Ever since I was a small boy I’ve been fascinated by the classic story A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. It just never seemed like Christmas without watching one of the versions of this timeless fable.
I recently wondered what has attracted me to this story. Was it the visit of Scrooge’s past business partner Marley, the frightening ghosts, or the fate of Tiny Tim? Maybe, but I think what has held my interest is the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.
This isn’t necessarily because I wanted to take Scrooge as a role model. Oh, I suppose that, to a degree, being associated with English literature’s most famous miser is not a bad thing for a financial planner. Only up to a point, however. I’m pleased to have clients think of me as “thrifty.” I’d prefer they didn’t regard me as “stingy” or “miserly.”
It’s an important distinction. “Thrift” is prudent, careful management of money and other resources. “Stingy” is a lack of generosity, with a connotation of meanness and selfishness. “Miserly” takes hoarding to a dysfunctional extreme, as Scrooge did. It implies a lack of conscious choice.
That lack of choice is exactly what makes Ebenezer Scrooge such a useful figure in my work with clients. The path of his transformation from this desperate place is a metaphor for helping people change the way they think about money. I’ve used it with clients for years now, and made it the focus of a book, The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge, co-authored with Dr. Ted Klontz and Dr. Brad Klontz.
During his unhappy, lonely childhood, Ebenezer Scrooge developed a set of unconscious beliefs, or money scripts, that he carried into his adult life. Among those were beliefs that having more money was the way to happiness, that spending money on himself or others was wrong, that people could not be trusted, and that money was more important than people.
The quality that most people associate with Scrooge is his life as an unhappy miser and his attitude of “Bah, humbug!” Yet what’s most important about A Christmas Carol is his transformation to a joyful, generous man. The visits of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future helped Scrooge understand that his beliefs about money were false. With the guidance of the Spirits, he was transformed into “. . . as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew . . .”.
If Ebenezer Scrooge could change his deep-seated, painful need to hoard every penny, there is certainly hope for the rest of us to change our destructive financial patterns. We may not have magical ghosts to help us transform overnight, but we certainly have the same ability as did Scrooge to become joyful and generous of spirit.
Today’s Christmas season is filled with pressures Charles Dickens could not have imagined. The marketing hype, holiday events, and expectations from families and society can be overwhelming. It’s a perfect holiday recipe for overspending and other unconscious financial behavior. You might find it helpful to re-read A Christmas Carol, not simply for the story, but for some possible insight into your own money scripts. The stress of the holidays can help you begin to identify aspects of your habitual money behavior that you might want to change.
In writing A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens probably intended simply to create a sentimental story celebrating the spirit of Christmas. His talented pen, however, produced a classic piece of literature. In addition, his psychological insight created a parable that today is as useful as it is enjoyable.