Understanding the psychology of stinginess


Stinginess is the opposite of generosity. While a generous person gives freely- often finding giving a pleasurable activity, a stingy person withholds and finds giving hard and uncomfortable. Though stinginess is commonly associated with money, it manifests in other areas too.

Stingy people find it hard to give or lend money to others. They take more and give less. They go to great lengths to ‘save’ money. I’m not saying that saving money isn’t a good thing. But a stingy person sacrifices inordinate amounts of time and energy just to save a little money.

They usually love borrowing stuff from other people instead of buying their own. And once they borrow things, they always seem to forget to return it. Annoying, isn’t it?

Stinginess and frugality

Stinginess is not the same as frugality. While frugality is an intelligent and efficient use of time, energy and resources, stinginess is a form of fear- a fear of not having enough. It motivates a person not to give away his possessions even if giving them away won’t cause them any problems.

What causes stinginess?

It’s usually a person’s past experiences that make them stingy. A child who grew up in a poor family may develop financial insecurity. They constantly witness their family members worrying about money, so they do it too.

Therefore, the primary reason why a person exhibits stinginess is that they feel insecure about money. This financial insecurity makes it hard for them to give away something that they ‘believe’ they lack.

I intentionally used the word ‘believe’ because the financial insecurity of a stingy person may either be real or perceived. Even though a person may have lots of money, they may still feel insecure deep down. Thus, they behave in a stingy manner.

Emotional stinginess

As I mentioned earlier, stinginess is not just about finances. A person may be stingy in other life areas too. The other common type of stinginess besides ‘money-and-possessions-stinginess’ is emotional stinginess.

By emotional stinginess, I mean that a person refuses to share his emotions with people including those who are close to him. Not sharing your emotions with people who don’t matter to you is understandable but why would a person not share their emotions with those who matter to them?

This type of stinginess has a lot to do with two fears- fear of intimacy and the fear of being controlled.

Stinginess and fear

A person develops the fear of intimacy for various reasons but the most common reason is not trusting people. This lack of trust can be traced back to past experiences where they trusted someone and the consequence was negative. Or they witnessed someone having such a negative experience.

For instance, a girl whose parents divorced and her father left her in the care of her mother might learn not to trust men. In her mind, men can leave you behind any time. Such a girl might always have trust issues with men and, therefore, she may prefer not to share her emotions with any man and develop a belief that “men aren’t trustworthy”.

Fear of being controlled is another factor. It is a common fear because as children we all have been controlled in one way or the other by parents and society. For some, this control wasn’t much of a problem. Those who felt it threatened their freedom developed a fear of being controlled by others. 

A person who fears being controlled doesn’t like to share their emotions, even with those close to them. They feel that it would make them vulnerable. According to them, if they open themselves up to others, they’ll be manipulated easily and their emotional weaknesses will come to the fore.

They think that if they display their love for someone, the latter would develop expectations of being loved by them. That someone would start demanding more love and attention from them, therefore controlling them in the process.

A relationship in which both or either of the partners is emotionally stingy- they don’t share their true emotions- is unlikely to be an intimate one.