There’s a fine yet clear line between frugality and stinginess, yet a chasm of psychological and spiritual difference between them.

Frugal people are most often driven by philosophical and/or spiritual imperatives, e.g. environmentalism, or a minimalist commitment to focusing one’s energies only on those things that truly matter or make one happy. I have a lot of respect for these people, and quite a few number among my friends. Usually, they’re quite successful in their careers, are not very identified with things or status, and are very generous behind the scenes, e.g. in charitable work. I aspire to those same values, although I am ashamed to say, am quite far from actualizing them in real life, although I am working at it.

Stingy people are a blight on the human landscape. You may know the type: They always take but give very little back. They disappear to the bathroom when the dinner bill comes. They’ll wait you out forever rather than pick up the check. They’ll borrow your stuff rather than buy their own, and if they break it offer no replacement. They seem to always be there when there’s an opportunity to benefit, but rarely there when you need them. They ask for professional advice, but even if you charge them a nominal amount will have a death-grip on the cheque as they’re giving it to you. If you lend them money, you suddenly disappear from their radar. They measure and weigh every transaction; if they do something for you they won’t do it again unless you reciprocate.

Stingy people are a cesspool of psychological problems, insecurities, and attachments to material things as if they represent some source of death transcendence. My mother detested stingy people and had a great expression for them: “They tighten their sphincter so as not to lose even a drop of their own shit”, she used to say. In Greek culture, the stingy person (one without “filotimo”) is the most detested archetype. All other sins are forgivable as signs of human frailty, but the stingy person is usually shunned as an affront to God.

Stingy people sometimes masquerade as either frugal or simply too poor to afford generosity (although they seem to take a lot of vacations and travel to a lot to exotic places, and drive pretty nice cars). It’s usually easy to spot the difference. Strangely enough, some of the most generous people I know are also the poorest; it seems that compassion and generosity go hand in hand.

I am very fortunate to know many very generous people, and they are the true friends that we spend most of our time with. The stingy have generally been moved to the periphery. Life’s too short to waste on toxic people and as I get older, time is the only real currency that matters.

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