This post is not about my darling husband (whose own grandmother lovingly called, “Tighter than two coats of paint”).
With that out of the way, I thought I’d share some insights into cheapskates / skinflints / tightwads / penny-pinchers and how to love them.
Let’s be clear, we are not talking about frugality. I was raised to be frugal and resourceful; two traits that generally promote financial wellness. But frugal is not cheap, and cheap is not frugal. I think, for fear that they will appear cheap, good people are simply afraid to be frugal.
Frugal is Cinderella, her mean step-sister is Cheap.
Frugality is positive, creative, hopeful, mindful and disciplined.
Cheap is negative, scared, competitive and paralyzed.
Tightwads / skinflints / cheapskates / penny-pinchers are usually acting out of fear; what we in the business call a scarcity mindset (as opposed to an abundance mindset). This fear compels the closed-walleted to protect what they have, resulting in limited – or even the complete cessation of – spending, especially on comforts, luxuries, entertainment and recreation.
There is a section of our brain called the insula which is located in the inner regions of the brain (it is insulated) quite near the part of the “primitive” brain that controls our fight or flight response (which is typically called upon regarding money but which is not generally known for its good financial decisions). The insula is associated with visceral functions – those resulting in anxiety and fear – including those involving money.
I heard a pod cast or possibly an interview on NPR about the insula’s role in financial decision-making. The report included a discussion about how the more sensitive (and large) this region of the brain is, the more (literally) painful it is to spend money. It’s almost as if money is an appendage and the tightwad’s fear of amputation is very, very great. And this same person may experience “ghost” or phantom pain as a result of past purchases.
Here is a great article on the subject of the insula and it’s role in cash versus credit-card spending (plus some other nuggets to cause your intellect to do a jig; did you know that the German word for debt – schuld – means “sin” or “guilt?”).
If you’re wondering if the insula is more sensitive in the brains of women or men (in general) you can read this article: He Sees Dollars, She Sees Sense and if you’re wondering why you married your financial opposite, this article will shed some valuable light on the subject (hint: he/she exhibits a facet of financial security and stability that you may not have believed you could generate on your own).
When my husband and I were honeymooning in Bermuda
(see, he’s not cheap)
we took a carriage ride during which the driver
pointed out red hibiscus-looking flowers, all in bud form.
He said, “We call them ‘Scottish purses’ because they never open.”
In some cases this fear of spending money could lead to an obsession, best addressed with a licensed therapist. (Right, like s/he will ever go for that.) But for most of you, it’s more likely that your spouse is merely trying to protect the family’s finances and doesn’t appreciate you making fun of them for what they view is a big responsibility. It’s not easy always minding the store, you know.
If you try to coax the cheap skate away from his/her ways by increased spending (or “manage” him/her by making purchases on the sly, you know who you are) you’re likely to get the opposite reaction: he/she will batten down the hatches even further in order control your wonton and naive impulsivity.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Mark 3:25
If you wish to love your tightwad, communicate that you want to be on the same team …and consider limiting your expenditures accordingly. Ideally you and your beloved are in the same boat, rowing in the same direction.
Going through both income and expenditures together (while not the ideal date night) can help both of you confront the realities of your financial situation. If you’re in good financial standing, maybe El-Cheapo will feel a sense of ease and comfort and loosen the purse strings. On the other hand, if you’re financial footing is tenuous, perhaps you’ll give your spouse more credit for keeping you afloat this long.
Hopefully I’ve made the skinflint behavior more understandable, and where there is understanding, respect, empathy and love have a fighting chance.
Feel free to checkout the “Couples” tab on my website for more information and if you’d like a free copy of “The Top Three Money Struggles That Ruin a Marriage And How To Avoid Them,” email me email@example.com.
Peace and abundance,