This isn’t a harrowing story about class differences. Amit (assumed names are used in this article), like her friends, was raised in a comfortable home in an affluent part of Tel Aviv. Her parents’ financial situation, like that of her that of her friends’ parents… how shall we put it? No one’s shedding any tears. The difference is that Amit grew up with a father who considered any kind of indulgence an unnecessary expense.
“It was acute penny-pinching. Each and every shekel was critical. We’d drive to a store half an hour away where the milk was a shekel cheaper. As we were there, we’d do a big buy-up to keep us going for a while – which involved buying the (obviously) cheapest products we could find including the bashed, bruised and rotting fruit and vegetables that had been on sale for a week. That’s what I remember - always buying the very cheapest, only ever buying on sale, buying summer clothes in winter and winter clothes in summer in end-of-season sales.
This is how a poor home would operate “My parents had loads of money” Amit laughs. “There were only four of us in the family – my mother, father and two children – and we lived in a big six-roomed home with no mortgage. My parents had great jobs. There was a gaping disparity between where we lived and how the money was managed. “
Did you go out as a family? Did you go to restaurants? “I hardly went out with my friends because they just didn’t give me the money. We’d very rarely go to the pool in the summer – and it was always budgeted down to the last cent. We’d never order in because ‘My cooking’s the best. Why do you need to eat out?’ We never went to the movies as a family. We never had a dog. The moment my father realized you could download movies and TV shows, he canceled cable. In the living room, he hooked up an old rickety computer and downloaded a file with a few shows and movies on it. He controlled it all – no one else knew how to download movies, so he simply dictated what we could see. I’d have to wait months to see new movies.“
“I didn’t ask for the regular things kids ask for. I knew it was a no-go. There was a huge fight over my phone. I had this massive phone the size of a brick because it was the cheapest one that they could find. When I was 16, I racked up a NIS 1000 ($275) phone bill. I had a new boyfriend and texting wasn't free at the time. My father was livid. He blocked my phone for two years. Until I was 18, I could only call my parents and my grandmother and I couldn’t text at all.“
What did your home look like? “The house itself was new, but it was full of old furniture that was falling apart. When I was 16, I took a minimum-wage job because I wanted to upgrade my bed to a queen-size. While studying for bagrut (matriculation), I worked like a dog, just to have NIS 2000 ($550) for a bed. When I finally saved up enough money, my father came with me to buy the bed. He bought the one he wanted, without adding a single shekel. I even bought the sheets myself.“
Where was your mother all this time? “She secretly tried to spoil me and my brother. Before I joined the army, I was really into sports and I did ballet. I needed good sports gear – not the kind that falls apart after a month or two – that’s what I wore most of the time. My mother bought me a shirt and pants for Nis 1500 ($415). When my father found out, he was really mad. He just lost it. He didn’t talk to me for two weeks.“
What was the very worst thing that happened? “It has to be my father forbidding us to turn on the air conditioning.”
What do you mean by 'forbidding'? Even in August? “Yes. Even in August. He told me, ‘If you’re hot, go to the mall to cool down a bit.’ In our home, we didn’t turn on the air conditioning in summer and we didn’t turn on the boiler in winter for more than 15 minutes. That’s just not enough for four people.“
“On extremely hot days in the summer, my mother would let us turn on the air-conditioning in the afternoon, but on condition we didn’t tell our father when he got home from work. We had to turn it off long enough before he came home so he wouldn’t suspect anything.”
“When my brother was 13, my mother took him and me on vacation to the Dead Sea. It was our first vacation in Israel. My brother just stayed in the hotel room, sleeping with the air-conditioning set to 16°C (60°F). Do you get it? He went on vacation and just wanted to sleep with the air-conditioning on! He was so excited that he just stayed in the room. He was really depressed.”
Where do you think it was coming from? “My father’s parents were immigrants and lived a sort of survival kind of life and it seems to have become fixed in him, regardless of the actual state of his bank balance.”
Amit’s parents broke up a few years ago and her father now lives in a home on his own and she says he runs it the same way. “He took with him all the old furniture they bought before I was born.” To his credit, he’s been in treatment for the past six months, trying to deal with his stinginess.”
What about you? “Six weeks ago, I married a wonderful man who isn’t miserly. I can tell a miser a mile off. I have a good relationship with my mother and I’m in touch with my father sometimes. He did come to my wedding.”
I wanted to take the bus, he’d tell me to walk
“Being miserly is being overattentive to money and possessions and is expressed by an exaggerated and extreme lack of desire to spend money” explains Prof. Doron Klieger, specialist and economic behavior consultant from Haifa University. “There’s a subjective element to the classification, contingent on culture and on the person. Some people refrain from spending money in circumstances that other people would consider acceptable and quite reasonable. What one person might view as simple frugality or sound economic judgment, another might regard as miserly. There’s a whole spectrum ranging from frugality to extravagance. Problems arise on either end of this spectrum, both for the individual and the people around them.”
Where does stinginess come from? Are we born with it? “There are several causes for stinginess. Firstly, the fear of shortage is rooted in former poverty or financial insecurity. A person who has experienced extreme hunger might find themselves never throwing away food, even when it’s gone bad, or stockpiling food they don’t need. Another cause is the need for control. We all live in an uncertain world. People who recognize this are likely to experience anxiety and try to obtain some kind of control by accumulating capital and diligently keeping track of expenses. In other words, a person who is more aware of the lack of control they have over their own destiny will want to save for a rainy day, as they’re more conscious that a rainy day will come.”
“A credit card, for example, can be a symptom of control and ownership. Believing that my wife or girlfriend belongs to me, I can control what she does or doesn’t do on a daily basis.”
It’s important to clarify that stinginess is not a disorder. It’s regarded as a symptom of other disorders rather than an illness itself. So, treating stinginess is actually treating its causes - fear of shortage, the need for control, etc.
Some misers are frugal about spending on themselves and others only when it comes to spending money on other people. “People differ in how they treat property and the importance they attribute to the accumulation of property as a gauge of their own success. We all believe that money is part of our personality. In extreme cases, however, wealth is viewed as a component of self-identity. People buy luxury cars and watches to show that they have money. People who think that symbols of wealth grant them security, will buy things for themselves but not for others because the very purpose of the purchase is to outwardly convey their personal wealth and financial security. If stinginess is based on the fear of shortage, the person won’t spend money on themselves. If it’s about control, they’ll just not spend money on other people, and it’s generally compounded by other areas they‘ll try to control.”
In certain cases, stinginess can turn into financial violence – when one family member denies their partner or children access to funds. This type of violence defined Lital’s relationship with Baruch.
“We were kids when we got married,” Lital tells us. “I didn’t talk to any other boys before and I had no experience with men. The stinginess wasn’t there at first – maybe I just didn’t notice. We made do with what we had. We didn’t have children yet and everything was quite normal. We led a religious life, with no TV in the house.”
Lital had two children in 15 months. She stopped working and stayed home to take care of the children. “That was when everything changed and it all became a nightmare” she recalls. “All of a sudden, he was the only one working and the money was his. I’d have to ask him for anything I wanted or needed for the house. Sometimes I had to beg. We’re not talking about shopping or going out, but taking the children to a doctor’s appointment by bus. I’d ask him to leave me some money as I didn’t have any. All the money was his. He had the credit cards. If he felt like it, he’d leave me money. If he didn’t, he’d tell me to walk. I could be dragging the children around in their strollers for half an hour either way for a doctor’s appointment.”
“I once went to the supermarket with the credit card. He’d allotted me a budget of NIS 400 and the purchase came to 600. It’s not like I was at the beauty salon. I was buying food for the children and it’s expensive here. When he found out, he lost it and started yelling at me. Whenever I’d come home with a shopping bag, he’d interrogate me about the contents of the bag. ‘What have you bought? How much have you frittered away? Where’s the receipt?’ He wouldn’t let me buy milk in a carton because milk in a bag costs a shekel less and that’s wasteful.”
“Turning on the boiler was a nightmare. Come what may, we’d never leave the boiler on for more than an hour. ‘There’s enough water. There was hot water before,’ he’d tell me. But after I’d showered the children, and after he’d showered (obviously), there was no water left for me. I’d take cold showers through the winter because I wasn’t going to shower the children in cold water.“
At the start of each week, he’d do a NIS 200-300 ($55-$85) buy-up that was supposed to be enough for Lital and the children. “We had enough to eat, but it was very restricted. He kept saying, ‘The children don’t need yogurt. They don’t need cornflakes. They don’t need chocolate. I was raised without these things.’ He thought everything was a superfluous extra.”
Maybe he wasn’t making enough money “He was making decent money. There was no sensible reason for the stinginess. He’d eat out himself and buy cigarettes. He’d buy himself NIS 600 ($170) shoes – not the ones for 200 ($55). So, money wasn’t the problem.“
When the younger son turned three and started kindergarten, Lital went back to work. She broke up with her husband the following week. “I suddenly felt this self-confidence, and I said to myself, ‘Do it. You can go.” She now lives with her sons and she has a new partner who, she says, is very supportive and spoils her.
Does your ex-husband pay child support? “The bare minimum. He has the kids every other weekend. He doesn’t see them at all during the week. Even after the divorce, there were all sorts of issues. When it came to paying for kaytana (summer camp), he said that the children didn’t need kaytana. He wanted them to sit at home for two months. If that happened, I couldn’t have worked to support them. He didn’t care. There was a short time when I had a medical issue that meant I couldn’t work. Out of options, I asked him for help. I didn’t ask for money, just for him to go shopping for food for the children – bread and things for school sandwiches. He said ‘Work it out. You’re a big girl.’ Money is power. The person with the money decides everything.“
The perfect birthday gift: a € 1.99 necklace
Shai-li’s partner upped the stinginess by several notches. Over their four-year relationship, he never spent any money on her. He lived off her completely. Shai-li paid all his living expenses, including his food, accommodation, studies, gas, going out, overseas vacations. Her story borders on extortion.
They met when she was 20, toward the end of her army service. He was 25, living with his mother and brother. “He lived three hours away from me. After three years of all this traveling, I suggested he move in with me at my parent’s home and he agreed. For the whole period, we were together, he was working, earning NIS 12,000–15,000 ($3000-$4000) but never bought so much as a carton of milk.
I paid for all his living expenses. Even when he’d go shopping, he’d ask me for my credit card. If we’d go to a restaurant or to the movies, I’d always pay. We took an overseas vacation one time. I paid for the flights, the hotels and all our spending while we were away. He didn’t even buy me a birthday present. He once asked me what I wanted. I showed him a picture of a bracelet I liked. He said, ‘Buy it for yourself. I’ll pay you back. I bought it, but he never paid me back. When people admired the bracelet he’d always, very proudly, tell them he’d bought it for me.”
How did this happen? “He told me that he was helping out his mother with bills and giving her money. I believed him because I knew his mother really had no money.”
It took Shai-li three and a half years to find out this was a total lie. “We were at a wedding of a relative of his. As usual, I wrote out the check. His mother asked him why he wasn’t contributing to the gift. Naively, I said to her, ‘You shouldn’t be asking him for money. He’s already helping you out. She just looked at me and said ‘He’s what? Helping me? Where did you get that from?’”
“I was young and I’m a very loving, accommodating person. At the time, it was very easy to trick me. He was a smooth-talker and he was very charismatic and manipulative.“
How did it end? “Two weeks before my 25th birthday, I told him I wanted to break up. He started crying and throwing things around the room. What he said next was just so devastating, ‘You can’t leave me. I’ve already bought you a birthday present.‘ Baffled, I looked at him. When did he start buying me birthday presents? He opened up his phone and showed me he’d bought me a sunflower necklace for on AliExpress and said, ‘Look. This is what I ordered for you. It just hasn’t arrived yet. How can you break up with me now? Wouldn’t it be a shame?’“
'How can you be stingy about other people’s money?'
When I was looking for people who’d lived with misers for this article, 90% of respondents were women. Stinginess seems to be a male attribute. Have you ever heard of a woman who’s a miser?
“Historically, it’s the men who own the property,” says Prof. Klieger. “If we go back far enough, women didn’t own, but rather were owned. They were, themselves, property. Some of this DNA has survived through to our society. Most present-day societies are still patriarchal and the money’s in the men’s hands. This results in varying gender expectations. How can you be stingy about what you don’t have?”
There are, nonetheless, some stingy women. Doron dated Anat for a year and a half, in which time, he says, not once did she open up her purse.
“On our initial dates, I paid without batting an eyelid. I don’t remember a girl ever paying on a date, so it didn’t seem weird. I wouldn’t complain about things like that. I fully appreciate that I’m pursuing her and I actually enjoy it. But even when the dates turned into a relationship, she still never paid.“
“It took me eight months to realize that my girlfriend was tight with money. She went to buy her little nephew a present and came back with a cheap toy with a NIS 29.90 ($8) price sticker on it and asked me if I thought it was nice. I mumbled something about how she could have spent a bit more. She got really angry. I don’t get it. It’s the kid you love the most in the whole world, and you’re buying them a gift for NIS 30?“
“The second time she was at my place, I threw away a full tub of cottage cheese as its expiration date was yesterday. She was stunned. She took it out of the garbage and said ‘but the tub’s full. You haven’t even opened it.’ I replied explaining that although that was true, it was a day past its expiration date. She started yelling at me for being wasteful and announced that she’d eat it because one day doesn’t count.”
There were a lot of issues like this. The sad part is that her stinginess was usually about my money. If she’d have been paying for anything, that would have been one thing, but I was paying, so what did it matter to her? How can you be stingy about other people’s money?”
When did you start talking about it? “A year into the relationship, it was winter and we were at my place. I turned on the boiler for her to shower. In the meantime, we were making out in the living room. Things were heating up and then she stopped in the middle. She got up and said she was going to shower. I was astonished. I couldn’t understand why we’d suddenly stopped. She looked at me in all seriousness and said, ‘The boiler’s been on for a quarter of an hour. I don’t want to waste the hot water.’ That was it. I let her shower and when she came out, I tried to understand where this excessive stinginess was coming from.”
What did you find out? “She claimed she wasn’t being stingy at all, just frugal. She said she was thinking of the both of us and that her not letting me carelessly waste money on her, shows me how important I am to her. That was our biggest fight. We somehow reconciled but it was clearly over. I couldn’t live my whole life with a woman who’ll take her second choice on a menu because it’s NIS 20 ($5) cheaper, or who stops sex because the boiler’s been on for 15 minutes. A few months later, we broke up.“