I recently heard about a show called Extreme Cheapskates that sounded like it might be full of interesting money saving tips.
I watched a few episodes on Netflix while I was washing dishes. Man, some of the folks profiled on that show aren’t just frugal – they’re nuts! They are stealing from restaurants, embarrassing people, violating rules of hospitality and more!
After watching one over-dramatized, hyped-up scene after another showing Cheapskates Behaving Badly I thought, “someone needs to tell these folks what is and isn’t ok!”
And thus was this list born.
Dos and Don’ts for Cheapskates
Do look for efficiencies in how you use money, energy and time. Mind the pennies, crumbs and minutes and the dollars, loaves and hours will look after themselves.
Don’t not get so caught up in optimizing efficiencies in one area that you become highly inefficient in another. In other words, spending 7 hours of time to save $3 is probably a very unfrugal activity depending on your situation.
Do shop thrift stores, and utilize websites like Freecycle and Craigslist. It is both ethical and frugal to reduce the consumerist waste stream and save money. Charity thrift stores typically help their community with the money that comes from the used goods they sell. Their charitable action is not providing reduced cost clothing and household goods to the community. Therefore it is ethical for people of any income level to thrift shop.
Don’t buy or take stuff you don’t need and will never need, just because it is very cheap or free. Clutter is not a good deal.
Do give yourself a waiting period before buying things, and research the best solution to the problem you are trying to solve by purchasing something.
Don’t refuse to spend all money on reasonable necessities for yourself or your family. Reasonable necessities include clothes that fit and are situationally appropriate, and whatever toiletries are necessary to keep you from being unhygienic and stinky.
Do feel free to garbage pick and dumpster dive if you are personally comfortable with these acts. The amount of perfectly usable food and goods that gets thrown away in the US is unethical.
Don’t feed unsuspecting people food from a dumpster. No, not even if it is perfectly wholesome. No, not even if it is a sealed package. You cannot do this because it violates ethics of hospitality to make your guests uncomfortable, and most people are uncomfortable with dumpster dived food. If your guests are just as comfortable with cuisine de trashcan as you are, that’s totally fine. Honesty and transparency are key here.
Do know your local laws regarding dumpster diving and trash picking.
Don’t violate reasonable property boundaries to dumpster dive. Do not dumpster dive from business that really, truly don’t want you in their trash, as opposed to “wink, wink, nudge nudge” signs near unlocked dumpsters full of bread that say “Not For Human Consumption.” Do not ever leave a mess behind you if you dumpster dive.
Do forage wild and public lands for fruit, nuts, greens, and the like.
Do meet your neighbors, scout for good mature fruit trees in your community, and ask to glean fruit that would otherwise go to waste.
Don’t take edibles from other people’s gardens without asking, ever.
Do save money by cooking at home and minimizing dining out.
Don’t under tip your waitstaff if their service was acceptable. In most urban areas, an 18-20% gratuity in a full service restaurant is culturally standard. Don’t go out to eat unless you are prepared to pay this aspect of the bill.
Do choose less expensive options if you dine out. It is perfectly ethical to ask for just water as a beverage, to order an appetizer instead of an entree, or to split an entree with a dining companion.
Don’t steal from a restaurant. Stealing is unethical. This means: do not pay for three plates in a buffet setting if 5 people will be dining. Do not take ketchup and sugar packets from a restaurant to use at home. Do not complain about perfectly acceptable food to get something taken off the bill. Do not steal copper Moscow Mule mugs from a bar (this one makes you a commonplace hipster douche as well as a thief). Do not drop a cafe’s forks or napkins in your purse. Do not take cookbooks, decor, bathroom light fixtures or giant stuffed bears. Just don’t. Do. Not. Steal. It’s not yours. Don’t.
Do ask to take home your own leftovers.
Don’t ask to take home stranger’s leftovers. This is embarrassing to people.
Getting The Deal
Do ask for a better price. Be polite, and just ask. If you want, think of this as haggling.
Haggle for anything:
- You’ll be buying with all cash: “What is the price if I pay with cash?” is like the secret key to get discounts.
- You’ll be buying in bulk: “If I order 100 pounds, what kind of a price break can you offer?”
- For anything that is slightly damaged: “I noticed this grease stain on this shirt. I love the color, but since I’ll need to have it dry cleaned is there any way to knock the price down?”
- For recurring service charges (phone bill, internet, etc.): “Let’s find a way to better optimize this bill.”
Always ask for a better price on a hotel room (“Is this your absolute best rate? XYZ Hotel three miles down the road is offering a mini suite for $95. Could you go lower?”) and of course negotiate when you buy your next used car.
Don’t browbeat, berate, threaten, or refuse to take no for an answer. If a store employee can’t discount something, he can’t. Don’t be a jerk about it. He may literally not be able to enter discounts in the point of sale machine. Either you are willing to pay the price or you aren’t.
Do barter. Bartering is trading something that has value for something else that has value without involving money. The “something of value” could be a good (table, car, timeshare) or service (any professional or trade skill). So, if you are going to barter, figure out what valuable goods or skills you have that others might want. As an example, I know how to professionally cater but I’m not a very good house painter. I could barter wedding catering for house painting and potentially get an expensive house repaint without spending a dime.
Don’t cheat. Make sure the good or service you’re interested in bartering has real value. If you are offering your professional-level skill at something in an exchange, make sure you are professional level. Trade and barter fair and everyone can come away happy.
The Bottom Line
The famous legal adage, “Your right to swing your arm ends where another man’s nose begins,” applies to cheapness as much as to anything else. Frugality, recognizing as it does the multi-faceted nature of value, is always a virtue, but miserliness begins to smack of obsession. The cheapskate’s right to be as obsessed as they will with the pinching of their pennies ends where that obsession harms another.
So be as frugal as you want without embarrassing people, stealing from them, or taking advantage of them.
What would you put on a list of Cheapskate Dos and Don’ts?