According to David Korten, a former Harvard Business School professor, money is a mechanism for controlling people. Narcissists are acutely aware of this.
An individual who is a narcissist will feel powerful and dominant over others, even with a small amount of money. Worst of all? It starts out small. Maybe they lend you a hundred bucks. Next thing you know, they remove your name from a bank account. And eventually, this snowballs into stealing or even extortion.
Suffice it to say, having a narcissistic spender in your life isn’t just frustrating. They can have a profound and devasting effect on your life, ranging from unpaid bills to bankruptcy. In some cases, the damage to finances, security, and survival can be so severe that they develop PTSD.
There are several narcissistic traits at play here, including (but not limited to):
- Entitlement. They believe, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is also mine.”
- Emptiness. They fill the void in their lives with money, status, and material possessions.
- Insecurity. To feel secure, individuals may hoard assets and money.
- Grandiosity/Ego Inflation. Whether they want to impress others or feel superior to them, they flaunt their money and their stuff.
Among other things, these factors lead a narcissist to abuse money and assets for their own gain, wield power over others, and aspire to a sense of superiority. And they can achieve this by possessing the following toxic financial habits.
They give with strings attached
A narcissist, in general, is not a giver. Instead, their energy tends to be spent on things that benefit them in some way.
Despite presenting themselves as giving, covert narcissists always expect something in return. As an FYI, psychology can classify behavior as overt or covert. People can easily observe overt behaviors like those of a traditional narcissist. However, unlike overt behaviors, covert ones are subtle and harder to detect.
Moreover, a covert narcissist does not have empathy towards other people while seeking admiration and importance.
One simple example is dropping money into a tip jar. When a covert narcissist knows that their barista or server is looking, that’s when they’re more likely to put the money in the jar. The reason? To facilitate an interaction allowing them to receive praise for their generosity.
In personal relationships, though, this is a little more complex. Typically, a narcissist will shower you with gifts. In most cases, this is in public to appear altruistic. Behind the scenes? This is an attempt to either get others to like them or prevent you from leaving the relationship.
Moreover, there’s always a catch. Maybe they paid for your dinner. But, without you knowing, they’ll hold that over your head. For example, expecting you to help them move or loan them money.
What can you do?
An unhealthy relationship with a self-serving narcissist can be mentally draining. You may find that it helps to write down your feelings in a journal or have a therapist help you work them out.
If they refuse to change, setting strict boundaries or ending the relationship may be your best option.
They’re stingy with money
I can’t stress this enough. When you’re dealing with a narcissist, nothing comes for free.
In other words, if a narcissist spends money on you, it’s because they want something from you. Whether it’s complimenting them, offering friendship, providing a loan, or giving them a place to crash.
If the narcissist has nothing to gain, they will become incredibly miserly towards others and give little to them. In their view, sharing their abundance just for the sake of generosity or giving back is not valuable.
In addition, narcissists are often grandiose when it comes to self-serving, unnecessary expenditures. They may splurge on a luxurious vacation and share many pics on social media. But, they’ll also skimp on essentials like rent.
I’ll give you a real-life example. I have an acquaintance who runs a lucrative small business. But, at the same time, he nickels and dimes his employees. And refuses to provide health insurance. But they just dropped over six figures for a brand new Range Rover — using company funds, of course.
What can you do?
As a result of their self-serving mindset, narcissists struggle to understand or identify with others’ feelings and needs.
Having an honest conversation with them can help you put food on the table or run your business effectively. Afterward, you may want to consider whether the relationship is worth preserving.
When it comes to money, they’re shady and abusive
When two people are in an intimate relationship, they might keep their financial situation vague. For instance, how much they earn or have saved. That might fly when just dating. But, in the long run, this can be problematic.
The reason? It gives them the power to make one-sided money decisions and control what they perceive is affordable for your family or couple. And they can say, “Let me handle our finances so you will not have to worry about them.”
Also this dynamic occurs in business as well. In a narcissistic co-founder’s mind, you might be told: “I’ll handle the boring money stuff since you’re the creative genius.”
As a result, this could lead to:
- Stealing your personal financial assets or embezzling from your business.
- Forbidding you to access your money or possessions.
- Demanding that any inheritance or financial gifts be placed in their name.
- Opening bank accounts, credit cards, or investment accounts without you knowing. Or, even worse, opening these accounts in your name but not letting you access them.
- Lying about past purchases.
- Falsifying tax records to show greater reductions.
- Putting you on a strict and impossible budget.
- Shaming you whenever you spend money.
- Withdraw money from checking, investment, or retirement accounts without your knowledge.
What can you do?
Letting your partner handle your money matters can be a good option if you’re overwhelmed or uncomfortable in this area. It can have serious consequences, though. For instance, your credit score will drop if you don’t pay your bills on time.
As such, don’t let financial decisions that affect you pass you by without your involvement and knowledge. And you may want to hire an outside party, like an accountant, to manage your money or investment accounts.
They’ll combine accounts, businesses, and property
“If a narcissist knows that they are on a good thing financially, they often will seek to enmesh quickly with you,” explains narcissistic abuse recovery expert Melanie Tonia Evans. “By winning you over and gaining your confidence or guilting or threatening you into putting their name on a title, creating them as director of your business, paying for renovations on your property, or even marrying you, this helps them get into your financial life.”
By doing so, they will be able to extract exactly what they want for themselves, and you will have to work hard to leave them.
It doesn’t matter how well a deal is disguised with a narcissist; the odds are always in their favor, as you will discover painfully when you witness the conscienceless financial behavior that unfolds in the future, filled with excuses, justifications, lies, and no remorse or accountability.
What can you do?
“I strongly suggest against joint purchases, joint accounts, and legal ties with anyone until you have spent a great deal of time with them and know them to be of sound and healthy character,” Melanie advises.
As adults, it is essential to take care of ourselves emotionally and financially. When we do, we can avoid narcissists who may make us think we need them or that we do it to prevent them from abandoning or replacing us because of our unhealed wounds.
“Protect yourself, have healthy boundaries, draw up pre-nuptials, and don’t consider a relationship with anyone who wouldn’t agree to that,” she adds.
The relationship between narcissism and hypocrisy is a natural one, as hypocrisy is a form of entitlement.
Although they quickly impose rules on others, most narcissists believe they don’t apply to them. Unfortunately, budgets are among the many rules that fall under this category.
If your partner is narcissistic, they spend extravagantly on themselves and regularly blow your joint budget. And, the kicker? They’ll then criticize you for overspending.
For example, your significant other treats themselves and a co-worker to lunch twice a week. However, they give you lip service for meeting a friend once a month over coffee.
What can you do?
In my experience, calling out a narcissist rarely results in fruitful results. Instead, they will turn the spotlight on you. Therefore, for future legal purposes, keep a record of inequitably or recklessly spent money.
And keep in mind that your share of the budget is yours. After all, there is usually a disconnect between a narcissist’s sense of fairness and what’s actually right in the financial world.
Material wealth is their primary concern
“Narcissists are overly preoccupied with material possessions and wealth,” writes Kristy Lee Hochenberger, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. “It becomes about the show and not about the substance.” Narcissists enjoy bragging about their possessions and wealth to attract people. Despite boasting about their salaries and titles (“I earn $50 an hour and I’m in charge, you’re not as important as I am!”), cars, or houses (“My house is larger and my car is cleaner than yours!”), they refuse to pay their half of the bill or expect financial compensation for helping them out.
“Narcissists are also known to lie or cover up their bank statements in legal situations to get more money in alimony or child support,” she adds. “People become pawns—even the lawyers and judges—and child support becomes more about financially ruining the ex-partner than caring for the children of the relationship.”
Financial punishment is a priority for them.
People with narcissistic personalities often use the money to punish others. For instance, your money might be withheld when they feel vindictive but rewarded when you do what they ask. Not only is this humiliating, but it can also lead to financial stress.
Here’s another example from my life. I had a friend who was dating a narcissist. For her birthday, he would take her to an upscale seafood restaurant. But, since they got into a squabble a couple of days before, he made her cover half her own birthday dinner.
Occasionally, however, you will need to sink to their level to keep your household or business running smoothly.
What can you do?
Keeping some money aside for basic expenses will help you deal with this situation. In addition, you will be able to manage – or exit – the problem instead of feeling blindsided by knowing it is likely to occur.
How to Deal With a Narcissistic Spender in Your Life
An essential first step is knowing the signs of narcissistic financial abuse. Remember, narcissists often use money and assets to control others, rendering them powerless.
As a next step, set small boundaries so that you can regain some financial independence. A suggestion would be to open your own accounts and have your paycheck deposited there. Most importantly, don’t hand over your banking and financial reins to the narcissist. If you have a joint account, regularly monitor transactions and check your credit score.
It also wouldn’t hurt to take a financial class emphasizing balance rather than a financial dictatorship. And, if you confront a narcissist to stop the abuse, calm reasoning and compliments are best.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do narcissists like money?
Don’t be mistaken. They don’t generally like money just for the sake of it.
In contrast, narcissists thrive on money’s benefits. At the minimum, this includes security, power, self-esteem, freedom, and others’ admiration.
In other words, money is merely a vehicle that drives them to their intended destinations.
Also, many narcissists believe they can buy love, happiness, and friendship with money. The feeling of being appreciated and adored by others is more valuable to them than directly receiving those benefits.
2. Can narcissists be generous?
Short answer? In most cases, no.
The reason narcissists hoard resources is so they can feel purpose and meaning through their assets and possessions.
In some instances, narcissists appear to be extremely cheap. They commonly regift items, leave their wallets at home, or refuse to share. Because they don’t adhere to social norms, they don’t care if people are affected by their cheapness. It’s no wonder most narcissists don’t have close friends.
Narcissists, however, may show off their wealth to other people. Their loved ones may receive amazing gifts during the holidays, or they may donate a considerable amount of money. The primary goal of these people isn’t to be generous. Instead, they are trying to impress others.
3. Are narcissists greedy?
Generally, narcissists are very frugal with their money and defensive with it. When it comes to their possessions, they don’t give them freely. There is, however, more to this greed than self-preservation.
Due to their lack of empathy, narcissists may not understand the benefits of sharing their resources. Moreover, it’s not their responsibility to lend anyone else a helping hand.
In the same way, they are highly competitive. Narcissists constantly compare themselves to others, even if it seems as if only their accomplishments are significant. Due to this, it may seem intimidating to “give something away.” For them, the possibility of being taken advantage of by someone else may seem too far-fetched.
4. Why are narcissists so bad with their money?
There is no simple answer to this question.
Financial distress is a common occurrence among some narcissists. Numerous factors can contribute to these problems. In the first place, narcissists believe that they are above the law. As a result, their unethical behavior may sometimes include lying, stealing, or embezzling money while justifying it fully.
Additionally, many narcissists have trouble controlling their impulses and delaying gratification. The person may open up several credit cards or lines of credit instead of saving for something they want.
Narcissists may also find it challenging to understand the long-term effects of their behavior. For instance, their emotions are often triggered by their current circumstances. Their goal is to satisfy their desires as soon as possible, no matter what the future may bring.
This explains why they are often tempted to make large purchases or file for bankruptcy.
5. What narcissistic spending habits should I avoid?
If you don’t want to become a narcissistic spender yourself, here are some practical steps for you to follow:
- Your financial situation should not be kept a secret. In particular, this applies to relationships with close friends or family members.
- In public, don’t act generous, then be a cheapskate in private. As a result, dissonance is created.
- Avoid spending money on unnecessary items. And, don’t neglect the necessities like food, shelter, and healthcare.
- Be careful not to be hypocritical, and never punish people with money. Instead, decide whether you need to make any changes to your habits or rules.