As a compound word, with the latter half of the word being thrift, many people confuse the meaning of the term spendthrift. Many people believe it refers to a thrifty person or one who is overly cautious with money. In fact, the opposite is true, and a spendthrift is a person who is frivolous with money. The term is used to represent many ranges of overspending, from the impulsive shopper who lives somewhat beyond his means to the person who simply cannot control her spending at all.
A spendthrift is generally seen as careless and wasteful when it comes to money, never worrying about tomorrow, or how bills will be paid, or how much interest is accumulating on unnecessary purchases. Shopping and spending lavishly are compulsions for the spendthrift. Such a person may go through obscene amounts of money, yet having very little or nothing to show for it.
In some cases, the spendthrift is self-centered and can never buy enough to please himself. There is a constant yearning, a need that isn’t being filled, and this type of person tries to fill that need with material possessions and extreme indulgences. In other cases, the spendthrift throws away money on frivolous purchases, trips, meals, and other items in order to impress others or to “buy” friends. This type of person often finds herself being taken advantage of.
The penchant for spending beyond one’s means and racking up huge amounts of debt is not uncommon, as evidenced by ever increasing bankruptcies and changes to the bankruptcy laws. There are also legal documents and clauses designed to keep a spendthrift from wasting an inheritance or trust or from losing the bulk of the trust to creditors. A spendthrift trust requires a trustee to approve of purchases and other expenditures. A spendthrift clause may protect the trust’s beneficiary from creditors and allow that the money may only be used for the personal benefit of the named beneficiary.