Mike Smith, a single man in his mid-50s, lives in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Kentucky, in a small town near the Ohio River. (Names and details have been changed to protect the participants.) He works many hours as a maintenance man at a local office building, and when he’s not working he likes to watch movies. Mike describes himself as being “a tightwad since the age of two.” Even though his resources are limited, he manages to save by strictly controlling how much he spends, even on groceries and medical care. He is frustrated by the fact that he can’t seem to earn more income even though he works hard.
Mike has never married, though he has three adult children. He has lived his entire life in his small town, spending summers at his family’s farm. His grandmother, who owned a small shop, raised him. His parents were also self-employed – his mother owned a beauty parlor, and his father owned several bars. His family valued hard work but not education and he dropped out of high school, a choice that he still regrets.

Read about Mike Smith in the full case study.