It’s Okay to be Cheap!

by Katy on July 10, 2016 · 21 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday!

The word “cheap” gets a bad rap. It’s grouped in with “miserly” and is rarely used as a compliment.

“Wow, that awesome lady sure is cheap!”


I used to try and distance myself from the word, saying that I preferred “frugal,” but the plain and honest truth is that I am cheap.

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

I don’t like to spend unnecessarily, and I prioritize having enough money to pay my bills. I don’t want to work more than part time, and if you ever see me in a retail store, you’ll know that I’m being held prisoner.


But I make zero apologies for my cheapness. Because without my focus on the nickels and dimes in life, my family would be in serious financial trouble. I do not owe the world an outward appearance of wealth, and I’m comfortable making cheap decisions, even when that cheap version is slightly less desirable.

Need an example?

Tomorrow is my older son’s nineteenth birthday. Because the actual day falls on a Tuesday this year, we spent yesterday, (a Sunday) celebrating him. We have a family tradition where I plan a “Birthday Day of Adventures,” and the four of us spend the entire day going from activity to activity that caters to the birthday person’s specific tastes. It’s all a surprise ahead of time, and it’s an extremely fun way of making the birthday person feel special. (It’s part of how I’m transitioning my kids from gifts of things to gifts of experiences.)

But since I’m the one doing the planning, it veers towards the cheap. I take full advantage of available discounts, and I hoard any credits I’ve accrued throughout the year.

I decided one of our activities would be to see a movie. My first thought was Guardians of The Galaxy, as I knew he’d enjoy it. However, it’s still only in first run theaters which would set us back $36 for tickets, plus the cost of parking. (It would have been a downtown theater.) Instead I found a showing of the movie Chef at a great old refurbished theater which cost only $2 per person, (plus the parking was free!)

I chose to be cheap.

Would my son have liked to see Guardians of The Galaxy? Sure. But it’s mindless Hollywood entertainment that’s great fun while it’s happening yet completely leaves your mind by the time you’re home. Plus it’ll be in second run theaters and on DVD within a month or so. I figured he would like Chef, even though he’d never heard of it.

Guess what? My son really enjoyed Chef. He liked that it wasn’t yet another formulaic Hollywood blockbuster with nothing to offer beyond mindless entertainment. He values having stuff to ponder, and he’s old enough to understand that the $40 we saved by seeing a second run movie completely covered the cost of the Indian buffet lunch we’d just consumed.

It was a cheap decision, but it was the right decision.

When we spend beyond what we can afford, it’s the same as admitting that there’s shame and embarrassment of living within a budget. No one should make you feel bad about staying out of debt. Period. Living beyond your means in the here and now robs your future self.

Do you feel bad about being cheap when it’s all that you can afford? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol M. July 11, 2016 at 2:33 am

I felt less bad being “cheap” when I started reading NCA and Five Frugal Things. It’s encouraging to know there are other people out there going through the same nerve-wracking budgeting.

I love reading people’s stories of how they save money!


Carrie July 11, 2016 at 2:57 am

Hear, hear! I wrote about this issue recently. I was inspired by an essay in one of the Tightwad Gazette books about Wealth and Frugality. Amy D talks about how people who look affluent so often aren’t, but those who buy used clothing, drive older cars, etc – have real wealth (real estate and investments).

Doing frugal activities doesn’t mean you’re poor but can keep you *out* of the poorhouse.


Mariana July 11, 2016 at 3:45 am

The best part?
I am sure your son enjoyed the time together watching ‘the chef’ as much as he would have the other movie.


Lide July 11, 2016 at 3:54 am

Since I started reading your blog; I am not bothered by what others think of my way of life. I find it extremely amusing how many of the snobby people that I know are suddenly trying the “frugal” lifestyle. Those same people who used to turn up their noses at a used dresser, etc, now talk about the “antique” they purchased for an “excellent price”! I don’t consider myself cheap – I just like what I like and do not pay more than an item is actually worth TO ME – sometimes I have to shop for items for a long time but when I get it at the price I am willing to pay it just makes me that much happier. When we finally retire; because we live simply, we, (hopefully), won’t have to worry about every dime or be unable to pay for necessities. Thanks Katy, I love your blog and it encourages me to continue to be me & save $$ for the future.


Vanessa July 12, 2016 at 10:48 am

“I don’t consider myself cheap – I just like what I like and do not pay more than an item is actually worth TO ME”…I love the way you said that (emphasis on “TO ME”).


April July 11, 2016 at 4:07 am

“Living beyond your means in the here and now robs your future self.” This statement says it all. And that line of thinking is what keeps me going. We all must have the motivation for being frugal. And the future is my motivation. All the things things I want to do with/for my kids in the future is my motivation to be frugal today and tomorrow.


Bee July 11, 2016 at 4:17 am

When I was younger and I stayed home with my children, our family could afford very little. It was stressful at times. However, during these years, I learned to focus on my many blessings. I never thought of myself as cheap, because I always did the best I could for my family. True generosity is not about money; it comes from the heart.


Diane July 11, 2016 at 4:33 am

I can afford nothing beyond basic needs, yet live a good life. Just found 2 free events this coming weekend: a gallery opening of Disney art and Bubblealooza downtown for families. Found 7 novels at the library yesterday and swam in the free community pool.

Life is meant to be lived, no matter how small your budget!


Jennifer July 11, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Free community pool, that’s just lovely!


nancy July 11, 2016 at 4:53 am

I agree with what you say – however my father always told me “The difference between cheap and frugal, is that if you are frugal, you are careful with everyone’s money – if you are cheap, you are only careful with your own.” I think that it helps to look at it that way.


Mrs. Picky Pincher July 11, 2016 at 5:11 am

I love this! I’m also scared of using the word “cheap,” since it has a negative connotation. I also associate “cheap” with buying things at a good price, and not necessarily living a truly frugal, conscious lifestyle.

By the way, I love the idea of a day of birthday fun! We’ve been pondering how to handle birthdays for our future children, and I think this could be a good compromise.


JD July 11, 2016 at 5:43 am

I agree with this so much. The negative connotation of cheap, to me, means being cheap with other people, i.e. never just giving anything to anyone, being greedy/miserly about every penny and/or saving one’s own money at the expense of others’. Someone who always needs a ride from you each week but is never available to give you a ride when you ask on the rare occasion is the bad cheap that folks think of. Someone who has 25 bandanas at least, and you need something to keep sweat out of your eyes while voluntarily helping clean out this person’s shed, but she won’t hand you one because it “might accidentally go home with you”, is the bad kind of cheap. Someone who gives his grandchildren crappy toys with parts missing as a birthday present, while upgrading his cable, taking expensive vacations and remodeling his home every few years; that’s the bad cheap, too. Let’s get the GOOD version of “cheap” out there. People who buy used items but pay for their sons’ college education in cash (who would that be, I wonder?) are the good cheap. People who cook at home and DIY their repairs but give generously to causes they support, that’s good cheap. People who are in lower income brackets, but with frugal living, manage to take care of themselves very well, thank you; that’s good cheap. Three cheers for cheap!


Vickie July 11, 2016 at 6:42 am

I never thought of myself as cheap, but if that’s what others think, I don’t care. I’m happy living a frugal life. There are times I wish I could afford a newer car NOW, but it will have to wait, because I do not want to make payments.
I’d rather afford a nice vacation and being able to pay for my granddaughter’s Soccer camp adventure. I’d rather live a rich life frugally, than live a lie.


janine July 11, 2016 at 7:11 am

Always enjoy a glimpse of your lifestyle, Katy!
Is it better to be thought of as cheap, or that individual who always “has to keep up with the Jones?”
Delayed gratification is not in my DNA but I am working to acquire the trait. Part of being cheap/frugal is waiting for the right price , seeing a movie at the second run theater, comparing prices while on vacation and you really want to splurge etc.
One thing to keep in mind is that it is environmentally sound to tread lightly when using the earth’s resources – this thought helps me from being too envious of those who unthinkingly buy everything new and don’t have to count the cost in $$.
Also, it is important to us that our children get some help as we are able to provide. It eases their burdens and thus far hasn’t hurt our lifestyle.
A toast to cheap!


Bee July 11, 2016 at 8:25 am

I look at money like a finite resource. When it is gone, then it gone forever. So I try to protect and manage my money, so I can enjoy it into perpetuity.


Marilyn July 11, 2016 at 9:15 am

I had to smile at the idea of Katy being held prisoner in a retail shop! I admit that I occasionally go shopping with friends and it can be fun to look at all of the nice new things the stores are selling, but rarely do I feel the need to actually OWN these things. So, cheap, yes, but happy cheap.


Madeline July 11, 2016 at 10:27 am

I’ll take adventures any day, over more “stuff.” For my birthday, a day of kayaking on the river, then a picnic under the cottonwoods is just right.


Jennifer July 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm

No one has ever called me cheap to my face but I imagine some say I am. I don’t really know why but this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, for someone to say I am cheap means to me that they have taken notice that I am careful with my purchases. To me this is good. I want my children to learn that we don’t have to accept the prices we see for things with a carefully thought out plan. I do volunteer at a free clinic and donate at times. I think it’s important for my kids to know they can give to others without spending actual money. A person’s time is so valuable and sometimes so needed by others. I have quit handing over money to people. My husband and I own a business and people walk in several times each day asking for money. One lady said she was hungry and living under a bridge with her children. We gave her $20 and saw her later that night, liquor in hand, drunk on a street corner. So now if they are hungry we give them actual food. However, sometimes they take the food and then we find it in the trash later. It’s important for me to see some of my acts of kindness being used. When I volunteer as an RN, I am giving my skills and my time. Anyway, just my two cents!


Lisa W. July 11, 2016 at 2:47 pm

I’ve always thought that “cheap” connoted either shortsightedness (buying crap that will break and need to be repeatedly replaced because it’s the least expensive option vs. spending slightly more on something that will last) or meanness. Taking your kid to a lovely $2 movie instead of spending $36 on a first-run is frugal, refusing to take him to a movie at all because it costs any money whatsoever would be cheap. I’ve always liked “thrifty” because it implies cheerfulness and ingenuity. To my ear, “thrifty” is positive, “frugal” is neutral, and “cheap” is negative on par with “miserly” and “stingy.”

That is, of course, just me. You let your cheap flag fly!


Katy July 12, 2016 at 11:27 am

Fly, be free!


Su Mama July 11, 2016 at 10:40 pm

Cheap, schmeap!

What we’re doing here is to help one another create abundant, bountiful lives through frugality.


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