Are You Afraid to Spend Money?

A look at chronic savers who stockpile cash while forgoing everything from food to doctor visits.

A look at chronic savers who stockpile cash while forgoing everything from food to doctor visits
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Too much of a good thing, we're often told, is a bad thing. This is why there are sexual addiction therapists and an obesity epidemic. But, still, can anyone really have too much money?

In a way, yes. There are people out there – both extremely rich and poor – who are afraid to spend money. They fear spending to the point that they feel financially paralyzed, with money safely socked away in the bank yet they won't pay for doctor visits, vacations, clothes or the electric bill.

"I've seen plenty of clients like this. They don't spend money on beauty supplies, haircuts, vacations, entertainment or even their health," says Adam Hagerman, a financial coach based near Baltimore who does some work for a government agency and has encountered a number of chronic savers who receive his help free of charge. In fact, he adds, "I have never had a chronic saver pay for my services."

[Read: When Frugality Goes Too Far.]

Hagerman says such clients also typically have trouble spending money on food, and when they do, it's as inexpensive as possible (and often not nutritious). "These chronic savers also seem to just have this pile of money. It's never allocated to anything. It's just there. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing ... However, it's just about the number to these savers," Hagerman says.

Most of us probably don't have this problem – just wish we did – but for those who think they might and want to do something about it, here's our two cents to add to your pile.

This comes straight out of your college freshman psychology textbook. You may simply be cheap, of course, but many chronic savers have deeper issues, says Erica Curtis, a marriage and family therapist and a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "In my professional experience, one of the underlying reasons for chronic saving is underlying negative thoughts, such as 'I don't deserve to have things,' or feelings such as, 'I'm anxious because we don't have enough,' even if they are financially secure," Curtis says.

She says these negative thoughts and feelings usually stem from earlier experiences and are stored in the brain in such a way that current events in a chronic saver's life can trigger them. We usually have no idea that the turmoil we're feeling now is connected to the past, Curtis adds.

Your saving might be costing you more money. "I'm a big advocate of being frugal, but there's a difference between being frugal and being cheap," says Clare Levison, author of "Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better."

Levison adds: "I've seen people argue over a couple hundred dollars during home sale negotiations until they end up losing the deal."

She also recalls that when her husband was told he needed to lower his cholesterol, and he began complaining about the higher cost of healthy food, she shot back that buying the food was less expensive than paying for a heart attack.

Indeed. David Bakke, an editor at the personal finance blog, has a close family member who learned this lesson the hard way. "She refused to spend money on certain things following a pay cut," Bakke says, adding that his relative's primary care physician advised her to go to the hospital, "but she refused to because she was worried about having to pay her $5,000 deductible."

That's understandable, of course. But as Bakke says, his family member was ultimately rushed to the emergency room, and her health care expenses now seem likely to cost far more than $5,000. "She was in the hospital for close to two weeks, and is still in the process of recovering," Bakke says.

You can't take it with you. It isn't only broke people who are afraid to spend money. Bakke says he has a friend with deep pockets who is fixated on saving for retirement, despite being far ahead of where most of his peers are. "He doesn't go out, rarely buys new clothes and still shops at garage sales and flea markets. He hasn't taken a vacation in years, and whenever anyone asks him about it, he starts going on about the uncertain future of Medicare and Social Security. It's truly sad because he has enough money so that he should really be enjoying life."