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How to spot a cheapskate

When the check arrives, does your date disappear? Is there a lone dollar on the table after your four-star meal? Does your companion pitch a hissy over the sushi until the restaurant eats your bill?

Guard your wallet. You might be dating a tightwad.

Olivia Mellan, author of The Advisor's Guide to Money Psychology, says most of us are either spenders or hoarders, regardless of gender. It is generally spenders who drag their cheapskate partners into her Washington, D.C., therapy practice.

"For these people, money is security," she says. "They have a lot of fear. They have a lot of deprivation mentality, that if they don't hold onto it they'll be in big trouble."

What turns someone into a tightwad?

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"Sometimes it's a childhood trauma. They grew up in a family where there was never enough or their parent was a hoarder and they have adopted that behavior whole hog," she says.

"Other times, if someone was an overspender in the family and got everyone into trouble, you might react by becoming the opposite."

Money opposites do attract
It has been Mellan's experience that tightwads and spenders either find each other or manage to bring out the opposite in their partners over time.

"If opposites don't attract right off the bat in a couple's relationship, and they usually do, then they will create each other's opposite eventually; they'll polarize eventually. Even if two spenders get together, they tend to fight each other for the spender role and the other one will tend to hoard in comparison," she says.

"It's very rare to see two spenders who continue to spend equally or two hoarders who continue to hoard equally. Somebody will always want to spend money on some immediate pleasure purchase and then they will begin to look like the spender in the family by comparison."

Some of us manage to combine the two extremes all by ourselves.

"Bingers, for example, are hoarders and spenders combined," says Mellan. "They save, save, save and then they pop their cork and blow."

So you've discovered you're mixed up with a penny pincher. Is there hope for cheapskates?

Mellan chuckles.

"It's like the light bulb joke: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. If they see that it's costing them something that they value, such as a relationship, then there is hope. Otherwise there is no hope."

Not sure if your significant other is a certified cheapskate? Go out to dinner; it's the perfect opportunity to see if someone falls into one of these 10 tightwad categories. Click on each for stingy tendency details.

1. The Wimpy
2. Mr. or Ms. Big Bucks
3. The Slow Drawer
4. Consumer Crusader
5. The Universal Tipper
6. The Timely Incontinent
7. The Itemizer
8. The Anti-Rain Man
9. The Card Shark
10. The Non-Alternator


Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Updated: Jan. 23, 2004
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