Being Cheap or Frugal – 12 Signs You’ve Gone Too Far

Are you frugal or just being cheap? It seems like the frugality fad has been sweeping parts of the nation over the last couple of years but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re all just becoming cheap.

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You have all of the DIY projects like making a headboard out of plywood, there are the extreme couponers, and there are even TV shows dedicated to people trading items in hopes of trading up to something “cool” (all without spending a dime).

After seeing all of this madness, I can’t help but think we’ve gone too far.

The reason I’m writing about this is because I had a silly thought after spending a couple of dollars on a breakfast a few weeks back.

I joined a friend for some food, caught up on things, and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with him. However, all I thought about for 5 minutes after the meal was how that $12 could have bought me breakfast (cooked at home) for the whole week!

I know…I told you it was silly. I was just being cheap!

While reality for some families dictate that they must be cheap in order to make ends-meet, there are many of us that look to save money by being “frugal” while in reality, you’re just being cheap.

I’m an advocate for saving money, being responsible, and investing so that you can retire comfortably, however there is a fine line between being frugal and being cheap.

12 Signs That You’ve Gone Too Far

1. You look for the free iTunes song as soon as you enter Starbucks.

Guilty.

2. You are an extreme couponer.

I’m sorry to all of my coupon fans out there, but unless you HAVE to do this, you’re just being cheap. There is absolutely NO REASON to stock up on 15 sticks of toothpaste and have enough toilet paper to wipe the entire army’s posterior.

3. You don’t have internet and/or texting on your cell phone.

Guilty.

Now, I realize that internet plans through the major carriers are expensive, however there are other offers out there that make it affordable.

A company called Page Plus Cellular offers a plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and 500 MB of data for $39.95 month! I freaking pay more for my talk/text plan at Sprint! However, I think I’m doing right in the name of frugality (because I’m saving money by not getting the internet) but in reality I’m just being cheap and lazy!

4. You avoid going out with friends.

Sure, some of your friends may spend far more money than you, make fun of you because you’re cheap (because you are), and they may not have a frugal bone in their body. However, do you always avoid going out with them? It’s not going to kill you to drop $5 on a Mocha Frappuccino and spend the morning chatting it up.

5. You forgot your thermostat was adjustable.

I know some people can’t afford the outrageous gas and electric bills, but are you constantly running fans, walking around the house without a shirt on, or sweating your buns off for the sake of saving a few dollars?

It’s terrible when I visit places and can’t sleep at night because I am too hot. Turn the freaking A/C on and stop being cheap! Of course I appreciate the hospitality and free stay though. :)

6. Fast food is your idea of a good meal.

I know we all love the fatty, artery-clogging, salty meals on occasion, but do me a favor, stop being cheap and take your wife out to a place where the chef isn’t still in high school.

7. You pick up pennies on the ground.

Guilty.

Hey man, it’s free money. What can I say?

8. You make purchasing decisions based on price.

Used to be guilty.

Most people know that you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t stop the cheapstakes out there! After learning my lesson more than a few times, we’re finally fine with paying more for something that we know will last (if it fits in the budget of course). Being cheap isn’t always the best way to go.

9. You walk through the store and are shocked by the prices.

Guilty.

When we were getting our house ready to sell, I saw a $30 wreath for your front door. $30?! What, does money grow on trees? I’ll take my $15 one, thank you very much!

10. You try to DIY regardless if you know what you’re doing.

Thankfully for me this isn’t a problem. I don’t know how to do anything and I’m more than glad to pay somebody to fix something for me. However, if you’re the self-proclaimed “jack of all trades” and the person that calls the repair man AFTER you messed it up more than it already was, just call him before you touch it and stop being cheap.

11. You drive around to find the cheapest gas prices.

This one has always cracked me up. Is saving an extra $.01-.02/gallon going to change your world? Even on a 20-gallon truck that’s only $.40 in savings! Here’s a better idea, sell the truck or get rid of the car payment, that’s more along the lines of being frugal instead of simply being cheap! Let’s not mention that you also wasted your gas AND time for the sake of $.40 = definition of being cheap.

12. You subscribe to multiple discount/coupon sites and email lists.

How do you have time for all of it? More often than not people use discounts and coupons to buy things they wouldn’t have otherwise! Although you’re being cheap you’re still wasting money!

Additions from the Readers

13. Tearing a stick of gum in half to save for later

via My Money Design

This one was just too good to pass up! If you tear a stick of gum in half, chew one half while putting the other one back in the wrapper for later, then you’re just being cheap! LOL. :)

14. Choosing a restaurant solely based on the “special”

via Modest Money

There is nothing wrong with getting a Groupon or heading to your favorite dive because it’s ’2 for 1 burger night’, but if you’re taking out a date (a first date at that) and chose the restaurant solely based on saving some money, then you’re being cheap!

I know that this is just a few, but what other good ones can you add?

Picture by FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

About the Author

By , on Jul 23, 2012
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of WorkSaveLive.com.

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{70 Comments}

  1. anon says:

    1. You look for the free iTunes song as soon as you enter Starbucks.

    Better (or worse). No Starbucks for me (or other take-out coffee. NesCafe at home in the morning and that’s it.

    2. You are an extreme couponer.

    Guilty.

    3. You don’t have internet and/or texting on your cell phone.

    Guilty. I do not have a paid cell plan at all actually. I use it to make free call via Internet only.

    4. You avoid going out with friends.

    I move often enough for this not to be a major issue. When you are in a different state every year it’s hard to have friends to go out with in the first place. However, when I’m invited somewhere I go and respect all the social conveninebces (bring baked goods, hostess gift, etc).

    5. You forgot your thermostat was adjustable.

    Not applicable. I rent, and everything is included.

    6. Fast food is your idea of a good meal.

    Better (or worse). No eating out, period (fast food classifies as eating out in my book). I cook at home and if I forgot my lunch going to work one day, I skip lunch altogether.

    7. You pick up pennies on the ground.

    Guilty.

    8. You make purchasing decisions based on price.

    Guilty. I haven’t bought new clothes at all the last year.

    9. You walk through the store and are shocked by the prices.

    Guilty. Although, rather than being shocked, if the price is not the one I want to pay, I just pass. Why wasting time being shocked?

    10. You try to DIY regardless if you know what you’re doing.

    Nope. Not because I wouldn’t love to (Internet can show you how to fix almost everything) but because I rent so I am not allowed to.

    11. You drive around to find the cheapest gas prices.

    Better (or worse). I do not have a car. The nearest store is about 2 km away. Sometimes I can get a drive from someone going shopping. Other times I walk. If neither is possible (snow storm for example), I go without (I keep my pantry well stocked when there are clearance sales).

    12. You subscribe to multiple discount/coupon sites and email lists.

    Absolutely. Not to the point of stocking up, but I *do* subscribe to multiple sites so that I am covered in the coupons area. They come in my mail (the paper carries them very, VERY rarely). And I can select online only those coupons I know I will use.

    Additions from the Readers

    13. Tearing a stick of gum in half to save for later via My Money Design

    No chewing gum, no problem:)

    14. Choosing a restaurant solely based on the “special” via Modest Money

    No eating out for me. Yes, choosing it based on the “special” if I take someone else out.

  2. deanoman says:

    Lol, it seems like I am guilty of almost everything on your list except driving around for gas.
    A few that I am guilty of that were not on the list:
    1. Avoiding vehicle maintenance. I would rather purchase a 4 dollar bottle of oil and top off, than spend 20 on an oil change. (I’m getting better at this one though.)
    2. Keeping the crumbs from cereal and chips to make a coating for fried foods.
    3. Hoarding things that I may “need” later. I have baby food jars from when my 7 yr old was a baby. I know. It is a serious problem.
    4. Buying anything at the Just a Dollar Store. I cant help myself, I love the place.
    Sheesh, I guess my wife was right. I am cheap.

  3. I think as long as it’s not a compulsion that you absolutely can’t stop then you should just do what pleases you and your family. One of the big problems with our society is that people care too much what other people think of them. If you like saving money so you can stop working early and have like to cut as many corners as possible, good for you!

    The only problem I have is when people think they are saving money when they are actually not being frugal. Like a friend of mine who burns candles instead of turning on the light without realising it’s about 10 times more expensive!

  4. Most of these can be avoided with the simple use of free apps e.g. driving around for the cheapest gas, tons of coupon email, no internet on phone… All of the above took me a few seconds of using Google wondering if such an app existed.

  5. David says:

    How about “Wondering if the cat will fit in the crock pot”. I think about this sometimes when he scratches the carpet or furniture instead of his scratch pad.

  6. Mary says:

    I’m guilty of a number of these, but the real kick in the pants came when I found myself saying no to meeting up with friends in order to save money. Now, I generally avoid dinners out, and instead offer to cook dinner at my house or order the cheapest beer or dessert on the menu, but I never say no to spending time with friends just due to money.

    • Andy says:

      Good for you, Mary! It’s awesome when friends understand and are willing to hang out with you without breaking the bank. It takes friends that live a similar lifestyle though…

  7. Cassie says:

    I spent my 3rd year of university washing all of my clothes in by bathtub because I refused to pay for laundry. This resulted in my occasionally buying new clothes because I didn’t have time to either washer or dry them. I definitely cost myself more than I saved in the long run.

  8. These are all really great and I think while in many cases I am an extreme frugalist out of neccessity, I would like many other be guilty of being cheap at times.

    I do not have an air conditioner and I have NEVER had a cell phone ( yeah I know this will leave me behind my times but hey it is just a bill I do not want!)

    I pick up pennies, returnable cans and ANY THING metal ( hey it can be turned in to a recycling center for money!)

    I think being CHEAP though, are ones that will go out to eat at a restraunt and then swipe all the condiments for home use! I don’t think they have a clue that this just passes the prices on to other paying customers in the form of highter food prices!

    Great Posts~

  9. Haha oohhhh my gosh, I am guilty of SO MANY of these. I’m a totally penny picker upper who loves to DIY and is always avoiding going out (but that one is because I hate going out haha – I’m so lame). But, I do know that I’m cheap but I do try to be generous by always tipping 20% etc. so that’s how I try to balance it out! :)
    Best,
    Cat
    aka
    BudgetBlonde

    • Andy says:

      LOL. After writing this up I had to admit to myself that I’m cheap. …I’d like to think that I’m wise with money and not solely cheap, but certainly cheap by today’s culture and our society.

  10. Good lost, I do get shocked by price all the time and I do pick up occasional pennies if I find them. still I don’t consider myself cheap. I am just frugal. I request you to pick up pennies if you find them, you’ll actually help environment.

  11. Eddie says:

    Some of these are pretty funny, and so true.
    The handyman (DIY) is so true, and I certainty don’t mind paying someone to do a good job. Sometimes though it’s hard to find someone who does a good job, everyone claims it, but very few are quality.

  12. I am guilty of some of those, but not that many. My barometer is my family. When they tell me I am cheap, I listen because, for me, it usually means I am not being gracious in some way toward others. When saving a few dollars is of higher importance than treating people well (which does not include spending money), it means I have my priorities mixed up.

  13. Riley says:

    I have no doubts that I have made many decisions using the “it’s cheaper” deciding factor. As I get older, I’ve started to look more at the bigger picture and realized the most important thing involved in decisions should value. To me being frugal is about finding the best value, even if that means you are selecting a more expensive option. You have to consider the long-term ramifications of decisions (costs) for each decisions before you can make the choice that provides the most value.

    I also don’t have internet on my phone. Can’t say that I miss having it either, I already spend way too much time on the internet as it is. We don’t have internet on our phones for the same reason we don’t have cable. If we had them both I would spend way too much time plastered to my phone or to the TV screen to ever get anything done. I figure I have access to the internet 85-90% of my waking hours, so why do I need to pay the same amount I for the last 10-15% as I did for the 85-90%. It’s all personal choice, but it is important for me and my family to disconnect and remove distractions so we can focus on what is important.

  14. Great post. Some of these definitely made me laugh. I like to be frugal but not cheap. We spend on the things that matter and save on the things we don’t. This philosophy seems to work quite well. I don’t think we have gone too far though. Most of these things on the list we are not guilty of.

  15. Shilpan says:

    I’ve been guilty of doing what MMD did. You are right about extreme frugality. It can impact your thoughts negatively by not allowing you to think big and dream big. Everything is good in moderation.

  16. Katie says:

    I am guilty of 8,9, and 10. I always go for the lower price even though I know I am getting lower quality. And I try to do everything possible DIY to save a buck.

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