Forget blandly generous Santa Claus for a second. Consider the enduring charm of popular culture's stingiest character: the monstrous Ebenezer Scrooge.
Debuting in the 1843 Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a cold, greedy soul, who hates Christmas and jollity generally. Denying himself basic conveniences, Scrooge hoards his assets, embracing a lifestyle of poverty.
The miserable wretch is widely believed to be a banker or money lender, but some recent versions cast him as a lawyer. Take your pick.
Tutored by three good ghosts, Scrooge graduates from sour miser to reformed sinner. Still, we lazily label Scrooge, whose name has come to mean "miser", as a stubborn skinflint defined by his anti-Christmas curse, "Bah, humbug!"
You might well resemble skinflint Scrooge more than Santa, because tightwads outnumber spendthrifts three to two, research shows.
Here's a checklist designed to help you see if you have a problem parting with money.
1. Freebie spree One clear sign that you have a cheap streak is if you take paper napkins home from restaurants and keep them as tissues or even toilet paper. A variant is swiping free soap and shampoo from hotels. If you are seriously tight, you might well take the lousy free toothbrush too and a polythene shower cap into the bargain. A true tightwad can never get enough free stuff.
2. Interest itch Another sign of being cheap is that you apply to open a second savings account just because it presents, say, an introductory offer of 3.9 per cent. When that offer expires, you may close your new account and revert to your original bank, capitalising on whatever opening offer it has going.
And so on. All the eye-wateringly dull bureaucracy involved seems worth it if you have a scarcity mindset.
3. Tipping freeze Out on the town, if you have tightwad tendencies, you may refuse to tip, armed with a ready-made rationale that goes something like: "Plenty of people do harder jobs than waiters and get no gratitude. When was the last time a teacher got a tip from a parent? When was the last time a nurse got a tip from a patient?" A tightwad counts their change meticulously, retrieving every cent from that leather folder or dinky metal tray with practised pincer fingers and a beady eye.
4. Utility merry-go-round Yet another nagging sign of stinginess is that you compulsively switch utility company. A dedicated penny-pincher constantly eyes all the options: Click Energy, Country Energy, Lumo Energy, Simply Energy, Quoll Energy ...
Then there are all the broadband providers and cellphone operators to weigh up with care. Every damned deal must be tracked down to counter the dread of potential overexpenditure. God forbid.
5. Pain of paying Physical proof that you are cheap comes if you powerfully experience "the pain of paying". According to Carnegie Mellon University research, this brain pain stems from the insula: the bit of it linked with reading signals in the body and generating feelings of distress.
When a tightwad is shown an undesirable price, the insula apparently goes into overdrive. Cue gut discomfort and wincing.
6. Extreme food recycling A final sign that you dislike wasting money to an unhealthy degree is that the generic-brand food in your fridge smells, long past its use-by date. The gunge in the crisper drawer screams that the time is ripe for a purge, but maybe not "wasting" anything matters more to you than being able to get to church tomorrow or having functioning kidneys. At least the home brew is unlikely to go off in a hurry.
Merry Christmas! Just don't expect any presents. If you do get any, remember to peel off the sticky tape carefully, so you can reuse the wrapping paper.