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Lessons From a Too-Parsimonious Parent

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Most of us know that a parent’s excessive spending can send a lopsided message to a child, but as a colleague and friend of mine points out, so can excessive scrimping.

April Benson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and editor of I Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying & the Search for Self (Jason Aronson, 2000), has written about how her mother’s frugality influenced her:

“The financial poverty of my mom’s early life had a lasting effect on her. She was quite frugal, always worried about having enough, and found it hard to enjoy the money she did have.

“This was particularly evident when we went shopping. By the time I was 11 or 12 it was painfully obvious that not everyone shopped like my mother and I did. Sometimes I’d come along when my friends’ mothers took them to buy clothes. Usually these mother-daughter dyads negotiated this rite of passage respectfully, if not altogether joyfully.

“In our case, the climate between us became icy within minutes of entering the store, as my mom rejected one garment after another. One criterion surpassed all others in importance: the price. This became the axis around which complicated battles were waged. I felt selfish and spoiled for wanting nice clothes, and resentful for being begrudged.

“It wasn’t until many years later that I realized I wasn’t spoiled because I wanted, nor selfish if I bought beautiful, even expensive clothes sometimes. All of this sturm und drang formed the basis for my abiding interest in the psychology of shopping. When my mother accused me of being an overshopper, little did she know that it would lead me to help others overcome compulsive shopping.”