In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens vividly brought to life one of fiction’s most famous misers, Ebenezer Scrooge. He was a “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from whom no warmth could ever come.”
The common view is that Scrooge cared for no one but himself. While psychological experts have diagnosed him with various disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), pathological narcissism, and post-traumatic embitterment disorder, the argument that he only cared for himself doesn’t stand up. He didn’t care for himself any more than he did for others.
Consider that he chose to live in a warehouse flat described as dark, cold, and gloomy. He refused to spend money on heating, and he lit only a single candle because “darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” His isolated and uncomfortable living conditions not only affected his physical well-being, but also contributed to his overall unhappiness.
He neglected proper nutrition and personal care. Scrooge dismissed the idea of a Christmas feast and opted on Christmas Eve to have a “melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” instead, demonstrating his disregard for basic nutrition and enjoyment. The book also suggests that he owned minimal clothing, had few personal belongings, and invested little in personal grooming and cleanliness.
He refused to seek medical care or other professional help. Dickens wrote, “Scrooge was his own lawyer, his own doctor, his own surveyor, his own everything, and never troubled anybody with his affairs.” The quote suggests that Scrooge, while having the money to afford the best in professional support, refused to ask for help from others, even for things that he was not qualified to do himself.
All this stands out as a stark reminder of the flaw in one of my own money scripts: “If you have money, you will have the best in food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.” While many people do use their financial resources to care for themselves, many others do not.
Though Scrooge is a fictional character, the “Scrooge Syndrome” he represents is all too real. We’ve all come across people who have made it big financially but seem to forget about their own physical, emotional, and financial well-being. Why doesn’t being well-off necessarily mean you’re taking good care of yourself, especially as you age?
The answer lies between the beginning of A Christmas Carol and the ending, where we find a transformed Scrooge who is no longer the cold, miserly, self-loathing, and uncaring person he was before. The key to his transformation was not in having money, or accumulating more, or understanding it better. It was in the journey he took, beginning with the intervention of a trusted friend. He (reluctantly at first) accepted the help of guides that helped him look at his past, understand how his childhood traumas affected his present life, resolve those woundings, and realize he now had the emotional capacity to do things differently going forward.
The Scrooge Syndrome, with its disregard for self-care and isolation from other people, warns us not to confuse wealth with wellbeing. The belief that “wealth equals wellbeing” is, like all money scripts, only partially true. Scrooge’s story reminds us that having money helps give us the potential for wellbeing—if we choose to use it for that purpose.
One important component of financial life planning is helping clients create financial security for retirement. Yet that security is worthless unless you spend the money when you need it. As Scrooge discovered, spending on essential intangibles that support health, happiness, family connection, and relationships is the wisest way to turn wealth into wellbeing.