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I answered it in the comments section, but it's such a good question I thought I'd go into MUCH better detail with it! Here goes...
How to balance being FRUGAL vs. being a CHEAPSKATE
That is SUCH a great question. You're right, there is a fine line. If you check out THIS POST you'll see that I talk about this very thing.
I remember in college my roommates accused me of being cheap. It stung. I loved those girls dearly (and still do), but we were raised differently. They each had daddy's credit card that paid for their gas, clothing, fun, and anything else they wanted. While my parents were very generous in paying for my tuition, I had to work multiple jobs to have fun, clothing, and eating out money. Because of this, I pinched my pennies and was very careful with my money.
I remember instantly hating the label of CHEAP. I thought to myself, "that's not fair! Just because I have to manage my money well doesn't make me a cheap person!". However, looking back, I see they were partially right. I skimped on Christmas and Birthday gifts and focused more on the price of something than the value of something. I was stingy in many cases, and could have found ways to be more generous. Live and learn, right?
Since then I have really worked to find my balance.
While I don't go out and spend $100 on a baby shower gift (I spend more like $15 - see HERE -), I really try to make sure what I'm giving them is greater in value than what I paid for it, and try to make sure it's truly something thoughtful, quality, and something they need/would enjoy.
So how do you balance being FRUGAL (yay!) and being a CHEAPSKATE (booo!)?
Here are some tips for you:
- First and foremost, you must understand the difference between being FRUGAL and being CHEAP.
- I think THIS article says it well: "For instance, at dinner with friends, a frugal diner may opt to share an entree; a cheap diner might opt to put $10 into the pot to cover their $9.95 dinner, totally overlooking the tax and tip, and lacking consideration for those sharing the bill. Put better, cheap people care about the cost of something; frugal people care about the value of something.”
- THIS article also says it well: "Being frugal is the wise and intentional use of money whether saving or spending. It is being careful, thrifty and prudent with your resources. Frugality, to me, is getting the most bang for your buck, whether that is Five Bucks or Five Hundred Bucks. Frugality helps you stretch your hard-earned dollars as much as possible. Being cheap, however, is a reluctance to spend money, even on things that are necessary and needed. It is being stingy, miserly, tightfisted. It’s buying things that are lower in quality, just to save a dollar or two. Being cheap is letting others foot the bill or being dishonest in order to save a buck. Cheapness is selfishness and often results from fear; fear of running out of money and not being able to take care of yourself and your family".
Once you understand the difference between the two, it will help you to find the balance.
- Accept that there is a time and a place for everything. If friends invite you to dinner and you accept, you have just accepted their invitation. If they choose to go to an expensive place for dinner and top-dollar movie theater after, don't throw a fuss and only drink water at dinner. That is not the time nor place to hold your frugal ground. Certainly do everything you can to save a buck (share a meal, ask for specials, skip drinks and appetizers, etc.) but no one will enjoy your company if you are making awkward comments at how expensive everything is at dinner.
- Details, details, details. Knowledge is power, so get informed! If friends ask you to go out (for example), ask questions first. What time are you thinking? (so you know how much to budget for a babysitter.) Where are you guys wanting to go eat? (so you can search for coupons before you go, or eat a little before you go if the menu is pricey.) Are you wanting to do anything before or after? What show are you wanting to see/what theater? (so you can scope out the ticket price before going.) It's best to be as informed as possible before you go so you know whether you can afford financially to commit or not.
- Be willing to take charge. My husband and I are party throwers (if you haven't learned that about me yet!). We spend time with friends or family at least 1x per week, and it's usually at our house or on a date somewhere that we organized. Why? We love spending time with people, and we've learned that if we don't take charge, it won't happen. Aside from that, if we plan it, we get to do it our way; which, financially, is the only way we're able to make it happen. We are mindful of our friends likes and needs and try to ask their opinions and suggestions, but ultimately, if you plan the outing, you have the final say. So be prepared to take initiative! For example: If gift-giving in your family is getting expensive, take initiative and suggest drawing names rather than everyone giving a gift to everyone, and be prepared to take charge and organize it. If going out with friends is getting expensive, organize a dessert and game night at your house where everyone brings something to share and you cook rather than buying the food.
However...at the same time...
- ...learn to let go. No one likes a bossy friend. If you ask friends to dinner and you would like to go to Chili's because you have a coupon for a free appetizer, but your friend is pregnant and is dying for chinese food...go get Chinese food for heaven's sake! The relationship with the person is more important than being in control 100% of the time, so do your best but go with the flow and don't sweat the small stuff. Another example...If you go to a family-style restaurant with friends, it's commonplace that you split the bill equal ways since you are all sharing all the food. Well, what if you have one friend that buys 2 specialty drinks that equal $11, and all you had was water? Or what if one friend eats an entire plate of food themselves without sharing, AND takes the table's leftovers at the end of the night? First of all, PLEASE don't be that friend. If you eat more than your share, offer to pay more than your share. Second of all, if that friend doesn't offer to cover their extra costs, don't throw a fit about it. Just make a mental note that you don't want to go out to eat with those friends any more, count it as a loss and lesson learned, and head home enjoying your night.
- It's important to make people feel comfortable, while staying within the bounds that you've set for yourself financially. If you go to dinner with coupons and the waitress won't honor them, even though you think she should, don't throw a fuss and make everyone feel uncomfortable. You don't want to be "those friends". Also, you don't want people to cringe every time you call thinking, "oh great, they're calling again...here comes another coupon date with the Page's...". Likewise, you don't want people to stop calling you to hang out because they feel like you will only participate if there is a deal involved. Just make them feel cool and comfortable about your way of living by not adding pressure, drama, or unnecessary attention on your budget and way of eating out.
- No one likes a cheapskate. Example: Let's say you're out with friends at a place that doesn't accept cash, and all your friend has is cash. You pay for them with your credit card, and it's $23, and they hand you a $20 to pay you back. (First of all, don't be that friend. If you owe someone $23, pay them $23!) If that happens to you, please don't throw a fit about $3, add it to their tab, remind them about it weeks down the road, or ask them to cover $3 of your meal the next time you hang out. No one likes a miserly person that nickels and dimes over every penny. But on the flip-side, no one likes a short-changer, so pay what you owe! Another example...if your group of friends rotates hosting dinner parties and your turn comes up, don't make it a potluck and only serve baked potatoes if everyone else is supplying 100% of the meal and serving meat and fixings at their own house. Or, if you offer to help throw a baby shower, don't only offer to do the cheap things and leave your co-host with the expensive tasks. If you have family in town staying at your house for the weekend, don't make them freeze to death because you don't want to run the heater all day. Make them comfortable and ignore the extra spike on your bill. Don't be a cheapskate!
- Keep the big picture in mind. The big lesson in this is the big picture. Your financial goals. Your friendship. Your family. Whatever the big picture is in that situation, keep it in mind and don't get caught up in petty details.
- Learn that life is all about choices. Unfortunately we can't do it all, all the time. That's life...and that's ok. If you don't have room in your budget for it, just say no and understand that you're choosing to give this up for something else. Sacrifice is giving up something good, for something better. Sometimes we have to sacrifice "fun" for the greater good of our family. And guess what? That's what matters most anyway. You need to practice politely declining. You don't need to make up a fake excuse, simply say, "Shoot, we can't make it I'm so sorry. But rain check at our house in two weeks!" It may seem like you're giving up a lot, but
those who live NOW like no one will, will live like no one can for a LIFETIME.
- Life is not fair. Deal with it. (sorry to say!) The sooner you learn this lesson, the happier you'll be. Some people get a job straight out of college that pays $150K + and they never have to worry about putting food on the table. For others, they may spend 5 years hunting for a good job and never get much of a chance to get ahead. Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on YOU, YOUR FAMILY, and what YOU CAN DO for your family. Just because someone has "a lot of money" or more money than you, or a nicer car than you, or can go on vacations that you can't, or can shop more than you...doesn't mean their life is better, happier, or richer than yours. We all are given trials in life, they just come in different forms for different people. So chin up, don't try to keep up with the Joneses, give up the victim mindset, and learn to be happy in your situation and to make the best of your situation. The sooner you learn this, the richer and happier your life will be! For more about our story, read HERE.
- What goes around comes around...be generous. I'm a firm believer that where much is given, much is required. There are so many on this earth who are in worse circumstances that we are. When at all possible, be generous. Give a generous tithe. If you don't have excess money to spare, give of your time and talents. Show love to others. Volunteer. Pay someone well for their labors. Give good gifts to your friends and family. Don't skimp on things to save a buck. Trust me...it all comes back around eventually.
- Don't judge. Whether it's friends that spend like there's no tomorrow, or friends that pinch their pennies to the extreme...who are we to judge? Please don't turn your nose at anyone based on how they decide to spend - or not spend - their money. That is a very personal decision that shouldn't affect your feelings toward someone. Life's too short to judge people!
For us, as frugal as we are, we probably go out to eat more/do more/shop more/go on more dates/host more parties than anyone I know! We have just learned to do it on a budget, do it the smart and balanced way, to not make a big deal out of it when we do it on a budget, and to ENJOY rather than freaking out over every dime.
That being said, we've learned to practice self-control and NOT say "eh, we're out with friends, forget the budget for a night!". We make a budget, and stick to that budget. Final word.
Ultimately, I agree that there is nothing worse than a cheapskate, and nothing worse than being called a cheapskate. I encourage everyone to not freak out over a bill being divided perfectly equal down to the nearest dime at dinner, there are greater things to sweat in life. This is hard and it takes time to conquer, but you just need to learn when to give and when to take control.
If it just doesn't work out the way you would've liked financially, deal with it, make the best of it, have a great time, and don't eat out for however many days it takes to make it up in your budget.
Life is all about balance.
I compare it to not eating cake on your own birthday because of the calories.
Eat the dang cake!
Just don't eat it every day, and maybe run an extra 15 minutes the next day if it makes you feel better :)
Hope that helps! Happy spending AND saving this weekend.