Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Cheapskate?

Jeff Yeager, Wise Bread blogger and author, has just published a new book titled The Cheapskate Next Door, where he interviews over 300 self-described cheapskates to find out what makes them tick. In an interview over at Daily Finance, he says that for most of his subjects, the choice to live frugal lifestyles wasn’t primarily about money.

It was almost always grounded in a bigger belief. Sometimes it was a religious belief, sometimes environmentalism, sometimes something else. These aren’t greedy, Scrooge-like, pensive penny-pinchers I write about. These are people who recognize that there’s a lot more to life than money and stuff, and they’ve found creative ways to make money a less important part of their lives. They know what they want, and they skip the rest.

“Author Jeff Yeager Shares Cheapskates’ Secrets to Happiness” [Daily Finance]
The Ultimate Cheapskate [Jeff Yeager's website]

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  1. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    I have found that the less I rely on money to solve my needs, the more creative and satisfied I am with the result of a project. As an example, I could have hired someone to design and landscape my back yard but it was going to cost thousands. Instead, I puttered around and little bit by little bit I scrounged for materials, plants, and over the course of two years ended up with something much nicer than what a “landscaper” was going to do.

    I think the biggest difference is, that everyone wants things done “RIGHT NOW”. As a result, they pay through the nose for it. It’s also how people get themselves over their heads in lots of other ways…that desire for instant gratification, vs. taking time to find the bargain or doing it yourself.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      I’m kind of the same way. Recently, I wanted to make a old camcorder hard case into a case with a shoulder strap for easy carry. I could have headed to the craft store and got some cheap metal d rings, but instead I opted to take some hardware from a old horse halter(I was too tired to pound out some round stock or those S hooks that I find on the road from those rubber cargo straps), used some thin seat belt like material with plastic from a water jug sewed inbetween, and some pop rivets, and now I have it. I am also willing to bet that it will last a lot longer than those store bought ones.

    • FatLynn says:

      This is a great point. I am so proud of all the repairs I’ve done around my house.

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I like that he wrote about the happy cheapskates, the ones who actually have their head on straight. These are the balanced cheapskates, not the ones who are so stingy with money, they deny themselves and their family nutritious food or refuse to spend time with friends if it involves pitching in for a pizza.

  3. BradenR says:

    A voice of balance and reason at last. Our family motto: Never Buy New When Used Will Do. It also helps that we don’t let someone else’s sense of fashion dictate our purchases. I cringe when reading questions on an appliance forum from people who can’t decide which 2000 dollar range to buy.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      I was watching The People’s Court the other day, and they were asking the people on the street how often they replace their appliances like a fridge. people were like every 4-5 years. I sat there and went, “when it breaks”.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Wait… really? Why on Earth would you replace such a large appliance so often?

        Granted, it may be because people go to the store and buy the cheapest, most stripped-down model they can get and after a few years realize it’s crap. Then they go back to the store and do it all over again.

        My friends often marvel at how high-end a lot of my equipment at home is (TV, stereo, computer, appliances, etc.) They rarely realize that a lot of my stuff is almost 10 years old. But because even back then I only bought good, high-quality stuff, it’s still good, high-quality stuff.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        why would you replace a fridge when it breaks? or am i the only one who fixes my own appliances? ok, for a compressor or anything involving freon i need a professional. but timers, door seals, thermostats, dryer belts…. easy and cheap

  4. KlausKinsky says:

    Most of the cheapskates I know just complain about the fact that they don’t have any money. Those are the angry cheapskates. They have plenty of money, but can’t seem to manage it well, so they try and live cheaply, complaining all the way. Waaaa!

  5. 50ae says:

    Well, I’m cheap in most things in my life but that allows me the few nice things that I own. I have an induction stove top that I love and don’t regret one single minute, many nice pistols that are a joy and Travertine floors throughout my house. I installed them myself so I ended up spending quite a bit less than most and got to put my own touch of art into them. Yes, I’m cheap though. I’ll eat off the 2$ menu at Taco Bell, drive an 8 year old VW Jetta TDI, have a forclosure house instead of new(with a 15 year loan) and don’t need new clothes all the time. So I guess I’m a partial cheapskate or something.

    • Buckus says:

      There’s being a cheapskate and living frugally. The local theater gives you a free refill of popcorn on the same visit if you buy the large or ginormous size. She was going to try and get a free refill using the bag from our previous movie theater visit. I told her that was being a cheapskate. Going to the matinee is being frugal. Renting it from RedBox is being even more frugal. Watching it for free on broadcast TV with commericals is the frugalest.

  6. tcp100 says:

    Being a “cheapskate” to live frugally when you’re not affecting anyone else is one thing – but too many of the “cheapskates” I know are annoying mooches who are the “Oh, darn, I forgot my wallet” or “I’ll get you next time (sure you will)” types. The people who are eternally broke, but for some reason seem to have plenty of money when it comes to their own vices (drinking, smoking, video games).

    This is the same type of person who will self-justify any way he can to not leave someone a tip so he can save $2, or complains that his $34 wal mart DVD player broke after a week.

    Cheap != smart all the time.

    • craptastico says:

      some of the cheapskates you mentioned sound more like mooches. i figure the mooch to be a more douchebag subset of the cheapskate

    • Verdant Pine Trees says:

      Yeah, not cheapskates. Cheapskates just avoid situations like you describe, because they’d rather now even think about spending money. I agree that these are mooches (and mean people – looking for a way to avoid paying a tip?)

  7. tbax929 says:

    I consider myself frugal but would never call myself cheap. I’m frugal because sudden unemployment last year, albeit a brief one, taught me I need to have a better safety net. My goal is to always have at least six months’ worth of living expenses at the ready. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting close.

    I know people who I consider to be cheap. They’re the types who don’t quit smoking; they just quit buying cigarettes. They’re the types that always manage to “forget” their wallet or credit card when we go out to the bar or to dinner. They’re the types who will split the check right down to the friggin’ penny. I think you can be frugal without necessarily being cheap.

    • Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

      I don’t get people who claim to forget their money at a restaurant. I mean, you knew we were coming here, and don’t you take your wallet with you everywhere else? What would they have done if they were by themselves, wash dishes? That would be the last time I went out with that person; I cannot stand a liar.

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      My brother-in-law purposely finds terrible things with his food or service at restaurants so he doesn’t have to tip.
      If he’s feeling especially ballsy, he will demand a discount on his meal or ask for it for free.
      We fear the wait staff doing bad things to our food, or ruining our favorite spots- so we rarely go out to eat with him.
      He’s also the guy who goes to the bathroom when the bill arrives.

  8. MrsBug says:

    I just got this book from the library and enjoyed it. Has some good reminders in it and good ideas on how to be wise and frugal with your $$.

  9. coffeeculture says:

    Sometimes it’s a game for me…the fact that I got away with something for less/no money, you get this squirt of adrenaline and it feels fun. I guess it’s cheaper than coffee/cigarettes/alcohol/heroin, haha.

  10. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I make my own cheapskates at home…

  11. pantheonoutcast says:

    I saved ten dollars simply by stealing his book. Thanks Jeff!

  12. FatLynn says:

    One reason he doesn’t talk about is social justice. There are those of us who believe that, beyond a certain level of sustenance, it is not “fair” to engage in our culture of conspicuous consumption when so many people are forced to go without basic necessities.

    • Dave Farquhar says:

      Not to mention conspicuous consumption quickly turns into a treadmill. First there’s the big, expensive 2-story, 4- or 5-bedroom house. Then you notice the neighbors’ cars cost more than yours, so you one-up them. Then you notice their furniture cost more than yours, so you one-up them on that. And it never ends. Landscaping. Building a deck. Building a gazebo. Building a fence. Finishing the basement. Building an addition. Building the best home theater. And in the meantime, the cars and furniture are aging, and it just won’t do to have the oldest car or sofa in the neighborhood…

      Pretty soon you’re chasing promotions so you can make the payments on all of it. You don’t own it, but it sure owns you…

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      …says the person who, in previous posts, talks about going on cruises and having her eyebrows waxed weekly….

      • trentblase says:

        Great, I just spent five minutes trying to determine if the phrase “there are those of us who believe X” implies that the speaker actually believes X (“there are those, of us who believe X”), or simply that some people believe X (“there are those of us, who believe X”)

  13. Tallanvor says:

    I’ll fully admit to not being a cheapskate, even though there are times when I should be. But overall I think I’ve come to a decent balance – I spend less than I earn and have been doing so for a couple of years now, resulting in a decent savings account.

    Eventually I’ll probably end up buying a place, but not until I know that I’ll want to be in that spot for, say, 10 years or more. –I don’t agree with the notion that you should think of a house as an investment, at least no more than you would consider a car to be one. You don’t know if it will maintain it’s value, so when you do buy, you buy a place that will be your home.

    • Dave Farquhar says:

      You’re right on two counts. A house isn’t really an investment. Yes, it’s like an investment in that its value can appreciate over time, but when you go to sell, then you turn around and buy another house, which also has appreciated over time. So that eats up your profit. About the only time housing really works as an investment is selling a big house at retirement age to buy a smaller, easier-to-take-care-of house.

      And it’s certainly not a short-term investment. You have to pay the realtor’s commission, there will be things you’ll have to do to make the house sell faster, and there will be things the buyer will want you to fix at your expense, all of which eat into any appreciation the house might have accumulated. And sometimes they don’t sell nearly as fast as you think they will, so you can get stuck making payments on a house you’re not even living in.

      I rented an apartment in an area I knew and liked, but had never lived in. I stayed in the apartment for a couple of years to experience what it was really like to live there. Once I was convinced I wanted to stay, I started looking for houses nearby. After a couple of false starts, I found a 3-bedroom house I could afford about a mile away. I was single at the time and didn’t need that much house, but I didn’t want to move again. Now it’s 8 years later. I’m married and have two sons, and the same house is serving us well.

      • pantheonoutcast says:

        My father, who owned, rented and flipped many properties, used to say, “If you want to make money in real estate, rent a house to someone who doesn’t think he can make money in real estate.”

  14. Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

    A couple of years ago, we bought a copy of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. We spent a few days pondering our financial situation, and how we felt about the stuff taught in the book. We were starting to get frustrated with where we were, and wondered why it wasn’t working for us like it was for the author.

    Then a week later, we got “The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map”. We read it and were like, “oh, that makes much more sense!”

  15. Red Cat Linux says:

    I’m a lazy cheapskate. I will not buy what I can do myself, and do most of my own home repairs, painting, light fixture and switch/outlet replacement, minor carpentry. The biggest thing I’ve taken on are two half bathrooms that I finished all of except for putting the baseboards back down.

    Some kinda baseboard phobia – I dunno.

    But I don’t have the patience for cupon gaming. I know someone who has a coupon for all occasions, knows when each supermarket has double coupon days, matches the sales flyer to her coupons, etc. I’m just not that into it.

    My biggest score was getting two bottles of hair conditioner for free since there was a manufacturer coupon on one bottle to get a rebate while the CVS was running a BOGO sale on the same item. Okay, so it was kinda cool, but coincidental that I came across it. I am not that energetic/organized to go seeking this kinda thing out all the time.

    And it seems to involve a lot of buying stuff I don’t need right now to take advantage of a deal.

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      I too am that kind of Lazy cheapskate.
      I will see something impulsive I love, and inspect it to determine the quality. More often than not, I see it and go “Oh. I can make that! All i need is some of this from the craft store, and a bit of that from Ace…” and I set it down and set in my mind that I WILL MAKE IT FOR CHEAP AND IT WILL BE UNIQUE AND ALL MINE.

      And then, whatever bauble I adored and said I’d make, I get too lazy to set aside the time to do it. Sometimes I don’t even think about making it beyond my “MAKE IT FOR CHEAP” talk.

    • 50ae says:

      I hate baseboards also. I had to pull all the baseboards up in the house when doing a tile job and the extra bathroom is killing me because I broke a few. In the half bath I ended up tiling up the wall for the baseboard which looks better but was truthfully done out of laziness.

  16. webweazel says:

    I have been a cheapskate all my life. I have never done, and will never do, the obnoxious stuff, like “leave my wallet at home”. I’m perfectly happy to split the cost of a pizza, and look forward to it. If I can’t afford it at the moment, I’ll let you know up front, and we can pick somewhere else where I’d be happy to split. I find that saving money in any given category is a personal challenge. The more I save, the bigger (mental) medal I receive. It can take some effort to make a difference, but the difference can end up to be significant. For example:
    Land line, long distance, internet, 2 cell phones, $50-55/month. GOLD star.
    Saving 30-40% off monthly food costs, while still purchasing the same items, but it causes me to buy specific items at 3-4 different stores. BRONZE star. Working on moving up the ranks here, I have to do better. I don’t do coupons. None of them seem to be worthwhile anymore.
    A lot of this gives me somewhere to FOCUS my cheap tendencies so I don’t become crazy.

    • webweazel says:

      I read the articles, and am amused by the eat your jack-o-lantern one. I’ve always done this, if only because I like the taste of pumpkin. Sometimes I buy a few leftovers from roadside sellers after Halloween for cheap and cook them too.
      I cut off any carved areas, burnt areas, or very dry ones. Cut up the rest into large-ish chunks. Boil until just tender, like potatoes. Drain and cool. Cut off the rinds with a paring knife, mash the pulp. Divide into 1 cup measures, freeze, and tightly wrap. I’ve never had much luck with roasting the seeds, though I’ve tried over the years, so those get tossed.
      I’ve got recipes for pumpkin muffins, soup, dip, cookies, cakes, and of course pie. You can do quite a bit with it, if you like the taste.

      • cash_da_pibble says:

        Seed roasting is actually way easy.
        The trick is to soak the seeds in a brine of your choice before you bake them (we use a salt-pepper-garlic powder brine) so they don’t burn.
        I also use one of those perforated fry baking tray so the air circulates around the seeds.
        They take about an hour, flip halfway through.
        muy delicioso.

        And I love pumpkin, but have never consumed my jack-o-lantern’s flesh.
        I was told the thick rinds don’t produce tasty pumpkin-meat.

        • webweazel says:

          I think I know what you’re talking about; cooking pumpkins? The smaller ones? I actually find not much difference in flavor, myself. Large jack-o-lantern pumpkins taste just like the canned stuff, although I find it has a bit of a *brighter* flavor, if that makes any sense to you. Give it a shot this year, and see what you think.
          And I will take a shot at the seeds again this year how you described. Maybe that’s the trouble I was having. No brining.

  17. bishophicks says:

    I don’t think of myself as a cheapskate, I think of myself as careful. I drive an 11 year old car that gets 40mpg, so I have no car payment and I save on gas. I save 25% on my groceries by shopping sales and going to a warehouse club. I use my Amex Blue card that gives me generous cash back and pay the bill off every month. I buy videogames used. I get a lot of entertainment through Netflix for a flat $17 per month. I have a library card. And I cook my family’s meals, which saves a lot.

    We still go on vacation, still go out with friends and family (and I’d often rather treat than haggle over the bill), still do all the things that other families do. We’ve even got one kid in private school. But our retirement accounts are solid, we have 70% home equity and a 12 month emergency fund. People always ask frugal people, “but what do you DO with all the money?” I’m buying myself security and early retirement.

  18. Outrun1986 says:

    I am talking mostly about people who have a lot of money and are hoarding it, and have themselves already covered for retirement and have no kids but sometimes being cheap isn’t good when you are cheap to the point where it disturbs others and disrupts the family. If you come off as cheap, people can and will talk about you. You can’t take your money with you folks. So if you can’t afford to tip at a restaurant then you probably shouldn’t be eating there (and if you have a huge bank account you can definitely afford to tip at a restaurant). Not tipping at a restaurant if you have the money (and more) to tip is so wrong its not even funny but I know tons of people who do this, and they have more than enough money to leave the tip. If you are hosting a party at your house, don’t try to feed the entire party with a tiny amount of food (like one tray of pizza for 20 people), make sure you have enough for the crowd, again it comes off as being really, really cheap. So if you have money, spend it, don’t hoard it.

  19. Slatts says:

    I’ve known a few of people like this. Unfortunately, when it comes to cheapness, most of the cheapskates I’ve known seem to fall into the category of “annoying tightwad/mooch” rather than “nice person who likes to make crafts rather than buy them”.

    Some other posters have already hit on some of their favorite moves (the “I forgot my wallet” or stiffing waitresses, etc). What I’ve noticed about these characters is an almost pathological obsession with money. For example, if, god forbid, they have to cover *you* for any reason (e.g. maybe you really did forget your wallet this one time, or you lost your ATM card, whatever), it will be remembered, right down to the last cent that they covered, and you will be hit up for it the very next time they see you, even if it’s weeks later. Whereas, if a normal person had to cover someone for a few bucks, he/she probably wouldn’t even remember to ask for it. And while the normal person (who had to be spotted a few bucks) will offer the money back on the next outing, the cheapskate never will, as if he’s hoping you’ll forget and – cha-ching, he’s that much richer.

    The most galling thing about these odious human beings is that they often have no excuse (i.e. poverty) for their behavior, and occasionally even do quite well for themselves. I once did a gig as an intern, and had to start declining lunches with a more senior employee who, despite making three times my salary, would constantly find himself “short” at virtually every lunch, expecting me to cover him. I think psychologists will say that some of these folks have a deep-seated fear of being broke, and while these tactics might help them avoid poverty, it certainly won’t help them avoid being alone, because I (and most sane people) don’t want anything to do with them.

  20. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I guess I’m not, unless you count the fact that I always go to the flea market for stuff like furniture, pots and pans, office supplies and other assorted household items. Partly because I can’t afford new stuff and partly because the flea market stuff is perfectly good most of the time.

    I got Corningware casseroles for practically NOTHING. Whee!

    • trentblase says:

      Sometimes the flea market stuff is better (e.g. recent Corningware stuff is an inferior product made by a company that bought the trademark, while older stuff is legit)