My parents are really stingy with how they spend their money — they will literally drive back to a grocery store to return an item if they find it a dollar cheaper somewhere else. I don’t live with them anymore, but when I visit, this behavior drives me nuts. How can I tell them to chill?
—Losing My Sanity One Cent at a Time
Dear Losing My Sanity,
It may not be a proven psychological truth, but anecdotally, it seems that the more we love people, the crazier they can make us. In your situation, I think it would be easier to focus on trying to let go of your anger and anxiety and living and letting live.
However, I know that’s easier said than done. So, I think you need to ask yourself two questions. One: If your parents are happy to spend hours driving from sale to sale, chasing down the least-expensive produce, why does it bother you so much? And two: why do your parents’ views on money still influence your feelings, even though you no longer live with them?
Make it about you (for a second)
As you think about your answers to these questions, it may help to explore how your parents have shaped your own financial picture. What are some early money memories you have? Does money make you feel anxious, free, excited, scared? Just identifying these feelings and beliefs can help you realize that, while your parents’ views have contributed to your money story, those views aren’t truths that are set in stone. It’s okay to have different financial beliefs from your parents. The more you give yourself permission to follow the money “rules” that make sense to you and get comfortable with your own financial picture and decision-making, the less their behavior may bother you… and the more you may be able to laugh it off.
Know it’s not personal (and may happen again)
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it may not be the last time you deal with this conflict. It may come up again in a relationship — either now or in the future. Here’s why: Research has found, when it comes to romantic partnerships, spendthrifts and tightwads may be more likely to end up together, which can create friction throughout the relationship. Having a clear view of your attitudes toward money can help you learn to voice what’s important to you when it comes to financial decisions — and let other people do the same for their choices.
Let it go … but have the last word
Finally, if you do want to prove a point to your parents, it may be worth asking them what they think their time is worth. Research shows that people who value time over money are happier. It may be worth bringing up this idea as a lighthearted “did you know” conversation over dinner, and seeing what your parents think. It may not change their views, but it could lead to a deeper conversation about money and happiness, which may help each of you see where the other is coming from.
Finally, it sounds like you have a good gift option for them in the future — a grocery delivery, where they aren’t even able to see the prices of their essentials!
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.