Some people might say that I’m cheap. I prefer to say that I’m “strategically frugal.” It’s all about value, meaning and opportunity. That’s why I typically don’t spend very much money on my wardrobe; I largely don’t need to maintain appearances at work and I’m hardly interested in making any sort of fashion statement. I think about where every dollar goes and perhaps that makes me the opposite of a spendthrift. Or is the term spenddrift?

As is commonly the case with entries in the Grammar 101 series on this blog, the confusion mostly arises because this is a term that we don’t normally use very often. You might hear it in passing now and then, but most people will turn to simpler language more often.

The Word You Want

In any case, the correct term (and spelling) is spendthrift. This is a person who spends his or her money frivolously, wastefully or extravagantly, regardless of their actual financial position. This person may be living paycheck to paycheck, but he or she has no problem buying $5+ lattes on the way to work, splurging on designer handbags, or freely unloading on hundreds of dollars in video game DLC.

There is no such word as “spenddrift.”

But I Thought Thrifty Meant Cheap?

The term “spendthrift” may seem counterintuitive. After all, we might talk about picking up items on the cheap at the local thrift store or we might say someone is “thrifty” if they are especially stingy with their money. And it’s true that this is how we typically use the word “thrift” in modern English. However, it was once the case that “thrift” was associated with wealth and prosperity, a usage that is now obsolete.

With that older definition, the spelling and understanding of “spendthrift” makes a lot more sense. It’s the kind of person who spends as if they don’t have a worry in the world when it comes to money, buying and paying for things on a whim without giving them a second thought. A classic example might be someone like Marie Antoinette.

Remember that while some spendthrifts may lead lives of unnecessary excess and spend their money on gaudy objects like gold-plated toilets, an overly extravagant and “eccentric” lifestyle is not necessarily the same as being a spendthrift. Of course, if you were to draw a Venn diagram, there would be some significant overlap.

The Spendthrift Clause

You may have also heard of so-called spendthrift clause or spendthrift trust. This is to protect the beneficiary of a will from their own frivolous spending habits. Once upon a time, there was also a very successful racehorse named Spendthrift.

Speaking for myself, I’ve largely been able to follow some basic money management principles and keep myself completely out of debt (and frivolous spending) with the noted exception of the mortgage we have on our home. While some spendthrifts may blame their problems on the convenience and instant gratification of plastic, credit cards aren’t the real cause of their financial woes. They’re just tools. And like all other tools, they can be used for good or they can be used for evil.

That’s up to you to decide.