Can You Change Your Tightwad/Spendthrift Personality?

Last week we discussed a tool used by some researchers to peg people on a tightwad-spendthrift (TW-ST) scale – please take the quiz and share your (and your spouse’s) score on that post!  But considering this axis of my money personality made me wonder if people can change their tightwad-spendthrift status.


Obviously motivated people can change their behavior.  We particularly see this in people going bananas on their debt who go from spending money like water to throwing every extra dollar at their creditors.  But I wonder if at the end of that process, when the great external pressure to go against their nature has been lifted, if those people will stay tightwads or revert to their spendthrift behavior.  Likewise, some people have an unhealthy aversion to spending money despite familial and peer pressure to ‘loosen up’ and ‘have some fun’ – can those people shift to a healthy balance of saving and spending?


Sometimes I worry about this question, actually.  The spending behavior modeled for me when I was growing up was spendthrift and when I was dependent on my parents I didn’t concern myself with cost at all.  I wasn’t a prolific shopper but I definitely bought what I wanted at whatever price.  Now that I live on a pretty tight budget I’m very restrictive with my shopping and look for deals when I do decide to buy something.  But I am concerned that later in life when we have a better income I won’t feel it necessary to be so careful and my TW-ST score will balloon from 12 to 18 or even into the ‘spendthrift’ category.  If this happens to me but not Kyle (who has always had ‘unconflicted’ models), we will likely experience much more marital strife around money in addition to having more difficulty balancing our budget and saving.


What’s your experience with changing behavior vs. changing nature/personality?  If you had no external pressure, how would your score from last week shift?


photo from Free Digital Photos

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17 Responses to "Can You Change Your Tightwad/Spendthrift Personality?"

  1. I do think people can change. I know in college, I was a spendthrift. I bought all sorts of useless junk. From $200 computer cases to “own your own website” scams. And I made a lot less money then than I do now!
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..3 Simple Home Repairs to Save You Money

    1. Emily says:

      Hm, maybe you just weren’t recognizing the external pressure not to spend that you recognize now?

  2. I know that I have become more laid back when it comes to money over the years. Part of it is because I simply do not have the time to track every single penny spent like I used to.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..A Cautionary Tale: My $140 Gym Visit

    1. Emily says:

      That seems like an example of an external pressure changing behavior, but maybe it happened over a long enough time that it changed your personality, too.

  3. bogofdebt says:

    I think people can change. It’s not easy but it can be done. I used to save (very long ago) and then was extremely spendy. Now I’m working on saving again.
    bogofdebt recently posted..More wisdomy words

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t hear about too many people who go from a saving default to a spending default! Your past experience with changing should give you confidence that you can do it again.

  4. I think this is true for a lot of people, but it can be modified with a little self control. Just like losing weight or exercise, if you see the benefits of the discipline and hard work, and focus on the end goal even after you’ve reached a place where you’ve mostly won, you’ll want to stay there and continue those good habits.
    My Money Design recently posted..Social Security Benefits – The Kid Picked Last for Dodgeball

    1. Emily says:

      I hadn’t thought about the analogy with physical health, but that’s a good one. I agree it’s possible to change our nature (and addictions) in that area, so why not spending/saving inclinations as well.

  5. I believe people can change, but it’s going to be a painful transition. I know some people who are spendthrifts and I just can’t imagine them living frugally and restraining spending.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..The Pros and Cons of Reusable Grocery Bags

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t know if changing habits is always difficult – I guess it depends on the habit. Psychological habits are very hard to change.

  6. I think that people can change once the motivator is gone. That said, I feel that as someone who changed due to debt, I will have a difficult time spending more again once it’s all over. Because now I have learned that I need to save a lot for retirement, I think that I will live frugally and invest the money that is for debt repayment now.
    Gillian @ Money After Graduation recently posted..How to start investing in the stock market

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, you’ll still have the external motivator of the need for savings even when the debt is paid off. I hope at some point you’ll be able to spend unconflicted-ly, though!

  7. […] Money Design answered my question of whether tightwads/spendthrifts can really change by drawing an analogy: “Just like losing weight or exercise, if you see the benefits of the […]

  8. […] Can you change your tightwad/spendthrift personality? at Evolving PF. I’m happy with my tightwad personality, but over time I have learned that it is better to spend more money on some things. And I’ve also gotten better at recognizing when I’m being cheap rather than frugal. […]

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  10. […] @ Evolving Personal Finance writes Can You Change Your Tightwad/Spendthrift Personality? – Do you think people can truly change from spendthrifts to tightwads and vice versa, even […]

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