A Financial Frame of Mind: Drawing the Line Between Frugal and Obsessively Cheap

Michael Jackson was known for the lavish shopping sprees that he went on for his own amusement. According to unauthorized biographies by Randy J. Tarraborelli and others, though, Jackson could be grasping when it came to compensating the music producers, attorneys, managers, security agents and other professionals whose skills he depended on.

Michael Jackson’s life carries an important moral lesson on the line between frugality and cheapness, generosity and flash. ┬áIf your particular brand of financial philosophy hurts anyone — you or others in any way, you’re probably doing something wrong.

What are some of the other tests to apply to yourself?

What is your bottom line — price or value? It’s an important test to apply. If you find yourself picking a cheap, low-capacity computer solely for the price savings to be had and don’t feel like thinking about how you lose out on productivity, you could be crossing the line from frugality to cheapness.

Do you want to save to spend, or just save to save? Those who are frugal love to spend, but only on the things that they personally consider important. They may not shop for clothes or gadgets, but may spend on a college course or a great vacation. The frugal person does want to spend, but wants to do it on their own terms. A person who is cheap saves for no good reason.

Is there any elective spending that makes you happy? If you tend to lean towards cheapness, there is probably no kind of spending that does. Every elective expense leaves you with a feeling of guilt and dread. If you have a healthy attitude to money, though, there are likely to be plenty of things that you can think of, that you would spend on without feeling bad.

Are your choices short-sighted ones? Would you buy a cheaper home for the saving right now, even if it means a poor long-term investment? The inability to loosen up for a better investment is a hallmark of obsessive thrift. When it comes to investments, it’s important to take the long view.

Is your thrift more about smartness or brute force? People who tend towards frugality spend less money by being smart about their shopping. They might always buy quality brands, but choose the previous year’s model to save money. They might spend some time couponing, and always be careful never to pay credit card interest. When you’re cheap, you usually go all out, and simply shut down your spending. Your purchases will tend towards unreliable, low-cost brands, or not buying anything, at all.

Do you like spending to make others happy? Frugal people usually do. They find their careworn minds loosening up when it comes to an opportunity to spend a little money to make someone happy. If you find that you’re unable to happily spend for any reason, there’s a problem.

Finding the will to change

Whether you hold on to your money or blow everything to impress others, you basically value money itself, rather than the power to create happiness that it represents. While being tight-fisted can make you happy in a narrow sense, it can have devastating consequences on your life and the lives of those who depend on you. It’s important to step back, take a look at what your relationship with money does, and gradually develop the will to change. If you’re willing to give yourself enough time, and to begin a careful move towards moderation, you’ll find that it leaves everyone far happier.

Start by spending on others

Buy the best gifts for your loved ones on birthdays and on holidays, going as far as you can afford. Look for good charities to give to, and don’t claim a tax break. Tip well, and be generous when you pay people who work for you.

Certainly, you shouldn’t spend any more than you can actually afford. It’s important when you begin to loosen up, that you are aware of exactly where you’re headed financially. If you aren’t used to being free with your money, it could end in overreach.

Make solid, logically defensible choices

One of the best ways to make the change is to carefully begin paying for greater quality in every purchase. Whether it’s a car where you get greater protection or better quality foods that are more nutritious, upgrades where you can easily calculate the value that you’re getting for your money are an excellent way to begin.

Look for the irrationality

A careful look at your motivations for not wanting to spend money is usually the ultimate way to change. It can take a painful look at yourself to be successful. In the end, though, it’s worth it.

Sheldon Roberson came across frugal living a few years ago, and was instantly hooked as she realized how it could assist her as an investor. She encourages others to learn about these lesser-known ideas and writes on the topic for a small number of blogs.

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