A Fine Line Between Thrifty and Cheap

“I can’t stand cheap people. It makes me real mad when someone says something like, “Hey, when are you going to pay me that $100 you owe me?” or “Do you have that $50 you borrowed?” Man, quit being so cheap!”

~ Jack Handy (SNL)


Walking the hair-thin line between these two qualities can be a daunting task, as the temptation to save money can oftentimes override a very reasonable person’s priorities.


Cheap people try to get something for nothing at the expense of everyone else’s comfort, livelihood, and time. I say this very cautiously because even I am not immune to having cheap moments. However, I’m quickly reminded by my conscience that just because something is free doesn’t mean I should take it.


I was watching some episodes of Extreme Couponing on TLC the other day and two sisters were comparing their money-saving efforts. One sister beamed, pointing to the surplus of Pampers on her basements shelves. “Who got all these diapers for free? Me. And who doesn’t even have children? Me.”


An attitude like this quickly turns innocent coupon clipping into selfish stockpiling. Maybe TLC is making sure they have enough stories for a spin-off episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive. Don’t get me wrong. I understand why a family of 10-12 people could benefit from practicing the art of using double coupons, rebates, and BOGO offers, but I can’t seem to justify a single man filling the crates in his spare bedroom with 25 cases of Lady Speed Stick.


There seems to be an underlying issue of fear that drives cheap people. They are so afraid that they won’t be able to get all they want out of life that they cling to their money, praying it will bring them happiness and security, all the while depending on other people to support them financially. “How can I get something I want without having to do anything for it?” “I really want to pay off my car, but I’m unwilling to give up cable for a year. I’ll just see if I can refinance instead of making a temporary sacrifice which will benefit my finances in the long run.” “I wish I could stay home with the kids, but we need the extra money to pay for the beach house we only use once a year.” Of course I’m paraphrasing, but I cannot tell you how often I hear things like this. Cheap people love to complain that they never have money, but rarely do they attempt to find a solution to this problem. Nah, it’d just be easier to see how far their siphoning from others can take them.


We’ve talked about the principle of other people’s money before, but I don’t want that to become an excuse to be cheap. This principle is about creating assets by providing a service and/or taking advantage of the discounts provided to get you to use a service. It’s not about taking money for which you didn’t offer something, like tangible goods or brand loyalty, in return.


Polar opposites of the cheap, thrifty people try to get the most bang for their buck, while still understanding that merchants need to make a living and their friends can’t make them dinner every night. A thrifty person finds balance by tempering their saving with generous giving of either time, money, or both. They are driven, not by fear, but by a confidence in the planning and sacrifices they’ve committed to each week, month, or year of their lives. Thrifty people don’t hold their money with a clenched fist, but will readily give to those in need. Couponing is done only to offset the cost of the items they commonly use, not to accumulate 30 bottles of hot sauce because you never know when you might have a spice-less emergency. Finally, thrifty folks know how to have a good time without spending a dime and appreciate the simple things in life, instead of obsessing about material possessions.


I believe that being cheap vs. thrifty will always be an inner conflict that we all struggle with from time to time, but it’s important to gauge your motivation for each of your purchases, whether it be necessity, desire, or just good old-fashioned greed.


I’ll close with this quote I ran across from President William McKinley (1896), as it sums up what happens when we trade in our morals just to save a buck:

“I do not prize the word “cheap.” It is not a badge of honor. It is a symbol of despair. Cheap prices make for cheap goods; cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.”


Very pertinent advice he shared before being assassinated at the beginning of his 2nd term.  Sheesh! Everybody’s a critic!


4 thoughts on “A Fine Line Between Thrifty and Cheap

  1. greenishmonkeys says:

    The idea of that extreme couponing show just disturbs me– I haven’t watched it but I have read about people who fill their children’s rooms with rolls of paper towels. I am all for stocking up a bit when there is a sale on something, but no one will ever _need_ 50 bottles of ketchup (and for that matter, paper towels can be avoided completely!)
    Good point about thrift being about generosity, too.

  2. Holly Hamrick says:

    I live by the rule “You’re not guaranteed a tomorrow”. I worry about today and make sure I’m happy today and i don’t worry about 40 years down the road. 🙂

    • TheBudgetMaven says:

      You’re right, none of us are promised another day on this earth, but my philosophy is that if you spend a little time planning, you don’t have to worry today or tomorrow or 40 years from now. You don’t have to worry at all. Thanks for the comment! I love to hear your thoughts on these topics.

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