The very name ‘Scrooge’ resurrects visions of tight, uncompromising and unlovable businessmen in the mind of anyone who has been raised in the West. Even those unfortunates who have not read the brilliant book A Christmas Carol have some knowledge about the miser who is the central character of that novel and think very poorly of the miserly life in general. However, is that a fair criticism of a lifestyle choice and is it possible to be an ethical miser?
This article will highlight some of the miserly characteristics that could be of service to you in your own pursuit of financial independence. This is important because, clearly, cutting your expenditure is essential even if you are making money from your existing assets.
There is a distinction that I need to make at this point between greed and ambition. Greed is the selfish desire for wealth and greedy people resent using their money for anything that does not apparently benefit them. Scrooge was greedy and his transformation in the novel reveals his understanding of his greed. But ambition is not greed. Ambition is the desire to achieve something. Thus, financial ambition is the desire to achieve a better financial situation. It should be our focus to be ambitious at all times whilst avoiding greediness.
So what can an ethical miser learn from Scrooge’s example?
- Reduce heating costs to a minimum. Scrooge sat as close to his fire as possible in order to get every last drop of heat that his fuel created. Obviously most of us do not have coal fires in our own homes but it is worthwhile finding out how much you are spending on your energy costs and turning off the boiler if it is possible. My family was forced into turning off the boiler for several months due to technical problems with our system and, despite the cold showers, we did save thousands of pounds within months. You do not need to embrace the cold showers (unless you really want to toughen up) but there is no need to have heating on when you are home if you have sufficient clothing.
- Do not pay for interior decoration. Scrooge’s fireplace was old and dated and he had not replaced an unused bell. In short: he was not a man who was impressed by trendy magazine articles and celebrity endorsements. Functionality is all that ultimately matters. So long as your furnishings are not going to fall apart or create diseased conditions it should not matter what they look like. I have never thought better of a friend because of how terrific his or her place looked. I have been impressed by their artistic plans and their beautiful things but, regardless, I would have been their friend even if the upgrades had not been done.
- Charity is optional. Scrooge was not impressed by his peers’ attempts to save the poor from starving or dying in the cold through their own charitable enterprise. Instead, Scrooge gave money to support alternative approaches to the problem such as workhouses. We have already emphasised the importance of doing your own research into charities and in supporting charities that you think have the best chance of succeeding. Being sensible about your giving does not mean that you want the poor to be worked to death; do not be afraid of facing such false opinions from others.
- Do not be merry. Scrooge did not spend money entertaining himself at Christmas and consequently saved a lot of money. I do not spend a lot of money on Christmas parties but I do enjoy spending money on gifts. For instance, I would not buy a new suit or new shoes for the Christmas and New Year round of parties and nights out but I would gladly spend money on appropriate Christmas presents or gifts for friends and family. I think the moral here is to not live excessively. You do not actually want to be ‘solitary as an oyster’ like Scrooge, even if you are sitting on a magnificent pearl.
- Check up on your contacts. Scrooge kept the door of his office open so that he could always see that his clerk was working hard. You shouldn’t spy on people, but it is worth finding out whether the people and companies you do business with are still as efficient and cost-effective as you remember them being. It’s common sense to check that everything is fine and to surround yourself with people who make good financial decisions.
- Do not get married. Scrooge was highly critical of his nephew’s decision to marry. There is nothing financially wrong with getting married and Scrooge’s antipathy towards it came from his emotions. However, it is clear that far too much money is spent on weddings in the UK (the average is £24k) and this romanticised view of marriage which focuses on one ‘special day’ is financially ruinous.
All in all, I think it is safe to say that old Ebenezer has been unfairly ostracised. Although he was a melancholy and uncaring character to begin with he did live a simple and sensible life (financially speaking). His money-saving tips can be learned from even if his morals were awful. Of course, even Scrooge did come to agree with his nephew about the importance of being generous, especially at Christmas.
But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!
So be sensible this Advent and be an ethical miser!