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Are you afraid to spend your money?

Most of us struggle to save, but for some chronic savers, parting with cash is excruciating -- and so they deny themselves comfort and pleasure.

By MSN Smart Spending editor Sep 6, 2013 2:52PM

This post comes from Geoff Williams at partner site U.S. News & World Report.

USNews logoToo much of a good thing, we're often told, is a bad thing. This is why there are sexual addiction therapists and an obesity epidemic. But, still, can anyone really have too much money?

Man holding cash © Rubberball, Getty Images

In a way, yes. There are people out there – both extremely rich and poor – who are afraid to spend money. They fear spending to the point that they feel financially paralyzed, with money safely socked away in the bank yet they won't pay for doctor visits, vacations, clothes or the electric bill.

"I've seen plenty of clients like this. They don't spend money on beauty supplies, haircuts, vacations, entertainment or even their health," says Adam Hagerman, a financial coach based near Baltimore who does some work for a government agency and has encountered a number of chronic savers who receive his help free of charge. In fact, he adds, "I have never had a chronic saver pay for my services."

Hagerman says such clients also typically have trouble spending money on food, and when they do, it's as inexpensive as possible (and often not nutritious). "These chronic savers also seem to just have this pile of money. It's never allocated to anything. It's just there. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing ... However, it's just about the number to these savers," Hagerman says.

Most of us probably don't have this problem -- just wish we did -- but for those who think they might and want to do something about it, here's our two cents to add to your pile.

Deeper issues

You may simply be cheap, of course, but many chronic savers have deeper issues, says Erica Curtis, a marriage and family therapist and a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "In my professional experience, one of the underlying reasons for chronic saving is underlying negative thoughts, such as 'I don't deserve to have things,' or feelings such as, 'I'm anxious because we don't have enough,' even if they are financially secure," Curtis says.

She says these negative thoughts and feelings usually stem from earlier experiences and are stored in the brain in such a way that current events in a chronic saver's life can trigger them. We usually have no idea that the turmoil we're feeling now is connected to the past, Curtis adds.

Saving might cost in the long run

"I'm a big advocate of being frugal, but there's a difference between being frugal and being cheap," says Clare Levison, the author of "Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better."

Levison adds: "I've seen people argue over a couple hundred dollars during home sale negotiations until they end up losing the deal."

She also recalls that when her husband was told he needed to lower his cholesterol, and he began complaining about the higher cost of healthy food, she shot back that buying the food was less expensive than paying for a heart attack.

Indeed. David Bakke, an editor at the personal finance blog, has a close family member who learned this lesson the hard way. "She refused to spend money on certain things following a pay cut," Bakke says, adding that his relative's primary care physician advised her to go to the hospital, "but she refused to because she was worried about having to pay her $5,000 deductible."

That's understandable, of course. But as Bakke says, his family member was ultimately rushed to the emergency room, and her health care expenses now seem likely to cost far more than $5,000. "She was in the hospital for close to two weeks, and is still in the process of recovering," Bakke says.

You can't take it with you

It isn't only broke people who are afraid to spend money. Bakke says he has a friend with deep pockets who is fixated on saving for retirement, despite being far ahead of where most of his peers are. "He doesn't go out, rarely buys new clothes and still shops at garage sales and flea markets. He hasn't taken a vacation in years, and whenever anyone asks him about it, he starts going on about the uncertain future of Medicare and Social Security. It's truly sad because he has enough money so that he should really be enjoying life."

Maria Cornelius, a high-net-worth wealth manager in the Washington, D.C., area echoes those thoughts, saying she has encountered her share of wealthy people who are equally squeamish about spending.

Cornelius had a wealthy client who was over 80 years old and loved the opera, but she always took the subway to the show -- and then, worried about the crowds afterward, took the subway back home during intermission. She never seemed to understand that she could afford to take a taxi there and back, or that she might want to pay for a friend's ticket, to have the company. Then she could get more bang for her buck by seeing the entire show.

Budget to spend, not save

Some people – like Bakke's relative who received a pay cut – have good reasons for being afraid to spend money. If you don't have much, you might understandably become paralyzed with indecision, or try to stretch your dollar by stretching the time between physicals, car repairs and such.

Others, the ones who have more than they know what to do with, probably elicit eye rolls from friends and family more than sympathetic looks. But if you do have plenty of income and truly struggle with spending it, Hagerman suggests writing down a list of goals, from car or home repairs you never make to a long-desired vacation, and then allocating some of your pile of cash to those goals.

Then start spending some of that cash, even if it's in relatively small amounts. With any luck, as you start to enjoy eating better, wearing new clothes and generally enjoying your new life, you may get to the point where you have a healthier balance between saving and spending.

"I then try to get them to start spending on themselves in small increments," Hagerman says of his chronic-saver clients. "For example, maybe they go to the movies once the first month. Then the next month, maybe they go to the movies again and then out to dinner after the show. This seems to work because they are taking small steps. It's just like learning to budget."

More from U.S. News & World Report:

Sep 6, 2013 4:04PM
People don't have confidence in the direction of the country.  Combine that with lower income, very high unemployment and no end in sight the prospects for a consumer driven recovery are pretty bleak.  The most interesting aspect of the current malaise is the media can't understand why people are anxious about the future as they think everything is swell more or less.  So out of touch...
Sep 6, 2013 4:40PM
Yeah, I'm afraid to spend money. Unlike the Federal Government I have no printing press to print more money when I go broke.
Sep 6, 2013 3:35PM
Afraid to spend? Who has any money to spend? I sure don't.  Yes me and my spouse both work and there is no extra money to spend.
Sep 6, 2013 4:49PM
I am not afraid to spend money, I just refuse to be a puppet to the consumer corporate complex.
Sep 6, 2013 4:26PM
In other words, spend like a politician! I can't, the current administration has confiscated all my money.
Sep 6, 2013 5:11PM

What do you expect?


My father is a boomer who lost his job and watched his 401k plummet to nothing.  Then he puts all his chips on red if you will, and now he's ****ed!


I am literally scared frozen right now putting it away.  I thought I would feel safe at 3 months saved, then 6 months, but he was out of work for YEARS.  So yeah I'm gonna hold onto my money.

Sep 6, 2013 4:51PM
Geez what a piece of flaming propaganda this is. Go out & spend spend spend!!!! Wait until you're 90 to start collecting social security. How stupid do they really think the average person is? Anyone who's stupid enough to fall for this crap wouldn't bother to read into these "news" articles anyway. 
Sep 6, 2013 4:06PM
Spend what?  I have nothing to spend.  
Sep 6, 2013 4:22PM
Great advice. It's worth every penny I spent on it, and not a penny more. 
Sep 6, 2013 4:49PM
penny wise and dollar poor. Quality matters as much as thrift. It's a balance, everything in moderation. Money is a tool, not a way of life. Of course I don't have much... so what do I know
Sep 6, 2013 3:33PM

NO. I am spending like crazy only not on what the government wants me to spend on and I will tell you why.


Have any of you seen the documentary, "The End Of The Road, How Money Became Worthless."? It will open your eyes. Since seeing that, I have begun storing a lot of extra food and high demand items that are cheap to buy and store. YOU NEED TO WATCH THAT SHOW ! !


There is another I can recommend, put out by Stansbury Investment entitled "End Of America" on the web. The combination of these two documentaries will blow you away and OPEN YOUR EYES as to what is and has been going on thanks to all the SOCIALIST SPENDING our government has engaged in, and what we are actually headed for.

Sep 6, 2013 6:20PM
I'm more conservative with money now than ever. I pay my bills and don't expect anyone else to. Maybe that's why I believe in saving rather than spending. Too bad others didn't do the same.
Sep 6, 2013 3:17PM
Yes!   But not on farmland and security.
Sep 6, 2013 6:07PM

Huh? So that's the problem. Americans just need some spending therapy!

Sep 6, 2013 6:33PM

Not me!  I'm afraid to save!

...according to my checkbook!

Sep 6, 2013 5:28PM
But have to make it clear, we have already spent too much. When my husband and I both had jobs, we bought a house for $450,000, and with a 400,000 loan. Six years later he lost his job, and my old daughter is going to college this year. Do I have more money to spend? Sure but I am already spending the money I have not made yet. Just wondering who is the guy gave us the idea to borrow money and spend? This guy must be genius, oops it seems like a mini Ponzi scheme to me...
Sep 9, 2013 11:33AM
Oy-oy-oy-oy. A nerve has been touched. I see some of myself in this article and it is positively cause for introspection.
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