Saver or Spender: Nature or Nurture?

Are you a saver or a spender? And why? Is it something you learned? Or is your financial personality something you’re born with? I used to think that how you naturally handle money is something you learn, but after watching my kids, I’m not so sure. I think some people might be born savers or born spenders.

My daughter, Liz, is 9 years old. She’s been receiving an allowance since she was 5. Yet, money doesn’t mean much to her. She puts her allowance away every week, and that’s it. In fact, I finally just started direct depositing her allowance into her savings account, because it was easier than going to the bank every couple of weeks to deposit all her money.

Occasionally she’ll want to make a purchase with her money, but usually it’s only after her younger brother buys something. I think it’s more of a jealousy thing than an honest desire to spend money.

In the past when Liz has misbehaved, we’ve tried docking her allowance as a form of discipline. It didn’t work. She doesn’t care. Money just doesn’t mean much to her.

And it’s not just money. She doesn’t seem to notice commercials on television. When I ask her what she wants for Christmas, she replies “I’ll like whatever you get me.” And it’s true. She’s never complained about a present, and she can find enjoyment in anything.

And clothes. At an age where the peer pressure is on to wear the right thing, Liz is just as happy to receive a bag full of hand-me-downs as she is to receive a brand new outfit. It’s all new to her, and that’s what matters.

Liz seems to be fairly receptive to my little talks on saving money and being a good steward of what we have. In fact, when we weren’t eating out last month, she was the first person to remind us of our goals. I think Liz is going to be a very frugal person throughout life. I’d like to say it’s because of my careful guidance, but……

….there’s Sam, my son. He’s almost 5, and he’s already a big spender. I can tell the Christmas season is coming up, because the toy commercials are starting, and Sam is constantly asking, “Can I have Imaginex Adventures?”, “Can I have that CARS toy?”, “Can we buy that?”

And it doesn’t stop with the toy commercials. He’s decided he needs a Kyle Busch car Fathead for his room after seeing one on a TV commercial during a NASCAR race. And I’ve already told you all about my adventures grocery shopping with him. No, Sam, I will not buy you a case of Coors.

He already notices fashion. He’s particular about what he wears. He doesn’t like corduroys. He has to have jeans. He does not like sneakers, unless they have CARS or Thomas characters on them. I’m having visions of Sam as a teenager, wanting a $120 pair of shoes! I can see I’m going to have to put some extra effort into teaching Sam about finances and the value of a dollar.

Two different children. The same parents. The same upbringing. Two different financial personalities. I’m becoming convinced that children are born savers or spenders. Spenders can certainly learn to be savers, but it doesn’t come naturally.

So what do you think? Are people born to be savers or spenders? Or is it something that is learned? And which are you?



Author

By , on Oct 9, 2007
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{15 Comments}

  1. I think I was born a spender, and my sister is definitely a saver. Dad is a spender and Mum is a saver, so we’ve got it from them somehow.

  2. Excellent article. It was thought-provoking for me. I had a question that is minutely related to saving vs spending. If one were to stick to paying cash for everything, would one have a higher tendency to spend more often with cash or with a debit card?

  3. We tried to track back but it was giving errors. This is a great post and we listed it in our weekly favorites.
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  4. olivz:

    I think it’s probably both. Both my brother and I don’t like spending money. We learned from a very young age that our parents worked really hard to provide for us, and that we just didn’t have a lot of money to spend. My sister, though, is becoming quite the opposite. We all started off the same, but now I think she just spends too much, and I credit it to the people she hangs out with and her husband (pretty much all affluent) and the fact that she now earns her own money.

  5. I was the super saver in my childhood. I thought carefully about my purchases and whether I really wanted that new toy or comic book, because I was always saving for our annual vacation to Disney. At 6 or 7 years old, I’d easily have $70-100 for “spending money” when we would take family vacations, and invariably “loan” some to my brother and even parents by the end of the trip LOL.

    Then I hit puberty, and my bipolar began to manifest itself. I still *can* save, but not if I have access to the money. I’ll do really well, and then my OCD kicks in, along with the natural impulse issues with bipolar, and I’m busted in a 5 minute span of time. Literally.

    Doesn’t help you much does it? LOL. Through therapy, I’ve come to realize that this CAN be controlled…I just haven’t had the opportunities to remain in therapy long enough to do something about it (insurance doesn’t like therapists).

    Katie saves every penny. Jared has impulse issues already. He saves up, and then goes wild suddenly. Bekah doesn’t really have a concept yet…she just wants every pink toy she sees.

  6. Lynnae:

    “selective spender” — I love that term! I think it describes me pretty well too!

  7. boomeyers:

    I was born confused! I am such a cheapskate at the grocery store, but then I go buy fast food?? I rarely buy new clothes, but will blow bucks for my kids clothes? I think I am a selective spender.

  8. Alison:

    I think nature has a big role in this. But it was something I really had never thought of before. I bet a lot of it is tied to personality All my siblings are very different when it comes to spending and saving, yet we were all raised the same.

  9. Hilda:

    I was just thinking about this the other night! I was wondering if there’s a frugal gene that makes some people savers and others (who don’t carry it)spenders.

    If there’s such a gene, it seems like Liz is carrying it. As for Sam, just make sure nurture beats nature.

  10. Lynnae:

    Thanks for sharing! It’s interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives. It gives me lots to think about.

  11. Paula:

    Both my sons are spenders, though my younger son does save up his money till he has enough to buy something. My oldest just pesters me to buy it if he doesn’t have enough.

    They too fall victim to advertising. I rarely buy them things we see on tv. All that stuff just ends up in the attic for my next garage sale. We buy stuff like bikes, fishing nets, etc.

    I HATE to take them grocery shopping with me. Their either sulking because they have to come shopping or they’re begging for junk that I won’t buy, then back to sulking because they don’t get their way.

    My younger sister was a saver, I was a spender. Now thanks to her dh, they are deeper in debt than we are and don’t care to get out. My dh was poor as a kid, he’s a big spender. It’s hard for him to feel like I’m depriving him of the stuff he wants. He’s coming around though.

  12. I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture. Growing up things were tight financially. I am the youngest of six and my mother had to go back to work when I turned 2.

    I am a massive tightwad, as are two of my other siblings. The other three are kind of oblivious to money and consequently are in debt.

    I think maybe your core personality helps you react to what your environment was like. I am very much a minimalist, however, my husband is more of a spender. Not too crazy but he always has plenty of items to pick from when he gets me a Christmas present.

    Conversely, I never know what to get my husband because he always buys it when he wants it.

    Our oldest daughter is really into getting money and spending money. The middle child is kind of oblivious to money and spending and the baby is just two years old.

    Very thought-provoking article, Lynnae. And congrats on being 4.29% closer to your goal!

  13. Interesting. As a kid, money would burn a hole in my pocket. I *had* to spend it. Now I am frugal with my money for the most part and save a lot. My brother on the other hand was a miser growing up, and is now up to his ears in debt. So I don’t think its deterministic, although some people obviously never change.

  14. I pretty much agree that mostly you’re born a natural saver or spender. And in each case, all things in moderation, you should save some of your money and spend some of it. Best of luck with the kids.

  15. I thought this was a great post, Lynnae. Very honest and very true for many of us too. Though I am back at school now and finishing a degree, I have some wasted student debt from a previous major. However it sounds like at least some of your debt went on stuff you needed (like housing) so at least some of it was useful.

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