In his parody of the song "Whatever You Like," Weird Al Yankovic runs through many of the cringe-worthy ways people can be cheap, things like taking a date to the Golden Arches and stealing cable from the neighbors.
Weird Al Yankovic can turn these miserly habits into laughs, but the reality 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.
Frugal vs. cheap
Being cheap isn't necessarily a virtue according to Aries Jimenez, director of business development for San Diego Wealth Management:
"Cheap is, in some ways, a form of greed. Being cheap could be an obsession too."
"If you want to feel poorer than you actually are, be a cheapskate," says Josh Elledge, "chief executive angel" at coupon and savings site SavingsAngel.com. 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. I believe the focus of being frugal, on the other hand, is being mindful of what we have."
Cheap signs to watch for
The line between frugality and cheapness can be thin, however -- and if you find yourself doing any of the following things, you may have crossed it:
- Breaking 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 six-year old is actually five 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.
Sometimes, in their zeal to save a buck, individuals go from breaking the 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 you are cheap, but they can also -- particularly in the case of cheating on your taxes -- do more to harm your finances than help them.
- Pressuring 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.
- Failing to leave a 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. Ten percent is the customary minimum.
- Being 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.
Perhaps that is an extreme example, but it illustrates 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."
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 is little virtue in this sort of thriftiness.
- Not valuing 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.
- Not paying 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's holiday gift and then forget to pay them back? This is called mooching, and it means you're cheap.
- Complaining 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.
- Having 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 something, 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 change these habits, but it may just be money well spent.
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