Dos and Don’ts for Cheapskates

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.

Don’t trespass.

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.

Dining Out

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?


  1. says

    As a big garage picker (and I have found some cool stuff over the years) I have a new rule.

    Sometimes, people throw things out because they are in fact broken. Duh. But when I throw something out now I label what the problem is with a quick and dirty sign…warning….”chair leg is broken:…..or, “belt on toy car snapped” so I don’t waste other peoples time picking up stuff they may not realize is broken.

    It was quite embarrassing once when I picked up a plastic lime green chair in the garage, discovered it was missing a piece in the back and fell on my butt. So I threw it out. Then my neighbors picked it out of my garbage and did the same! oops. Felt a little bad about that one.

    • atasteofcreole says

      “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.”

      In MOST cities in the US it is ILLEGAL to bin-dive. Check with law enforcement as a night in jail will cost more than what you could possibly save.

      In addition, be wary. Hubby works at a major grocery chain and at 3 different stores he helped at after major weather incidents ALL frozen, meat, produce and seafood were thrown out and the next am when he was pulling out bales to back for pick up when he had to call police as the local RESTAURANTS were digging through the bin! The local chinese, mexican and sandwich joint had U-Haul trucks!!

      Buyer BEWARE!

  2. Victoria says

    Good rules to follow. I like to be cost conscious and negotiate the best prices but I really dislike cheap behavior. On the same subject I believe it just as important to be generous with those who have a need they are unable to obtain on their own. Like your blog…great ideas. Thanks for all your good ideas and for sharing your talent. P.S. In the 3rd paragraph under General, did you mean to say NOT providing reduced cost clothing?

    • says

      I did! I was trying to address a common misconception – that the good of thrift stores is in the selling of less expensive used goods, and that therefore only people in poverty should shop in thrift stores. In fact, all sales support the real charity aspects of most non-profit thrift shops, such as job training, support for abused women, or assistance to the homeless. So my point is, it’s ethically ok for you to get a good deal on lightly used jeans at the thrift shop even if you could, theoretically, afford to buy those same jeans new at full retail price.

      • says

        I’ve only read a little bit into being green when it comes to clothing consumption, but it seems that even if we CAN afford the full price option, we should probably re-use clothing when possible. I’m not 100% sure if this is true, but I read somewhere along the way that the US’s culture of buying new clothes every season is creating economic issues in other countries. When we donate massive amounts of clothing to “less fortunate” countries we’re killing their ability to create, market and sell their own stuff. It’s a complicated issue, but reading about that stuff has really made me think more about being a better steward when it comes to clothing.

      • Natalie says

        I love that you included the bit about non-profit thrift stores. After working as a supervisor in a non-profit thrift store, I can assure you that this misconception is alive and well. I would also add another “Don’t” to your list. Don’t demand unreasonably low prices or try to bargain at non-profit thrift stores. Their goal is to make money to be used to provide those charitable actions. The thrift store that I worked at tried to save forty cents of every dollar taken in to spend on the social services we provided. The other sixty cents was used to pay staff and pay for the operating costs of the building (electricity, garbage pick up, etc.) Every time a customer gets a crazy bargain less money is saved to put towards the social services.

  3. Tina Street says

    Do Learn to FIX things. Repair holes, strip furniture, paint, put in a toilet, fix a faucet, change an outlet, repair a lamp, mend a seam, sew a button. I grew up with depression era parents “Fix it up, wear it out. Make it do or do without.”
    And Do be generous, it all comes back.

    • Claire says

      I agree with this! Whenever we fix something my partner and I declare ‘we’re MAKING money’. Usually it’s because he has fixed an appliance that most people would discard and buy another – he has nursed along our computer monitor and keyboard for years this way. Its a good feeling.

      I also feel virtuous because I bake our bread – I did the sums and I was suprised that I’m saving about $500 a year. Good bread is expensive here, but easy to bake.

      • Gina says

        I bake bread, and wanted to bake more for our home use, but my homebaked bread seems to mold really quickly. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to get a loaf of bread to last longer?

  4. Margaret says

    When looking for discounts BE POLITE! It takes you so much further. For clothing I ask “does the price reflect this hole/missing button/ etc?” Also be clear in what you want. I lowered my internet bill and told the customer service rep (after they offered a few not-so-good combo deals) “I’m looking to lower my internet rate to the promotional rate $xx, is there someone I could speak to who could do that so you could keep me as a customer?” I was transfered right through to some supervisor who cut my bill. (Notice demanding to speak to a supervisor, not as effective, this way it is clear to the employee I’m not mad at them I just need a service they aren’t allowed to provide)

  5. Lestie says

    A very interesting article with much to think about in general. Thank you.

    I would like to add that frugal thinking can make a person small minded; mean (even with themselves); unimaginative and depressingly dull. The thing is to guard against developing a frugal heart and mind as a result of having to live frugally.

    When frugal living is not being wasteful and living simply and socially, all is well, it is when it turns that the problems can start. The thing is a person has to be on constant guard – I have found it is like the boiled frog syndrome … just suddenly it may become apparent.

    Frugal living is fine and good when it is good – but bad when it is horrid.

    Thank you

    • says

      I think you’re looking at the line between ‘cheap’ and ‘frugal’. I read frugal as a desire to stretch one’s resources to make the most of a situation- I practice frugal living in an expansive kind of way, thinking more about what a frugal choice may allow me to do (ie: I saved $100+ by starting my plants from seed instead of buying starts. I can buy some extra pots and start extras for friends). Cheap is that other side of the line you speak of- when one is, say, refusing to have friends for dinner because of the cost. Cheap is when expenditures are withheld to the detriment of one’s community :) But you’re right. It’s important to stay generous in spirit even if frugal in cash.

    • Jack Hill says

      I agree with much of what you say here, but I take exception with the idea that frugality makes a person small-minded, mean (even with themselves); unimaginative and depressingly dull. I’ve found as a result of being frugal a much greater propensity toward creativity. You have to find a way to make due with what you have, or with having limited options.
      For example, we had never had new furniture, but our home was always comfortable and welcoming (notice I didn’t say it’s always clean! That’s close to impossible when you have 7 kids! And that’s part of the reason we never had new furniture!) Due to extended family situations, we had a point where we had relatively unlimited funds to purchase new living room furniture. We couldn’t make up our minds! Too many options, still trying to make wise purchases, and wanting it to hold up for years to come with still having a pile of small kids around! The room came out great, but we found we like approaching things with a whole lot less cash, and utilizing our creativity more.

      • Lestie says

        Hello Jack and thanks for your comments. Oh dear – I am sorry that I was not able to articulate my thoughts very well. When I said “the thing is to guard against developing a frugal heart and mind as a result of having to live frugally,” I didn’t mean that just because you live frugally that you become small minded etc. I meant that one has to guard against becoming small minded etc.

        A case in point is my once-upon-a-time neighbour whom I will call Bill for the sake of this post.

        We all lived in Frugal Street in Frugalton on the edge of Frugalcity and for the most part were creative about making do with what we had, stretching our pennies, sharing and supporting and helping. If I had extra apples I would swap them for some knitting or baking or whatever as did others in our area. We used to have swap meetings every two months or so , hosted at a different house which were ‘cheap’ but really nice opportunities for socialising and playing and finding stuff that we could use that others had finished with – you know, the usual story.

        Well, when Bill and his wife and his family (two children and Granny) moved in, all was well for a few months. To cut a long story short, things started to get uncomfortable after a while as Bill started to complain that they gave ‘apples’ but didn’t get a fair exchange. They felt short changed and then started to ‘short change’ others in our large and loose group. They became unpopular and our once friendly neighbourhood started to fall apart in a way. People attending the swap meets dwindled, fewer parties stepped up to help with school pickups etc. and so on. People started to make excuses and help in general just nearly dried up.

        I can be outspoken (as we all can be) and I took it upon myself to visit Bill and ask him to stop coming to our meetings and social days. I won’t give more detail of the difficulty of that meeting, but the upshot of it was he seemed to think that we all owed him something more, that life was unfair and that it was stupid to think you could swap a pound of apples for some knitting. He was frustrated that he had had to downsize and consequently needed to live on a limited salary. He ‘said’ that he would make sure that he ‘got his pound of flesh’ in return for any effort he made.

        I actually think that Bill and his family were as nice as we all are really, but that his reduced circumstances had changed his thinking and therefore his personality.

        That was what I was suggesting in my initial post, as I still do – guard against becoming frugal-hearted and petty as a result of living frugally. I have since moved out of the area but still live carefully and enjoy making do – and I do so with love, creativity and respect to my family and to my friends, neighbours and contacts. I do not want to sound as if I just wear rose-tinted glasses, I don’t; and I am not a goody two shoes, living simply can often be testing and hard and I have to do without often enough to keep me on my toes.

        Thanks anyway everyone for a very interesting exchange of ideas.

  6. greg says

    Thank you for posting the ethical aspects of how to look for a good deal in my experience
    people who are extremely frugal only look at their side of things, when negotiating they
    drive super hard bargin but if you were to buy a good or service from them they always
    maximize the amount they get paid, its as if they are the only ones who deserve a fair
    wage and every one else is just out to rip people off. Kudos to people who fix things I can make meals from random items in the pantry but outside of changing a tire I cant fix anything.

  7. Alicia says

    I’d suggest: DO have a list of your money-saving priorities in mind, so that you don’t waste time on a low priority while something more important gets neglected.

    (Learned that this week, when I spent my free time making your amazing Meyer lemon curd recipe, but then had to buy bread because we were out. But damn, that curd is fantastic.)

    • Alicia says

      Hrm, I guess I just restated your second point. Was thinking more about the need to figure out your priorities in advance, so you don’t have those inefficiencies. :)

    • Karen says

      Ha! That curd IS fantastic!!! Skip the loaf of bread and whip up some cream scones. Ridiculously easy and way tastier with curd than mere bread. :)

  8. Betsy True says

    You are so on point with this post. I think the Cheapskate Gazette also addressed this issue. Frugality can be the smart use of your available resources as long as you are not making someone else pay your way.
    On barter: I like to use barter for home grown goods because then when I feel that the other person is charging a premium for their product, I can also charge a premium for mine. Our honey has become a second currency and the inflated value of both products in the trade is balanced.
    I love this blog.

  9. treatlisa says

    I would like to put in a good word for quality… Sometimes it seems we can get caught up in ‘cheap’ and lose sight of what a good deal real quality can be. I consider myself frugal with not wasting food, resources etc., but I am a stickler for ‘buying the good one’ instead of ‘the cheap one’. I don’t mind paying for quality.

    • says

      I second that. I’ve definitely learned my lesson about buying cheap junk vs. shelling out for quality. On-sale non-stick pans vs. cast iron, for instance. Or Ikea particleboard vs. solid furniture. Sometime the option’s not there, but boy is it worth it if you have the option!

      • Sanj says

        Yes, I agree! And we can often get these high quality items at thrift stores – we just have to search carefully.
        Great article, Erica! Other benefits to reusing/ recycling/ upcycling besides the ones already listed (reduced cost, helping a charity group, avoiding causing multiple kinds of problems in other countries) include keeping these items out of landfills, practicing local living, teaching by example, and inviting one’s mind to be creative. Creativity is neuroprotective, so this habit is an investment in one’s future.

  10. Sheryl says

    Well said – It’s important to note that ethics is an indispensable commodity in a “free” society. Thanks for this great list.

  11. Jillian says

    I like this list very much, even though I really really suck at frugality myself. I aspire to become more frugal, of course, but I am so not there yet!

    My one comment relates to your point about foraging on wild and public lands. I almost didn’t comment because I’m struggling to come up with a succinct rewriting, but I think it needs revision to include balancing your foraging needs against the overarching need for wild lands to be left wild as well as the risk for over foraging particularly on public lands. I’m thinking of the classic admonition against picking flowers when you’re hiking – what if everyone picked one? Soon enough, they’re all gone.

  12. Kat says

    I grew up with depression-era parents who had opposite reactions to the hardships they endured as children. My step-dad was so free with his money he was wasteful, and died in utter poverty. My mom was so tight that she often crossed the line from waste-not, want-not into taking advantage of other people’s good will (or obedience in the case of her children), in order to save, and glean, and build herself a commodity security buffer. Turned her into a controlling and often mean person, and a hoarder to boot. I remember one time when she sent my older sister and myself (12 and 9 respectively) out across a busy divided highway (1-84, outside of Portland) to collect a 50 lb. bag of flour that had fallen off a transport truck. Sure, she scored the flour, but she endangered our lives to do it. She was always asking “favors” that assumed other people had nothing better to do with their time than to save her money. That is a trap, and it damaged her relationships with others. I learned a lot of good, frugal practices from her that I use to this day, but people are more important than money. Always.

    • Sue says

      Yes! Never, ever put saving a buck ahead of your family’s health, safety and well being! Well said! :)

    • cptacek says

      My grandma is this way. She “stole” half the oil rights from a piece of property my parents bought. She got re-married to the nicest guy after my grandpa died, and he had a large farm. He is renting it to my brother to help him get started (my brother is just out of college and just starting farming), and letting him use the equipment for free. Grandma wants to sell the equipment and the land and take it all away from my brother, though they are rolling in it now and don’t need the money…

  13. Sue says

    I’ve read this now three or four times thinking about what I’d add, but really you’ve caught it all. Things I’d add would just give detail or suggestions for specific situations, like being part of a group in a restaurant.
    Your “don’t s” really still come down to the golden rule, or, don’t be a jerk, funny how often that is really the key.
    If I were to add one thing, I might add DO NOT JUDGE or LECTURE OTHERS on how they choose to spend their money. You do not know someone else’s situation and it is not your place to tell them how to live.

  14. Catherine says

    Some great ideas. In my small North West Community, we need to practice a thrifty lifestyle. It’s a long and dangerous road to the grocery store, so we buy in bulk, double up on town visits for medical and groceries, give each other rides to town, pick up parcels and try to help each other out as best we can. Some families participate in the Community Garden, they fish and prawn, gather blackberries and blueberries. We also have a small Thrift Store where small housewares can be purchased at a very low price, and a Free Store where the Public can put items out for someone else to take home. Our School has taken advantage of the Farm to School Program, providing healthy, homemade lunches to kids regardless of whether the family can pay or not, and has a simple breakfast every day. The Senior’s Center provide workers for both programs.

    • Sanj says

      Awwww. (That was a sad picture.) You’re right, Rick. Golden rule again: don’t take advantage of someone. Be thoughtful and kind.
      But also a bigger point: Couples ought to work out a mutually acceptable plan for their finances, and cover such points as understanding where the money comes from, who pays for what and when, taking turns, sharing… it’s all part of living ethically.

  15. lulu says

    Another is if don’t inconvenience others with your methods, eg if you shop with hundreds of doubling and tripling coupons, don’t go at rush hour and don’t use the express lane even if you technically have only 10 items.

    Don’t take advantage of others. Recently, I saw a neighbor at a lot where an old home was being demolished. She asked the four workers if she could salvage the patio bricks, and then asked them to carry them to her car. Of course they said yes…they were getting paid $80 an hour by the owner who wasn’t there. So they spent 45 minutes helping her on the owners dime(s).

  16. Trish says

    I very much value frugality, and am a devotee of Amy Dacyczyn who wrote The Tightwad Gazette, even though I don’t do many of the things she advocates. But her philosophy is that frugality means figuring out what is truly important to you, and allocating your resources appropriately. I have horses, very unfrugal, but I don’t get my hair highlighted , have never and a mani/pedi, rarely eat out, etc. Sometimes being frugal is as much about what you don’t do, as it is about what you DO do. And keep in mind ‘A luxury once sampled is a necessity’. I am amazed at the number of people who have smart phones, when they really can’t afford them. Good luck getting them to go back to a flip phone.

    and as far as cheap goes, I have a friend who was always bringing eggs from her hens to the horse barn to share. So many people accepted these eggs but never reciprocated with something for her. To me THAT is cheap!!! I made sure to share my asparagus harvest when I could.

  17. says

    “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.”

    THAT!!!! Trust me, most folks working those jobs aren’t paid enough to deal with that, and the more you make yourself a jerk the less they’re going to go out of their way to find you a discount. Be polite when you ask and you’re MUCH more likely to actually GET that discount….

  18. Kazi Pitelka says

    As a voracious patron of the public library, I think I might add this location to your stealing paragraph. How many times have I wanted to check out an expensive cookbook for perusal in the last 6 months and found “staff reported missing”


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