That was just one of several jokes at my expense lately. My husband likes to leave change around and see how long it takes me to pocket the coins.
Have I crossed the line between ‘frugal’ and ‘cheapskate?’
I find myself drawn to reading or watching shows about people living at extremes — tiny homes or mansions; hoarders or minimalists; people who spends lavishly and extreme cheapskates.
Is part of the fascination a need to make sure I am situated squarely in the middle? Is either extreme worse than the other?
Being Frugal is a Mindset
For me, being frugal has always come naturally. I don’t like to pay more for the same level of satisfaction with something. When I was a child, I remember going to fancy restaurants and ordering a grilled cheese sandwich many times. I was happy with the sandwich — it filled me, it was something I knew I liked, and it was usually the least expensive thing on the menu. I also remember going to a toy store with my sister. We were each given some amount — I think $20 — to buy something of our choice. She bought a lovely $20 doll. I bought a little $5 doll and put the rest in savings.
If I go to a store and find something at a lower price than I paid elsewhere, I almost feel like I was ripped off having to pay more for the identical product. I hate wasting anything, and try to come up with other ways to make do or use something else before going out to buy anything new. When I do go out to buy something, it is after I have researched to compare prices, checked for any available discounts or sales, looked for ‘used’ options, and when I can combine the trip with other errands to save fuel. To me this is not extreme, and I feel better about the purchase knowing I got the best price.
So Where is the Line?
My husband asked where our great new spoons came from the other day. They were a nice weight and attractive, and a matching set of six. My parents gave us money to buy a set of silverware a couple years ago, but I still haven’t found a whole set I like. Meanwhile, we keep running out of spoons before the rest of the dishes need to be washed. I hesitated to respond that they were from a bin of loose silverware in the thrift store.
That led to a discussion of what is ok or not to buy used. Sheets, for instance. He said it would bother him to buy someone’s used sheets. I pointed out that when we stay at a nice hotel, many thousands have used the sheets before us. In fact, the ones at the thrift store may have only ever been used by one or two people. Boy did that conversation end abruptly!
The mysterious line between frugal and cheap seems to be largely personal. There are also many cultural stigmas attached to items or situations. For instance, most of us would cringe to think of someone giving a gift of flowers that were just going to be discarded after a funeral. Yet the flowers themselves are fresh, expensive and lovely. What if we were not to give them as a gift, but take them for our own home rather than have them be discarded?
Other times we draw the line due to hygienic issues. Someone at the table across from us leaves their takeout container. It is just going to be discarded. Would we take it? Probably not, since they could have an illness that is contagious. What if it wasn’t something on their plate? What about a stack of untouched tortillas? Could we feel comfortable asking if we could take them home? They are already paid for and just going to be tossed out.
What is the difference between giving something we love that is considered an ‘heirloom’ versus giving something else we have loved and used? If you take leftover ingredients and make them into a new dish, is it still considered ‘leftovers?’ Is it wasteful to pay to get your nails done when you are perfectly capable of reaching them yourself?
Is there a real line between frugal and cheap, or is it more of a personal decision based on life experience and circumstance?
I think the latter is true, but it also makes us very inconsistent. I will make myself eat something I really don’t like, to ‘use it up.’ I will make my husband batches of homemade peanut butter cups so he doesn’t buy them at the convenience store every day. But I also own more yarn than I can knit over my lifetime, and have many more clothes than I need or wear.
Are you extravagant, frugal or cheap? Where do you draw the line between saving money and being just too plain cheap?