The Miser and His Inner Prison

· June 13, 2016

We know who they are, even though they try to go unnoticed. They are those people who never bring cash, go to the bathroom when it’s time to pay a group bill or are go to unlikely places just to get a discount. A miser is not easy to recognize from the outside. In fact, many people do not consider being overly thrifty as being some kind of problem.

In psychology there is much talk of the pathologies of excess: overeating, overdrinking, overspending… And it’s true that “too much” is never really a good thing. But, there is also a pathological form of saving that not only comes down to money or material goods, but expresses deeper aspects of a personality.

“The more you give, the greater your joy. Stinginess stifles happiness; generosity intensifies it.”

-Orison S. Marden-

Features of a cheapskate

man streetlamp

The miser, or pathological saver, tries to avoid paying for things. Generally they have a solid income and a stable position. If you ask them, they clearly tell you that their condition is good because they strive to save and not spend on nonsense.


They are the kind of people who wear the same clothes for years to not spend. They don’t use the phone, they turn off all the lights and buy the cheapest products in the supermarket, even if they are of low quality.

An extreme situation is needed in order for them to be able to invite someone out to dinner. If they are going to give a gift, they buy cheap. And sometimes they keep things they are given to them, only to later give them away to someone else to avoid the expense.

It is not that he doesn’t have money, or is making an investment, or has plans to invest in the future. They save money just to save it. Or in case of possible future “bad times.”

Stingy materially, stingy emotionally

The worst is that a person who is stingy isn’t just that way with money. They are also stingy with their emotions, their feelings and their energy.

And since they don’t spent on objects, they are also not generous in their feelings toward others, or in investing in what it costs to make them happy. The miser keeps everything he can to himself and, to that extent, is not a prudent person, but someone who is caught in an inner prison.

Stinginess: A character structure

money in the shape of a brain

It is very difficult to live or establish a deep and lasting bond with a stingy person. Just as they feel they must protect their “savings” from the siren songs of the market, they also believe that they can be emotionally “coaxed” by others.

There are cases that are hard to believe. Like Laura, who had a “tight-fisted” boyfriend who always invited her to places where they did not have to pay a dime. If he had to, she was always the one who ended up pulling out her wallet. One time, her boyfriend surprised her by footing the bill at a club. But the next day he came home with the bill in hand to make her cover her part.

A vision of stinginess from psychoanalysis

The stingy person is actually terrified and organizes his life from a fantasy of control. For psychoanalysis, the issue is related to a difficulty in overcoming the anal stage.

When the child has a traumatic or excessively severe bowel control phase, he usually develops an obsession to retain, to avoid giving. That translates into adulthood both in stinginess and selfishness. The miser is someone who in one way or another ends up using others for his own interests.

That’s why he doesn’t give anything and why the other person has to be the one reaching into their pocket to pay the bill, even if he knows the other person earns less than he does. He also doesn’t care that he can harm himself by this behavior.

There are misers that die of the cold because they didn’t want to spend on heat.

man machine with slot to insert money

Stinginess is a type of jail

A stingy person is trapped in their own fears. It may be someone with depression and fantasies of disaster. They may also have an exploitative personality. Usually they end up alone with a fortune they’ve saved which ends up in the hands of someone else.

Images courtesy of John Holcroft