Cheap vs Frugal: How Far is Too Far?

Extreme Cheapskates

If you qualify for this show, you are definitely cheap instead of frugal

My wife started watching that new show on TLC, Extreme Cheapskates. The night I was watching, they showed a woman who made her husband pee in a bottle and dumpster dived for food. Obviously, the show is designed to spotlight some of the worst human behavior in frugality. But it got me thinking about the difference between cheap and frugal and wondering, just how far is to far?

I think that the line itself is subjective and often a wandering target.  What may be acceptable in one culture is unlivable in another. I know a woman who adds water to the milk jug to make the milk last longer. While it is not something I would likely do myself, I find it acceptable. But the initial reaction of one blogger I told the story to indicated that he thought she belonged on the show herself.

Below are a few of my thoughts on how to tell if you’ve gone to far towards being cheap.

Not paying

Filling up on samples and leaving without buying. This was another example on Extreme Cheapskates. I’ve seen this one in real life as well. I may also be guilty of this myself a little. I wouldn’t go to TCBY eat a bunch of sample cups and then leave without buying. But I have tried free samples at the grocery store of items that I have no intention of buying.

The purpose of these samples is to get you to try something new to entice you to buy. I have found great new items that went on later shopping lists. But a cup of coffee from a new K-cup manufacturer? I don’t one a Kurig! All those fancy cheeses? The only fresh cheese I’ve ever bought from the cheese counter is mozzarella. Oops. But I’m down-right ethical compared to one worker I once saw that over the course of half an hour, repeatedly went to the sample tray of grilled steak and slowly eat half the tray herself.

If you go to a restaurant with friends and order a glass of water and munch on the free bread-sticks, that is not cool. Speaking of restaurants,  when splitting a check, don’t just add up your items and chip in only that amount. You are leaving the others to pay for the tax on your food and your share of the tip.

Refunds on items that were fine. Just last week, I saw someone pick up a grape-flavored energy shot. He doesn’t like grape, but he bought it so he could say he didn’t like the flavor and get a refund on the product from the manufacturer. Obviously, that’s not sustainable; the company probably isn’t going to honor the refund policy if he tries again. But it seems pretty shady to try it even once.

I’m also reminded on the scene in the movie Big Daddy where Adam Sandler gets the kid to dent cans because dented cans were half price and the stock market was down. In general, any time you take proactive steps to save money at another’s expense, you are crossing the line.

Not buying things you need

Constant borrowing. When we bought our home after three years of living in apartments, I found myself responsible for lawn care for the first time. And we didn’t have  a lawn mower! My father-in-law graciously would bring his mower down every Saturday after he finished his lawn to do ours. Then he went to my brother-in-law’s to do the same. It was understood that this was just until we got a lawn mower of our own. It took me a couple of months to find what I was looking for at the price I was willing to pay. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law still hasn’t gotten one and shows no signs of intending too.

“Free” wifi. In a recent poll by Pelican on Money, a majority of respondents considered a laptop and internet the one thing they couldn’t live without. I can attest that living without an internet connect is tough when you are a blogger! If you can’t afford internet in your home, it is a travesty. But there are some who can afford it, who need to use it regularly, and yet still don’t get their own internet service. Instead, they find ways to mooch off of others.

If you don’t password protect your router, you are basically allowing anyone to connect to it. This is pretty dangerous, because if that person then commits an online crime while using your internet, it’s your door the police are going to knock on.

Bonus tip: always use a WPA/WPA2 encryption and use a long password that doesn’t appear in the dictionary. WEP encryption is cracked within seconds using freely available software. WPA is almost impossible to crack, unless they can guess your password. Then it’s pretty easy!

When do you think frugality crosses the line into being cheap?

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18 thoughts on “Cheap vs Frugal: How Far is Too Far?

  1. I always take stuff from Costco even though I have no intention of buying any of it. The thing is that sometimes what you get is really good and you end up buying it or considering it, which is exactly the point, so I think they’re fine with it. If you keep going back and end up getting a meal from it, yeah that’s crossing a line, but taking one sample, I have no problem with.
    Money Beagle recently posted..Combat Smaller Size For Same Price GimmicksMy Profile

  2. Cheap and stealing are different things for sure. Dishonest isn’t good. Breaking things to get money from a company…eh, not cool. I guess I undersatnd that some companies overcharge SO MUCH for some products that that seems dishonest, so I guess some dudes respond by being dishonest. I dunno. I think you can be as cheap and frugal as you want, but stop short of outright stealing.

    The TCBY sample thing…I’m okay with that. They can always say ‘no’ or refuse service. But if it’s there, then hey, why not? I ‘m okay with stuff like that, I think no rules are being broken and nothing is being stolen. But denting canned foods for a discount? No good, no good.

    • The thing is, it can be pretty hard these days for a business to refuse service. If TCBY kicked somebody out for mooching off free samples, the person would probably come back with some sort of ant-discrimination suit. Here in Colorado, it’s illegal for a business to even say they will refuse service to someone.

  3. I don’t mind munching on free samples, they are here to serve that purpose and the employees couldn’t care less if you take a few. Paying for what you ate without tax and tips is downright cheap and I don’t think I would go out to eat again with a person like that. On the other hand I like to pay for what I ate and not split equally when others had twice as much food as I ordered. It comes out as cheap sometimes. Great tip on the WEP password!
    Pauline recently posted..Friday recap, home alone and seven new friends!My Profile

    • The problem with taking multiple samples is that it means that others won’t be able to have them. I once saw somebody grab the remaining three of a pastry sample at Starbucks as he walked by on his way to the bathroom. I was actually walking towards the counter to get my free birthday coffee and was interested in trying that particular sample. If I liked it, I would have gotten it with my coffee. But I wasn’t about to pay Starbucks prices for a pastry without trying it first.

  4. Some pretty shady practices. Seriously what the hell is wrong with people? If one is putting loved ones’ needs after money (forcing someone to pee into a bottle for the sake of cheapness? I mean, really?), then an unforgivable line is being crossed.

  5. I laughed when you went on about Adam Sandler because something similar happened here in our city. Yes most places put dented cans on offer and maybe that tactic would work although not ethical at all. We were going through the cash at the shop one day. This shop uses stickers that are pink and say 50% off the product and they manually would hit a button to cut the price in half. One day the cashier started marking the sticker with black marker. I thought.. don’t tell me someone’s been taking them off and putting them on other products. Sure enough that’s how far some people will go. The person got caught on the cameras in the shop and the police called. Some people are willing to go to jail or get fined for a few dollars it’s not right. Cheers Mr.CBB
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..CBB Net Worth Update~November 2012My Profile

    • One of the local thrift stores must have had a similar problem once, because they have signs all over the place saying that if the price tag isn’t attached, they won’t sell it but will take it in the back room to get re-priced and put back on the sales floor tomorrow.

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  8. When frugality goes to the point of taking advantage of others, constant borrowing, siphoning service (like Wi-Fi), etc…I think that’s too far. Also, being frugal to the point of spending excess time trying to save money is going too far. Really, it comes down to self-respect and time management I think!
    Digital Personal Finance recently posted..Reaching the Goal of Financial FreedomMy Profile

    • The time vs money argument is a fine line. It all depends on how much you value your time. My free time is pretty cheap, so it’s tough for a professional to compete with DIY for me.

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