The English language includes more than four dozen synonyms for the word stingy: tightfisted, cheapskate, selfish, uncharitable, curmudgeonly, iron-fisted, miser, selfish, penny-pinching, tightwad, and greedy all make that list. While we often think of saving money as a noble goal, these words reflect the negative aspects of building wealth and keeping it all tied up.
Stingy people live on the dark side of saving. They don’t use money as a tool to better their lives or the lives of others. Instead, they hoard their hard-earned cash and become innately protective of it. As a result, the idea of spending can create a great deal of stress and anxiety for them.
Seekers of wealth and financial independence can become addicted to the pursuit of saving money. They optimize every dollar and create forward projections for how much their money can grow. They see the world through green-tinted glasses and dollar signs wherever they go.
This stinginess can lead to an unhealthy relationship with money. While we typically think about the positive aspects of making financial decisions, there can be a dark side to saving too.
Saving can become an obsession. Unfortunately, when you see dollar signs wherever you look, you can become overwhelmed by the need to save even more. When we think about negative money behaviors, we often think about over-spenders, but stinginess can be an equally difficult problem to push through.
My Struggle with Stinginess
I know a thing or two about stinginess. I was born into this world looking out for myself.
In elementary school, my first-grade classmate Jimmy brought a forty-eight pack of Crayola crayons to school. I’ll never forget the jealousy I felt as he opened the lid, lined up the most vibrant colors on his scuffed wooden desk, and started coloring.
My eyes quickly darted back to my workspace. I stared down at my tiny pile of eight crayons with disappointment. The standard colors looked so plain and ordinary in comparison. Jimmy must have sensed my displeasure because he immediately offered to share.
Despite wearing those crayons down to nubs, he never once said I couldn’t use them. Would I have done the same for him? Probably not.
I was one of those kids who preserved my favorite colors for safekeeping. If a classmate asked to borrow a crayon, I would move the bright pinks, purples, and blues aside and hand over the ugliest colors in the box.
Thankfully, I’ve worked hard to change my ways. It’s been almost forty years since I used Jimmy’s crayons, and every so often, I think of looking him up and sending him a brand new box.
I am grateful for Jimmy’s generosity and wish I would’ve recognized its value sooner.
Generosity is the Opposite of Stinginess
Sharing comes naturally to some people. “You can have the last cookie,” my youngest tells my oldest child.
“No, you take it,” my oldest says in return.
While some kids are willing to share, others will run to the front of the line, choose the biggest cookies from the tray, and immediately shove them into their mouths.
This behavior is common in young children. They often value the object more than those who want to share it. But some adults don’t outgrow this behavior. Instead, they continue to covet and hoard their possessions, including their money.
Frugal vs. Stingy
If you are trying to save money or get on the right financial track, stinginess might not sound so bad to you. What’s wrong with the desire to earn as much as possible? What’s wrong with safely stowing your money in the bank? Doesn’t frugal living lead to improved wealth and happiness?
Indeed it does, but frugality and stinginess are not the same. Despite what people may say, a stingy person is not frugal, thrifty, or prudent. Frugal people are careful about how they spend their money. Stingy people HATE to spend it.
Let’s be clear. A stingy person isn’t someone who struggles to pay their bills or make ends meet. Instead, they have money but refuse to open their wallets to use it. Living stingy isn’t about lacking money. It’s about struggling to part with it.
A lot of stingy people like to call themselves frugal or thrifty. “I’m just careful with money,” they will tell you when asked. But there is often more to it than that. There are significant differences between the two terms.
The Psychology of Misers and Stinginess
A stingy person isn’t just careful with spending. They typically feel stress, anxiety, and even anger over parting with their cash. The intensity of their emotions dictates their approach to spending.
Some people act stingy when it comes to spending on others, but many are uncharitable towards themselves too. They sacrifice their enjoyment in the pursuit of attaining greater wealth.
Money can buy happiness, but stingy people don’t recognize this fact. They are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to squeeze pennies. A stingy person doesn’t care about helping others. They barely want to help themselves. They are so engrossed with saving that they can’t stand the thought of parting with money.
As you can see, it’s not about the action of saving, but rather the mindset. Not wasting money is wise. Struggling to spend your hard-earned cash is a sickness.
Living Stingy Causes Unnecessary Stress
How does stinginess lead to feelings of stress and anxiety? Imagine your friends want to go out to eat, but you don’t want to spend any money to join them for a night of fun. Should you go out and spend money you don’t want to spend or stay at home alone?
Or imagine the bill comes when you are out to lunch with new coworkers. Your boss made the luncheon mandatory, and you forgot to ask for separate checks up-front. So rather than enjoying the event, you worry about splitting the bill. You have the money, but you can’t stand the idea of paying for someone else’s meal.
Stingy people can wrestle over a missed opportunity to save for days. They can spend weeks feeling guilty for buying something new. They can haggle with a clerk at the grocery store for fifteen minutes to use a $1 coupon too.
Stingy people are not poor. They don’t need that $1 to pay their bills, but they rack their brains to pay the least amount of money possible.
There is a difference between making mindful financial decisions and refusing to part with the money you’ve earned. How do I know? Because living stingy was my go-to mode for a while.
For most of my life, I suffered from a scarcity mindset. I believed that my life revolved around limited confines, and if there wasn’t enough for everyone, I should take as much as I could for myself.
At some point in my childhood, I began to believe that there wouldn’t be enough money left when I needed it. I felt an irrational fear that it would run out.
In my early twenties, I was proud of living stingy. The more I tightened my purse strings, the more I saved. I didn’t consider myself greedy or miserly at the time. But looking back, I know I was. I was hoarding cash and struggling to part with it.
Somehow I convinced myself that I wouldn’t earn more even though I always did. Each time a dollar left my wallet, I weighed the loss in my mind. How hard had I worked for that money? The more I questioned the decision, the less inclined I was to spend it or give it away.
At the beginning of my career, I struggled to pay bills, but as time went on and my salary grew, I continued to act as though I didn’t have any money.
Above all else, I needed to feel financially secure before giving money to others. I wish this hadn’t been the case. Unfortunately, rather than feeling more confident as my net worth climbed, I convinced myself it needed to climb even higher.
Why Are People Stingy?
Sting people often ignore the emotional side of generosity and focus on the logical side instead. As a result, their minds spin an endless record of financial fears. If I give money right now, will I have less tomorrow? If I spend money today, will I run out of funds in the future?
Empathy leads to generosity. When you lead with kindness, you are open to helping others. When you lead with logic, it’s easy to look the other way.
Those who are empathetic are more willing to give. So are those who have struggled earlier in life. Those who know what it would mean to receive a larger tip are more willing to provide one.
To give easily, we have to focus less on logic and more on our emotional well-being and the well-being of those around us. When we are empathetic and sympathetic to the plights of others, we can reach into our wallets to extend a hand.
Some people see a homeless person and walk right on by. Some people hold the door for those behind them, while others let the door slam the moment they step over the threshold.
Generosity does not stem solely from giving money. It’s not just about reaching into our pockets to pull out loose change. It’s a mindset that helps us focus on the needs of those around us. When you are helpful with one thing, you tend to be generous in another. If you give your time you probably also give your money.
If you struggle to give money, think of other ways to be generous. I’ve found that whenever I give in some form, I am inclined to give in another.
Are You Stingy?
Are you afraid of spending money? For years I struggled to spend money on myself. Even when I desperately wanted something, I convinced myself I didn’t need it. I wouldn’t splurge on any unexpected items and became a chronic returner when I couldn’t control my impulses to buy in the store. What is the point of earning money if you refuse to spend it?
Do you turn down experiences and events that might cost money? For example, if you refuse to travel, meet your friends for dinner, or pay for a movie, your stinginess may be controlling your life.
Anytime you fear spending money, you have to evaluate why. If you are struggling to pay your bills, there is a reason for your fear. On the other hand, if you are financially comfortable and still can’t part with a buck, you may be living stingy.
Sting people often complain about money. They talk about how much something costs and complain about high prices even when they aren’t excessive.
At the root of it all, stingy people are often hoarders. They keep piles of their assets secured in their safes and bank accounts and provide justifications for keeping them locked away. They don’t tip, aren’t generous, and reluctantly spend their money.
Stinginess and the Pursuit of Wealth
To live stingily, you focus all of your money on yourself. The scales always tip in favor of your own needs. Who cares if it’s easier to split the bill? What does it matter if your friend’s birthday is coming up soon? Do you need to buy a gift?
I’ve written about stinginess a few times before. Some of my very first blog posts, now deleted, focused on this topic, as do so many others. I’ve often wondered if the path to financial independence is inherently selfish.
The number of financial bloggers writing about generosity and giving is far outnumbered by those who say they can never have enough. Is it possible to pursue an alternative path towards financial independence without being selfish along the way?
For a while, I followed Facebook groups where individuals sought help with their problems. They’d ask about caring for relatives or giving money to charity. Those posts received much fewer responses than others asking about how to grow their salaries or whether they should invest in new properties. Is it a sign that fewer people are generous and giving?
Breaking the Cycle of Stinginess
Over the last few years, I’ve squashed my natural tendency to tighten my purse strings. I’ve donated without pause or hesitation, but I often wonder how I could have reached this point sooner.
What caused me to change? Was it the birth of my children? My transformation into adulthood? Could it be the mere act of getting older and the changing mindset that comes with time?
Is it life experiences like infertility, chronic pain, and heartache that allowed me to see the world through a different lens? Did my privileges shield me from my selfishness before those points in time?
How to Break the Cycle of Living Stingy
I’m glad my cycle of stinginess has come to an end. But, unfortunately, it took many years to stop it. To begin, I had to carve out small places to be generous.
I started by giving wait staff bigger tips, buying rounds of drinks for friends, and purchasing gifts my loved ones weren’t expecting.
Each time I gave more of myself, I experienced a runner’s high. A release of feel-good chemicals helped me feel good about myself: psychologists say no act of generosity is selfless. We feel good when we give to others. We feel better about ourselves and our place in the world. These good feelings build upon themselves.
Most stingy people don’t like living stingy. At least I didn’t. I didn’t want to hoard all of my money and keep it from the rest of the world.
Instead, my need for financial security kept me from breaking the spell of living stingy. A complicated fear forced me into an unhealthy relationship with money. To overcome the problem, I hoarded cash, properties, and investments.
Studies have shown time and again that the happiest people are those who forge strong relationships with others. It’s difficult to form those connections when we live stingy. Being generous with our time, energy, attention, and money help create a sense of belonging with the rest of the world.
Stop Living Stingy
If you struggle to spend money on yourself or others, take a good hard look at your finances. Is your budget so tight that you cannot spare a few dollars, or do you use that as an excuse for not giving more? If you are not struggling to pay your bills, you probably have a little wiggle room to splurge on yourself or to help others in need every once in a while.
If you feel particularly tight with money, check your budget, review your finances and remind yourself that you are fiscally fit. You no longer need to pinch pennies to survive.
Be honest with yourself about your stinginess. Are you frugal and thrifty, or are you holding on too tightly the money you’ve earned?
Some people are stingy when it comes to spending money to help others, but many people are stingy with themselves too. Do you struggle to spend money on yourself? Do you find it challenging to pay for something you want or need?
This behavior is a sign of stinginess. It’s good to be frugal with your money, but we shouldn’t be afraid to spend money every once in a while too. Figure out what makes you happy and spend small amounts of money to feel joy. Recognize the value of sharing your experiences with others.
If you struggle with stinginess, create a budget to help you break the spell of clutching too tightly with your money. Add a “fun” category and stop feeling guilty for spending money on yourself or others.
You don’t need to save extraordinary amounts of money every month aiming for a future savings goal. Instead, give yourself room to spend a little and enjoy the life you live.
The Benefits of Being Generous
Generosity can reduce depression and make us feel better about ourselves. Best of all, generosity breeds more generosity. The more we share, the more willing we are to share again.
How many times have you heard someone thank another person for their generosity? How many times have you heard someone say, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the contributions of others.”
Keep that in mind when you are struggling with the decision to be stingy. Your generosity will move beyond your initial actions as those who receive your gifts and donations are bound to become more generous themselves. If you don’t believe me, picture the pay-it-forward line at Starbucks. Imagine if you could create a never-ending cycle of generosity just by giving a little more of yourself today.
You don’t have to donate thousands of dollars to feel the warmth of giving. Instead, find small ways to give more of yourself.