Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"There's frugal and then there's being a cheap-ass".

My pal Frugal Zeitgeist has a way with words, doesn't she? That is a quote from her comment on my post about how a single and couple should share expenses. But it can apply to so many other situations! How do you define the difference between being frugal and being a cheap-ass? I noticed some debate about this on a post at The Simple Dollar about ways to spend less money on personal hygiene. Some commenters thought melting down remnants of deodorants in the microwave to combine them into a single usable deodorant somehow crossed the line. I personally don't want to spend time microwaving my old deodorants, but I don't think anyone who does so is cheap-- that to me still stays in the realm of frugality.
I think one key difference may be that it's frugal when you're cutting corners on things that affect only you, but it's cheap when other people are involved. For instance: I might eat sardines on toast for dinner sometimes as a frugal (and lazy) alternative to ordering take-out. But if I had guests over and served them sardines on toast, I think that would be cheap.
What about other things? Is regifting frugal or cheap? Is the guy who gives his girlfriend a Canal Street imitation of the designer bag she's been coveting frugal or cheap? Is dumpster-diving frugal or cheap? (And is being a "cheap-ass" way, way worse than just being "cheap?")
Let's hear your frugal/cheap stories, readers!


frugal zeitgeist said...

Your post gave me a laugh; I'm glad you liked that comment. ;-)

To me, impact on self vs. impact on others is the difference between being frugal and being a cheap-ass. That's not to say that one has to (or even should) spend excessive amounts of money on entertaining guests, but I think it's common courtesy to go to some effort to make guests feel special and appreciated. Also, it goes without saying - even though I'm going to say it - that taking advantage of other people for the sake of saving a few bucks is definitely evidence of gratuitous cheap-assery.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Oh yeah, you asked for cheap-ass stories. I've got one. Back in the days when airplanes had teeny-tiny bars of Ivory soap in the bathrooms, someone I know swiped a huge stash. When faced with the need to buy a birthday present for someone else, this person (NOT me) mulled over her options and then came up with the following:

--three sheets of the colored buy-by-the-sheed stationery that was so popular at the time
--six or seven plain white envelopes (the kind that come in boxes of 100; I think she just got them from the drawer at home or something)
--a handful of Ivory soaps from the airplane.

Total cost: About $0.60. While I don't think it's important to spend a lot of money on gifts, that was a gift that says Hi! I'm a cheap-ass, and in addition, I put no thought into this whatsoever. Not surprisingly, the friend's mom didn't really encourage the friendship after that.

On another topic you asked about, I'm a fan of the regift as long as it's done right: the original giver shouldn't know, the gift should be something the recipient will truly enjoy, and it would be best to be up front and honest about the fact that it's a regift.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Sheed, sheet, whatever.

Him said...

I think that being a cheap-ass means that you're cheap, you see that it strains relationships, and you still brag about it. Being cheap could be more of a personal thing, where you're not really meaning to be cheap, but you want to save money on everything. Or something.

I'd rather be frugal than cheap, but I'd definitely be either than being a cheap-ass.

It's funny that it's profanity that gets me to comment.

VixenOnABudget said...

I can't stand cheap people. They are often embarassing. They are the ones that come in to restaurants and try to haggle over the set price of food. Or, they eat nearly all of a perfectly good steak, leave a broccoli, one bite of mashed potatoes and claim they didn't care for the meal. They are the ones who try to ask us waitresses if they can have free dessert... for no reason.

Ugh. They make my life difficult.

Anonymous said...

-Frugal is bringing your lunch to work; Cheap-ass is inviting your extended family to a picnic, and then trying to charge $5/person for the meal (true story).

Cheap-ass is trying to get away with paying less for a meal/rental car/activity than a single person, because you're part of a couple.

Of course, cheap-ass is also giving away 'freebies' from high-class hotels as, and then bragging about it to the recipients! (also a true story.)

Frugal is doing what feels right for your financial circumstances, and cheap-ass is taking advantage of others to save yourself a little cash.

Tom said...

Ugh, being a cheap-ass is never fun. I've had countless friends who had money but would NOT spend a penny and act poor, hoping you'd give them cash. It gets old quick.

Mrs. Micah said...

Cheap-ass is charging people to come to your wedding. Or writing a suggested donation on the invitation. Or griping afterwards that someone's gift didn't cover their meal.

It's your party--you don't have to invite people if it's a financial hardship or you can have a cheaper one or you can just throw the party as a celebration instead of being a cheap assh*le.

I have quality friends, but when planning for the wedding I saw brides discussing this.

NoFearingTheMoney said...

Frugal is keeping your thermostat lower in the winter and putting on a sweater to save some money.

Cheap is turning the thermostat so low that your family does not feel they can comfortably remove their coats when they come to your house during the winter. (true story)

Cheap-ass is asking your family members why they don't take off said coats, having them tell you that it is as cold in your house as it is outside and you not moving to turn up the thermostat. (also a true just can't make this stuff up)

Anonymous said...

I have a similar story about the thermostat, but perhaps different circumstances. My brother was so poor in grad school that he kept it low so when I visited, I could barely sleep I was freezing. He was having a tough time making ends meet, and instead of making him feel bad about it, I just wore more sweaters.

Cheap is when someone pays for a meal check with a credit card, everyone chips in their share, and the payer then charges to his/her company as a business expense for reimbursement. And a college landlord who turned off the heat during winter break, thinking tenants were away, when some of us stayed on campus to work to pay tuition. (He also went away, so we couldn't call him to turn it back on.)

T'Pol said...

I belong to a group of former co-workers. We get together on an alomost monthly basis. Living in Istanbul/Turkey, we like to go to nice and pricey fish restaurants by the Bosphorus. Each time we end up paying the equivalent of 80-90 dollars per person for dinner which is expensive. However, since it is a rare occassion none of us really minds the cost. There is one of us however, who almost always questions the bill, pretendes that he has no cash so he does not have to chip in for the tip. There has been times he showed up without his wallet which he conveniently forgot at work. Actually he is probably the richest person in the group because he inherited quite a big fortune just last year. He is also known to have purchased a summer home and an SUV for his mistress. So, I guess this makes him a "semi-cheap-ass?

Anonymous said...

His mistress? A semi-cheapass and an adulterer.

NoFearingTheMoney said...

@Anon: trust me, VERY different circumstances from my example. I don't consider your brother cheap, just in dire straits. Doing all that you can to help yourself when you are in dire straits (without deliberately using/hurting others) is not cheap, in my opinion. It's just smart allocation of (limited)resources. If it were my brother, I would have done the same thing.

Fecundity said...

I also agree that if something affects only yourself, you're being frugal and if it affects others you're being cheap. But I think there is one other factor. If you're looking only at dollar cost and not at value, chances are you're being cheap. Buying a $300 washing machine that eats energy and will have to be replaced in three years is being cheap. Shelling out $1000 for a washer that is energy efficient and will last ten years is being frugal.

My grandparents would go to five different stores every weekend to save $0.05 a can on cat food. Considering the boat they were driving at the time, they spent far more than they saved in gas, not to mention the extra harm they were causing the environment. In my opinion, that qualifies as cheap.

ylfoo said...

It seems like a thin line between being frugal and cheap.

I have the same sentimentals with regards to the sandines on toast in your post.

Similarly saving a meal for yourself is frugual while not returning money to people who had paid for your meal is cheap.

Anyway your post has given me a laugh. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Im dating a guy that we have been seeing each other for 2-years and he has taken me out to a restraunt once and when the bill came he said look how much it is? I was shocked and disgusted and one time it was my birthday and I met him at this show he was playing at and he did not offer me a drink once instead he was trying to drink my beer. He makes close to 100k a year and buys everything generic and has all hand down furniture. Is he trying to just save money or does this sound like a straight up cheap ass?

The Innovative Traveler said...

There's lots of freegans in the city dumpster diving for anything from bagels to watches to an entire 4-course meal and there's even tours you can take in Manhattan on how to do so. I've gotten coffee tables, art, chairs, and books off the street. I think that's fine. I think giving it to someone and saying "Here, picking up this garbage made me think of you. Happy Birthday." Is way cheap and disrespectful. However, fixing it up and staining it and putting my heart in soul in it? Priceless.

I generally agree that if it effects other people negatively, it's not your God given right to impose one's righteous frugalism on someone else.

However, I have found my friends dirt cheap accommodations or airfare and they think way kindly of my frugalnicity.


Anonymous said...

Cheap ass is being an upper income family and making your kids go to the fast food bathroom to drink water from the sink, because you do not want to pay for drinks.

It is cutting off all the heat in the house except the kitchen and main bedrooms, and making the kids wear coats and hats to watch Frosty the Snowman on TV.

It is washing dental floss and using it time and again and making everyone use baking soda instead of toothpaste cause it's cheaper.

It's not a big deal if you are poor. It says something else when you are not and even the poor kids have more than two pairs of jeans to wear to school.

Feel free to live as frugal as you like, but do not force your kids to like like street bums or they grow up and marry abusive partners or move far away and never come home where they feel like dirt.