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Traps of greed and mercantilism: 5 recommendations to help you to be more relaxed about money

06.08.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Among the many human vices, mercantilism and greed occupy honorable first places. As a child, each of us heard “Don’t be greedy.” But over time, we forget those wise words, given that society is ruled by a cult of material values. However, stinginess and prudence do not lead to happiness and success. In the article, we will talk about how to overcome greed and mercantilism.


How do mercantilism and greed destroy personality?

Mercantilism is a trait, expressed in an excessive and unreasonable desire to benefit from any situation. It’s a spooky cocktail of greed, cupidity and petty prudence.

Mercantile is the one who:

  • assesses people only in terms of their wealth and status in society;
  • stingy to such an extent that he saves not only on others, but on himself as well;
  • stops at nothing to achieve goals, not sparing the feelings of others;
  • sees no point in friendship unless it leads to a specific material benefit. [1]

Mercantilism, fueled by envy and greed, begins to destroy the personality when it rises above common sense in the hierarchy of human values. Material goods become something of a fetish. It is difficult for a prudent, practical person to build friendly and loving relationships. There aren’t many people willing to share a life or at least to have a friendly relationship with such a person, are there? Mercantile person is constantly haunted by the feeling that they had missed something in life and could not benefit from one or another situation. It is constant stress leading to neuroses and depression. [2]

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Real stories about human greed

real stories of greed

Excessive greed sometimes takes the form of pathological dependence on money. Even though a man has already managed to “make” a decent fortune, he continues to save money, depriving himself of all the joys of life. Such examples of human vices can be found not only in books but also in real life.

The story of Henrietta Howland Green (also called the Witch of Wall Street), who lived in the United States in the early 20th century, is very instructive. She was a famous financier who earned a huge fortune. She lived all her life in rented apartments and warmed up lunch on the battery so as not to spend extra money. But the most striking example of Henrietta’s stinginess is the case when her son had to have his leg amputated because she had been looking for a free hospital for several days. Naturally, she had the money for quality medical care, but she did not want to spend it to cure her child

John Paul Getty is another miser known around the world. As an oil tycoon and one of America’s richest men in the mid-20th century, he always wore the cheapest suits and saved on housekeeping. He even installed paid street machines in his mansion, believing that his guests talk too much on the phone, and this is an “impressive” item of expenditure. But he became famous for another case. When the criminals kidnapped Getty’s grandson, asking him for a ransom of USD 17 million, the tycoon categorically refused. After a while, he received a parcel containing his grandson’s ear and a strand of hair. In the end, Getty still gave a small sum, and the criminals released the young man. But he died of his injuries a short time later.

Manifestations and signs of mercantilism

“I don’t know how to establish a relationship with my wife, our family is breaking up. My wife is greedy and prudent. We have known each other for 8 years, and have been married for 7 years. I don’t understand why I didn’t notice how mercantile she was before the wedding.

My wife doesn’t work, we live solely on my income. I don’t mind, but in return, I want a normal attitude to myself. All I get from my wife is eternal discontent about a small salary. Although I get a very good salary. I constantly give her money for pocket expenses, purchase things and products for us and the child. Once a year we all go on holiday together. I receive no gratitude – only words that others live better. She thinks only of herself and loves only herself. I’m tired.”

— Ivan, 32 years old

The issue of greed and mercantilism is particularly relevant in gender relations. Men often complain about women’s prudence and women complain about men’s stinginess. In many ways, these are different names of the same phenomenon. Greed and mercantilism in a relationship destroys the union of two people.

Mercantilism in women

the greed of women

Many men believe that all women are mercantile. This stereotype has become well established in society since the word “prudence” is more often applied to women.

As a rule, the woman’s mercantilism is manifested in her desire to find a worthy life partner — rich, beautiful and self-motivated. There is nothing wrong with this ambition. But society decries prudence when a woman makes it the meaning of her life to receive material goods.

It has been argued that women’s mercantilism is due to nature. A woman just has to find the best “male” who can provide a safe future to her and her children. Psychologists also  believe , that some women become mercantile because they are rarely able to soundly analyze the situation, basing their actions only on intuition, emotions and momentary desires – they do not understand that sometimes the ends do not justify the means. Such people are capable of anything to get what they want.

The environment in which a woman was raised is also of great importance. When parents constantly say to the girl that she is a princess, and therefore worthy of the best, growing up she continues to live on the same principle: looking for the most promising life partner, while not learning to achieve anything on her own.

Mercantilism in men

Because of the stereotypes in society, many men can feel successful only through “making” money. It is believed that the head of the family should be reliable and rich. Savings help feed households. But in some cases, financial literacy develops into stinginess. The man himself and his relatives suffer.

According to psychologists, greed and mercantilism of men are often combined with aggression. They don’t consider it necessary to justify their behavior to loved ones, become rude and disrespectful. The fear that all they accumulated can be lost increases the wealthier they become. Internal tension rises, revealing all the worst qualities of character — people like that don’t let others get closer to them, fearing that they will get “robbed of everything they have.” [3]

Test: Do you have a problem with greed?

“Frugality” and “greed” often become synonymous. There is indeed a very fine line between these concepts, but it would be wrong to compare them. Frugality is always based on a reasonable approach to personal finances, but stinginess is a loss of control over one’s own actions.

What kind of person do you consider yourself, frugal or greedy? Try a test to help you know if you should pay attention to the problem. From the statements below, choose ones that are typical of your behavior. Assess which column has more points marked.

Behavior characteristic of a frugal person Behavior characteristic of a stingy person
I save money for a specific goal (vacation, education, apartment, etc.)1I’m saving money just to have it.
When I make purchases, I choose the goods with the best price/quality ratio2I always choose the cheapest products, even if their quality is not the best one.
When dining in a coffee shop, I always try to “encourage” the waiters with at least minimal tips.3I never leave a tip in cafes and restaurants.
I am happy to accept any gifts from friends, I always try to find use for them or keep as a memory.4I sometimes “re-gift” things in order not to spend money on gifts
I don’t always keep track of expenses. There’s a certain amount in my wallet for security.5I am always aware of how much money I have in my wallet up to a penny, so as not to spend too much.
I believe that even with financial difficulties it is possible to be happy.6I’m sure money make people happy. The poor man can’t be happy
I’m always ready to come to the aid of a friend7I won’t lift a finger to help anyone if I don’t see any benefit to myself.
I will never betray a friend for my own gain8Friendship is nothing. I’ll do anything for money or to get things done.
I don’t like to show off my financial situation and success9I am very proud to have financial stability. If possible, I’m telling everyone about it.
I believe that people deserve respect, including for their moral qualities10I believe that only rich people deserve respect

If you’ve noted more statements from the right column, it’s worth thinking about your attitude toward material goods. Don’t you think it’s a little over the top that you set accumulation of money as something to aspire to instead of positive human qualities?

Stinginess can sometime become a consequence of a pathological pattern of behavior. This is the kind of bad habit that requires therapy. If you identify the negative attitudes that cultivate a passion for money accumulation in you, you could change your behavior for the better. 7Spsy behavior modification technique is one of the most effective methods of dealing with negative settings.

Reasons for mercantilism

Some people believe that every person is greedy from birth. This character trait is first revealed in the second year of baby’s life. Judge for yourself: will a small child willingly give someone his/her toy? As a person grows up and develops life skills, he/she begins to understand that it is necessary to be honest, kind and generous to exist in society. But in some cases, deep personal problems become a trigger for the development of stinginess and prudence.

So why do people become greedy?

  1. Negative childhood experience
Negative childhood experience

Psychologists believe that childhood full of deprivation is one of the most common reasons for the development of a passion for money accumulation. For those whose parents were especially thrifty, and threw all their strength only to increase the family welfare or lived practically in a debt pit, greed becomes a natural model of treating material values..

Transferring their negative childhood experience into adulthood, person becomes afraid of being poor and useless. Increasingly growing fear turns “harmless” prudence into stinginess. [4]

  1. Self-distrust.

Self-distrust is sometimes hidden behind external mercantilism and stinginess. A person believes that it is material goods that will make him/her beautiful and successful, so he is ready to move heaven and earth to improve his financial situation. Any and all methods are used, sometimes not the most honest ones.

  1. Loneliness

Some people are trying to fill an internal void with material values. When there are no loved ones with whom you can share joyful moments or problems, it is money that becomes your best friend. It may look like success at work and financial well-being will make them happier, but they don’t understand that their greed only repels people. [4]

  1. Envy 

Another human vice — envy sometimes becomes the cause of stinginess and prudence. Seeing someone around being more successful and rich, that kind of person begins to work more and completely forgets about morality when it comes to achieving the goal. Do they get happier if they get what they want? No, since they do not spend money “on themselves” but only save it, forgetting that life is not only a job. They start to fear falling short and someone else taking their place. They always compare themselves with other people not in their own favor. As a result, envy pushes all moral values out from life.

5 recommendations to help you to be more relaxed about money

recommendations that make it easier to relate to money

Greed is a learned behavior pattern. It is possible to work with this vice using peaceful means and turn it into a reasonable frugality. Awareness of the existing problem is the first step to getting rid of prudence. By accepting this fact, you can start working on yourself.

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What are the recommendations of psychologists to overcome greed?

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

In order not to envy others and therefore not to cultivate negative personal qualities, focus on your own life. Yes, someone in your environment may be richer and more successful. But this is not a reason to go balls to the wall on the “competition” with a sworn friend.

When negative emotions go off the scale, and it looks like you didn’t get the rewards that you deserve, try to turn your attention towards good moments in your life, to people who are close to you and ready to always support you.

  1. Start spending money “on yourself”

Excessive frugality makes life unflavored and uninteresting. Try to gradually change your habits – start wisely spending savings. No, we’re not talking about a large-scale splurging, which also does not do anything good. But if you get good salary, why not spend a part of the income on interesting holidays, gifts to family and friends and self-education?

For many people spending money brings only positive emotions. But it is something a prudent person, whose frugality crosses the line of decency, needs to learn it. He’s not used to enjoying parting with money.

  1. Learn to share with others

To get rid of greed develop generosity in yourself. Psychologists say that making a gift to a child is a great way to develop generosity. Try it. The joyful smile of a child, who received the simplest toy, motivates for good deeds. [4]

It will be extremely difficult for a mercantile person to learn to give something without receiving anything in return. However, generosity does not imply receiving benefits from the actions committed — and this is something you’ll need to get used to.

  1. Prioritize correctly

When mercantilism starts to run the show among other personal qualities, the person begins to believe that any means can be used as long as you achieve the goal. But it’s time to learn how to prioritize correctly. Think about whether you are ready to lose the respect of loved ones and to alienate those who like you because of your own prudence and stinginess. Do you really feel that changing the world for the better with your good deeds is somehow less satisfying than being successful and wealthy? 

  1. Get rid of the fear of poverty

If your hoarding tendencies are caused by fear of poverty, overcome it — work with your mindset to protect yourself from negative thoughts and emotions. It is important to understand a simple thing: if for one reason or another your parents were unable to get out of poverty, it does not mean that you are doomed to suffer the same fate. Why cultivate so many fears if poverty has not yet come, and most likely will not come at all?


  1. “Psychology of Emotions”, 2008, K. Izard.
  2. “Psychology of envy, hostility, vanity”, 2014, E. P. Ilyin.
  3. “Psychology of individual differences”, 2010, E. P. Ilyin.
  4. “Money. Psychology of money and financial behavior”, 2005, A. Fernam.