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10 signs you've gone from frugal to cheap

December 19, 2014

By Maryalene LaPonsie | Money Rates Columnist

 pressure people for freebies

In his parody of the song "Whatever You Like," "Weird Al" Yankovic runs through the many cringe-worthy ways people can be cheap, from taking a date to the Golden Arches to stealing cable from the neighbors.

But though Yankovic can turn miserly habits into laughs, the real downside of extreme cheapness is hardly amusing: Savings experts say that holding your purse strings too tightly can lead to a lower quality of life and may negatively affect your relationships with others.

"If you want to feel poorer than you actually are, be a cheapskate," says Josh Elledge, the "chief executive angel" at coupon and savings site SavingsAngel.com.

Aries Jimenez, director of business development for San Diego Wealth Management, adds that being cheap isn't necessarily a virtue.

"Cheap is, in some ways, a form of greed," he says. "Being cheap could be an obsession too."

Elledge says there is a key difference between being frugal -- which is a generally a good thing -- and being cheap.

"Being cheap puts the focus on scarcity," he says. "I believe the focus of being frugal, on the other hand, is being mindful of what we have."

The line between frugality and cheapness is often thin, however, and if you find yourself doing any of the following things, you may have crossed it.

1. You break the rules

The movie theater clearly states no outside food, yet you sneak in water bottles and boxes of candy. You invite yourself to the wedding reception buffet even though you don't know the bride or groom. You say your 6-year old is actually 5 so you get the discounted rate.

Will you go to jail for breaking these spoken and unspoken rules? Probably not.

Does it mean you're cheap? You bet.

2. You steal

Sometimes, in their zeal to save a buck, individuals go from breaking rules to breaking the law. They may "borrow" their neighbor's WiFi, watch pirated movies online or even cheat on their taxes.

These things not only mean your cheap, but they can also -- particularly in the case of cheating on your taxes -- do more to harm your finances than help them.

3. You pressure people for freebies

Your friend may be an accountant, but it's unfair to expect him to review your tax return for free. The same could be said for anyone who has a talent of some kind or specialized knowledge. And telling a band they should perform for free at your daughter's Sweet 16 party because it will give them "concert experience" isn't a good sign either.

"When you ask artists, performers, writers, and musicians to work for free -- or for some supposed exposure -- you're not acknowledging years of practice and skill-building which has led to their talents," says Elledge.

4. You don't tip

You can debate the merits of tipping the garbage man or the teen working the ice cream stand, but there is no question that giving a tip to restaurant servers, who typically earn a mere $2.13 an hour, is expected and the norm.

You don't have to tip 20 percent for mediocre service, but if the server did their job, they should get something, 10 percent being the customary minimum.

5. You're penny-wise and pound-foolish

Rewiring your house using YouTube videos as your guide may seem like an inexpensive way to get the work done. That is, until faulty wiring burns your house down.

That's an extreme example, but it's the type of outcome you can get with a cheap mentality. Cheap people are sometimes so focused on saving money right now that they end up spending more in the long run.

"I do taxes and come across people who do not see the value in paying someone to prepare their returns," Jimenez says. "That person could miss out on some deductions or credits."

6. You hoard

If you can't bear to part with broken items because they might be useful someday, you might be cheap. Some people are so cheap they don't want to spend money ever ... on anything. So they save everything.

But as anyone who's watched a reality show or two on hoarding can attest, there's little virtue in this sort of "thriftiness."

7. You don't value your time

Being cheap can save you money, but it could cost you time -- as in, time spent rummaging through mounds of clutter to find what you need or time spent doing tasks you could pay others to do more quickly.

"(People) need to balance the value of time and money," advises Jimenez.

8. You find an excuse to not pay your fair share

Do you conveniently forget to have cash every time you go out with friends? Do you ask if someone else can cover your portion of the boss' holiday gift and then "forget" to pay them back? This is called mooching, and it means you're cheap.

9. You complain about the price of everything

There is no better way to proclaim to the world that you're cheap than to complain loudly about the price of everything. Go ahead, let the convenience store clerk know you think the price of gas is a rip-off. Tell the waitress the meals are outrageously expensive. And don't forget to gripe about the prices at the local craft show.

But soon, your friends may stop inviting you anywhere and you won't need to worry about mooching your way out of your share of the bill.

10. You have no social life

Finally, there is no better sign you're cheap than the utter and complete lack of a social life -- not because you don't have friends, but because you refuse to go out with them. They may be going to a restaurant you deem too expensive or seeing a movie you can't imagine spending money on. Most of the time, when cheap people say they "can't afford it," they really mean they don't want to spend money on it.

That's certainly your prerogative, but as Elledge says: "People who are cheap live a life of 'I'll be happy when ...' Instead, choose to be happy now."

You might have to spend a few dollars to try this, but it may just be money well spent.

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