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.
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?