Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and has worked with families, teens, parents & kids for over 10 years. She loves her day job so much that she crossed over to diagnosing make-believe people. She's the owner/operator of The Character TherapistTM, an online therapy service for fictional characters...and their authors. You can connect with her at

The Cheapskate

Main Entry: cheapskate
Pronunciation: \ˈchēp-ˌskāt\
Function: noun
1 : a person who does not like to spend money; a stingy person

Perhaps the most touted cheapskate in all fictional history is Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge, whose last name is synonymous with cheapskate, miser, penny-pincher, and tightwad. As a result, many of us have come to associate the word with his typecast personality: old, grouchy, solitary, likely kicks dogs when no one is looking (or maybe even when they are).

There are many varieties of cheapskates beyond the narrow character in A Christmas Story, and we’ll get into those, but how does one get to be a cheapskate?

Psychological Factors
One has to consider early childhood influences to understand the cheapskate better. You might be tempted to assume that a child who grows up to be a cheapskate might have had cheapskate parents. This is partly the case, as studies show that what we observe and learn from our parents have a high likelihood of being repeated as we get older.

Attitude Toward Money
Parents who are always anxious about money definitely can pass this worry on to their children. Kids watch and listen as parents fight over which bills to pay, which to let slide, what activities the kids are/aren’t allowed to participate in due to money restrictions, having to shop at Walmart instead of the boutiques, digging through the Sunday papers to coupon clip . . . it all adds up to a household consumed with the almighty dollar—and the lack of it.

However, income doesn’t actually play that large of a role in whether a child becomes a cheapskate. Scrooge was just as stingy as he was wealthy. A doctor making $650,000 a year could easily be as much of a tightwad as teacher making $37,000 a year.

Gender, Education, and Religion
You also have to consider gender, education, and religion as three other determining factors. According to a study by Scott Rick, Cynthia Cryder, and George Loewenstein and reported in the Journal of Consumer Research, males are three times more likely to be cheapskates than females. Those who attend college and major in the humanities or social sciences have a greater chance to be tightfisted with their money (and as an aside, those who majored in engineering and the natural sciences were more likely to be openhanded). Those raised with the moralistic ideals of giving to others in need, as espoused in most religions, might be more inclined to part with their money for what they think is a good cause than those who were not regularly exposed to religious tenets.

Personality Considerations
Cheapskates bear a close resemblance to the hoarding symptom of OCD in that their fear of spending money is very similar to the hoarder’s fear of throwing something out they might need someday. Tightwads want to make sure they have money saved up in case something happens in the future. The big difference is that people with OCD are aware of their abnormalities, while cheapskates don’t see anything wrong with theirs. Often, they will boast at what they save or what cheap finds they scored while shopping. Breaking Character Stereotypes

Swinging to the Other Extreme
How families choose to manage what money they do have will often be passed along to their children, but just as with any aspect of parenting, a child could determine to do the exact opposite. Parents all over the world have heard their children say, “When I have a kid, I’m not going to do _____ to them like you did to me!” Same thing applies to money habits, and this might lead to a child growing up to be a spendthrift who indulges his or her children regardless of the strain on finances.

So how can understanding these human tendencies concerning money spending or frugality spice up your fiction? Instead of breaking down the stereotypical cheapskates (which I believe are summarily described in fiction by Scrooge, give or take some age differences), let’s look at some creative ways to characterize our fictional cheapskates.

The Penny-Pinching Pastor
Pastors are supposed to be stalwarts of the community and, in particular, their congregation. They should lead by example. But what if you have a pastor who feels pain when donating or tithing money to a good cause? Loewenstein determined in 2007 that tightwads actually do feel a “pain of paying”—whether in their gut, head, or somewhere else. The conflict writes itself in a scenario like this.

The Contrarian Conservationist
In real humans, we are often a mix of several ideologies and philosophies. The contrarian conservationist is a mix of the environmentalist (LINK here) and the cheapskate. Piggybacking on eco-friendly excuses is a great way to brighten up a dull tightwad. Making his own soaps and cleaners is usually the start, and then it will typically progress into more and more life-altering frugalities. The contrarian conservationist should be gifted by her author with children/friends who are the antithesis of environmentalism or are die-hard spendthrifts to move the story along.

The Secretive Squanderer
Even the most prolific cheapskates have their exceptions to the rule. They can make purchases when the spender can justify some functional aspect to the product, like food (people have to eat) or technology (the poor man pays twice). It’s called the functional alibi phenomenon, discovered by researchers Anat Keinen of Harvard and Ran Kivetz and Oded Netzer of Columbia. So put a twist on this and give the notorious cheapskate such a habit of overindulging in certain areas that he or she needs to keep it a secret in order to save face.