canova’s class had been able to read tea leaves. Rick hadn’t taken corners on two wheels in a candy apple red 1970 Dodge Charger. He hadn’t been the crazy-legged star wide receiver on the football team, or a long-haired, self-destructive, Jim Morrison-like lead singer in a garage rock band. In short, he wasn’t anything like the guys who got the girls at my, and dare I say many a high school around the country back in those bad old days.
What he had been was a gentle, decent kid and a good student who possessed a later-revealed flair for gathering and saving greenbacks. Scads of them, in fact. Not a bad choice for life partner, had anyone cared to look beyond his pen-filled pocket protector.
As well, Canova may have peered long into the future and somehow foreseen that in 2013, University of Michigan researchers would release a report called “A Penny Saved is a Partner Earned: The Romantic Appeal of Savers.”
Saving is sexy?
Their study revealed that in a reversal of the way things always went in the old days, today’s romantics find thrift, not free-spending, the key to an attractive mate. It’s someone who searches out the best savings account rates, and sifts through zero-percent-APR-credit-card offers that gets hearts racing.
“Males and females find savers more attractive,” says Jenny Olson, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, who co-authored the report with an associate professor of marketing at the same institution. The reasons have a lot to do with the appeal of self-control, a fact not likely lost on the very wise Mr. Canova back in the Nixon era.
“Self-control over a variety of issues is important because it prevents partners from saying hurtful things or engaging in infidelity,” Olson reports. Self-control often results in a person who is more pleasant and worthy of trust, as well as one more inclined to take all the steps personal finance experts advise, from paying ourselves first to saving early and often throughout our earning years.
As Jennifer Waters of MarketWatch noted in an article on the University of Michigan study, choosing a partner who is a good saver also is likely to earn you a physically and mentally healthier mate. Waters cited a Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine study that discovered direct links between debt levels and health, including both psychological and general health. In the NU study of 8,400 24- to 32-year-old individuals, those with higher debt-to-asset ratios suffered from elevated levels of perceived stress and depression, as well as poorer self-reported general health.
When tested, they also registered a 1.3 percent increase in diastolic blood pressure, a clinically significant number, as reported in the study. “A two-point hike in diastolic blood pressure can be tied to a 17 percent higher risk of hypertension, and a 15 percent higher threat of stroke,” Waters wrote.
Back at the University of Michigan, Olson did admit that if you’re looking for a one-night stand, you probably want a big spender. That’s because savers tend to be a bit boring. But, she added, “Long-term, savers just win across the board.”
The finding that savers are the most sought-after partners should rewrite the rules of romantic best sellers, feature films and popular songs, where the “meet cute” will now take place in the deposit line at the local bank. And in real life, when they’re out to meet a significant other, guys and gals in search of Mr. or Ms. Right will want to avoid singles bars and dances.
The new prime pick-up place? Why, a budget bakery thrift store, of course.