What’s the difference between a frugal person and a cheapskate?
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, a cheapskate knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. A cheapskate drags their feet about spending money at all, to the possible detriment of health and relationships. To them, the only value that matters is the current value of their bank account and investments.
By contrast, here is my frugal mantra: “I save where I can so I can spend where I want.” Without sacrificing quality, we frugal folk seek the best possible price so that we have more to spend on things we truly value: family, community, worthy causes, building secure financial futures.
Being frugal means being intentional about your choices. Being cheap means cheaping out, even if you can afford to spend the money.
If any of the following red flags apply to you, then it’s time to reexamine your relationship with money.
1. You avoid special occasions
Birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays, a Super Bowl party – these and other special occasions are likely to cost you some money. But what about the value you’d get for that money?
The happiness on your parents’ faces to see all of their kids celebrating with them. The friendly football rivalries. The chance to hold your new nephew.
That’s all worth ponying up a few bucks for gas, gifts or a potluck dish.
2. Your health suffers
Sure, you could stay alive on tap water, day-old bread and peanut butter from the food bank. You probably won’t feel so good, though, and eventually malnutrition sets in.
Flossing is a total scam! Your dad said so. But years down the road, you’ll learn that periodontal care costs a lot more than dental floss.
Maybe you skip seeing the doc about a minor health issue, because you’re sure it will go away on its own. It might. Or it might turn into something much more serious, requiring major treatment – and there’s nothing frugal about that.
3. Your choices hurt others
During a happy hour meetup with friends, you tip only 15% — and you base that tip on the $2 beer price, rather than the $4 it normally costs. Bonus cheapskate points: You didn’t order any bar snacks, but happily munched nachos and a couple of chicken wings without contributing to their cost.
At a casual dining joint with your coworkers, you toss your share of the bill onto the table and leave early. Later they notice that you left only the price of your food, without factoring in tax and tip.
When you save money at someone else’s expense, it’s not frugal. It’s cheap, and it’s incredibly rude.
4. You game the system
A nearby food pantry doesn’t require proof of income. You’re there every Saturday and take as much as you’re allowed, even though you make a very good salary.
Your school made it to the Elite Eight. Yay! You invite a bunch of alumni over to watch the game on your giant-screen TV — which you plan to buy from Costco the day before the game, and return the day after.
When you go out to lunch or dinner, you always find something wrong with the food or the service. Then you demand the manager adjust your bill, or at least give you a free dessert.
You’re not breaking the law when you do these things. But you’re acting awfully cheap.
5. You borrow rather than buy
You pester your sister for her Hulu sign-on, and your neighbor for his Wi-Fi password. When you want something from Amazon, you get Mom to order it through her Prime account to save you the cost of shipping. (And shame on you if you “forget” to repay her, knowing she’s too nice to dun you for it.)
After buying a fixer-upper, you regularly borrow your brother’s pickup truck for trips to the home improvement store. You also ask everyone you know for the use of their power saw, nail gun, air compressor, wheelbarrow, pressure washer, portable drill or paint sprayer – and you keep these things for days or weeks at a time.
Regularly using someone else’s stuff shortens its lifespan. It also inconveniences people when they need those things themselves. Rent or buy your own, don’t be a cheapskate.
6. You delay needed replacements
When you got your first apartment, you bought the cheapest mattress you could find – and 15 years later, you’re still sleeping on it.
Your glasses prescription is years out of date. But you tell yourself that you can see just fine, so why waste money on a new pair of specs?
You refuse to buy new shoes, claiming a sentimental attachment to those old Nikes. Meanwhile, your back hurts like crazy.
Things wear out. Replacing them could improve your health – or maybe even save your life, if it keeps you from running a stop sign.
7. It’s tough to hang out with friends
Seems like everything they want to do costs money! Even when it’s just watching the World Series, you’re expected to bring munchies to share. And you like movies as much as everyone else, but why pay even a matinee price when it’ll show up on TV sooner or later?
Then again, you’ve noticed fewer and fewer invitations lately. Could be your pals are super-annoyed that you lecture them for buying craft beer when Budweiser is so much cheaper. Or maybe they can’t forget the last time you did go to the movies, when you criticized how much they spent on popcorn – but then had the nerve to start snatching that snack during the show.
8. You obsess over every dime
Every time you’re forced to spend money, you spend way too much time wondering whether you could have gotten a better deal somehow: “Maybe there was a coupon. Maybe I should have waited for a sale.”
You second-guess every expense: “Does the dog REALLY need that booster shot? It’s super-unlikely he’ll ever be exposed to rabies.”
You lie awake at night, fretting over upcoming costs: “I should probably skip the family holiday gathering this year, especially since my brother got married and my sister had another baby. That’s two more gifts to buy, plus the gas for the 80-mile round trip. I’ll just say I have to work.”
Don’t turn into Scrooge McDuck, gloating over your pinched pennies by the light of a single candle. Instead, create a workable budget that includes categories like “giving” and “fun.”
You really can build a secure future without cheating yourself in the present – and without driving away everyone you love. It’s worth noting that Scrooge McDuck always looked a bit lonely.