It’s Okay to be Cheap!

by Katy on March 11, 2021 · 46 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published (pre-Covid) post. Enjoy!

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 daughter’s nineteenth birthday. Because the actual day falls on a Tuesday this year, we spent yesterday, (a Sunday) celebrating her. 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 she’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 daughter liked to have seen 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 she would like Chef, even though she’d never heard of it.

Guess what? My daughter really enjoyed Chef. She liked that it wasn’t yet another formulaic Hollywood blockbuster with nothing to offer beyond mindless entertainment. She values having stuff to ponder, and she’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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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy March 11, 2021 at 12:25 pm

My mom was born at the end of the depression could pinch a penny until it screamed.
As my dad was a machinist work was either feast of famine. They raised 3 girls which I am the oldest. Some of my favorite “cheap” memories were: Toni home perms, bangs cut with kitchen shears, home made beauty treatments, leftover meatloaf appearing as meatloaf sandwiches in my dad’s lunch, packing our own snacks for the drive in movies.


cynthia March 11, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Wow–I would LOVE a meatball sandwich right now! That brought back memories.


Jill A March 11, 2021 at 12:33 pm

Bwahahaha!! I love the “holding you hostage comment”. I always love your birthday day of adventures idea. I think once this covid thing is behind us I may try this with my Mom and kids. I think they’d love it. I don’t mind being “cheap”. I thinking living beyond your means and being in debt is a “poor way to live”. Thanks again for a great post.


Cindy in the South March 11, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Beautiful daughter and so glad she had a wonderful time at her birthday movie! I do catch a lot of flak because some folks say, to my face, I need to quit being so cheap, ….uhm….nooooo…my money, my right to decide how I spend it. They are not paying my bills. As long as I have a safe vehicle, and a safe place to live, I don’t care beyond that… you should see my pandemic hair…lol.


gepee March 11, 2021 at 1:04 pm

I’m totally with you on being cheap. Just irritated – is that a reposted post? Because going to a movie or a buffet is unthinkable of here in Germany at the moment. So it would be interesting to see what gifts of experience one can give when everything is closed.


Jill A March 11, 2021 at 1:18 pm

Not to speak for Katy but I’m pretty sure this is an old post. The Guardians of Galaxy came out years ago.


Katy March 11, 2021 at 1:48 pm

Sorry, I forgot to add that this was a reprinted post from 2016. I’ve added it in for clarification.


Bee from FL March 12, 2021 at 11:51 am

I wondered if buffers were allowed Oregon. :-0
Do you thin that we will ever have buffers again????


Bee from FL March 13, 2021 at 4:14 am

That was supposed to be buffets not buffers. Gotta Love autocorrect!


Carolyn Arnett March 11, 2021 at 1:04 pm

Your cheapness has given your family more of your time and you’re helping both of your kids get an education. Yay for cheapness.


Sam March 11, 2021 at 1:32 pm

I guess how we use words matter-I don’t like the word cheap as to me it says saving money at the expense of someone, or somethin, else. I like frugal or thrifty, but use it the same way you use cheap. We’d have never bought our first home without being frugal, which continued frugality, and being able to earn sweat equity got us our second. Being frugal in that house (current house) and paying it off before kids went to college means they could go to college without being loaded in debt for their undergrad. Even when we are fortunate enough to go on vacation, I practice frugality-grocery shopping in foreign countries and even different states is great entertainment and saves hundreds in restaurant costs.


K D March 12, 2021 at 1:56 pm

I too have the same associations with the word cheap. I think my BIL that took toilet paper home from work as cheap not frugal. I think my former friend that would photo copy grocery store rain checks, so she could always pay the sale price for chicken, as cheap, not frugal. In those instances someone was being cheated.

If I want to forgo something because I don’t find the price worthwhile I sometimes describe that as cheap but mostly I consider that to be frugal.


Christine March 12, 2021 at 4:26 pm

I would go a step further and call that dishonest. Amy D. from the Tightwad Gazette once had an article dealing with these same kinds of issues. There is a clear line between being cheap, frugal, tightwaddish, etc. and stealing.


Heidi Louise March 12, 2021 at 4:48 pm

I agree. Stealing is not only wrong, it isn’t even frugal, as it drives costs up for the business and ultimately the consumer.


Karyn Woodard March 11, 2021 at 1:43 pm

I think it’s harder to be cheap when people know you can afford not to be and when I know I don’t have to be. I can choose the expensive “treat” so it’s sometimes hard not to when I know I can. But I think the reason I can afford the expensive treat is because I am thoughtful about what I spend and therefore haves saved a lot. Love your blog!! I am a nurse too. 🙂


Bee March 12, 2021 at 9:34 am

OMG! This is me! My friends, family, and my own husband always “chastise” me for being cheap since they “know we can afford it.” I want my children, their children, and so on to be set and not drowning in debt, so I have no qualms about being cheap! If I splurge, just like you, it’s well thought out and meaningful…and a lot of research!


priskill March 12, 2021 at 12:43 pm

Yes, true! a friend once noted that my family “lived below our means” and I was taken aback — I just figured we were being careful, since my husband’s job was feast or famine while I was home with our daughter so we always had to have back up. I love this friend and she wasn’t being critical, but it really made me think. And ultimately, I am very happy with our choices for all the reasons you mention.


Bee March 13, 2021 at 4:16 am

Are you a new Bee?


Al March 11, 2021 at 2:25 pm

For me, being frugal is more about avoiding being wasteful, than being cheap.
I hate food waste, as I think many of us do, and am constantly striving to be better at this.
I wear clothing that I have had for many years. If it’s good qualify and still in reasonable shape,
then why replace it? I hate fast fashion and all that that entails. I do appreciate a deal though.
I recently bought 14 bags of $8 granola that was on for $1.77. It was due to expire, so it went
into the freezer. There is no way ever I would pay that for a small bag of granola, but the discounted
amount was reasonable.
The word cheap to me means that someone penny pinches to the extent of never
buying anything for anyone else, such as treating a friend to a coffee, or buying a meal
for family members. This is definitely not me, I am frugal so that I CAN take a friend
for lunch, or buy my parents dinner. I am not averse to treating myself either, DH and I
flew to Europe in business class a few years ago, which was twice the cost of Economy,
but we did have the money, and it was to celebrate the end of his cancer treatment.


Jen March 11, 2021 at 9:35 pm

Yes! You described it perfectly! Hating waste and spending on what is important is exactly the same for me.


priskill March 12, 2021 at 12:30 pm

Yes, so true- cheap/frugal vs. stingy. I am pretty “cheap” but I try not to be stingy. That is why I love this blog (and others, like The Frugal Girl and FrugalWoods) because they are all about maximizing your hard earned pennies but also enjoying your life the way YOU want to. I save so I can spend on the stuff that matters to me — and what a great reason to celebrate with your husband!


Marilyn March 12, 2021 at 11:37 pm

I agree! One wonderful thing about being cheap or frugal or sensible (or whatever you want to call it) is that you can afford to be generous. It is so nice to be able to do little things for family and friends or to be able to contribute to a cause you believe in.


Al March 13, 2021 at 12:29 pm

Yes, I forgot to mention that being frugal allows me to be able to donate to causes close to my heart, like cancer research, animal rescues , and to those organization that support the homeless, etc. Sometimes I’ll see a gofundme story that touches me, and I’ll support that.


shona March 11, 2021 at 2:41 pm

My parents are not cheap, nor thrifty, nor frugal, nor miserly. I did not come by this life, by any name you want to call it, honestly. I remember once my mother commented on my um… uh… well… she struggled for the word she wanted to use and she finally came out with “you can sometimes be CHEAP!” Not offended in the least bit. Cheapness, frugality, and thriftiness have all gotten me very far on a very low income.


Bee March 11, 2021 at 2:53 pm

I love the idea behind a Birthday Day of Adventures. It really does say, “ I love you and want to spend time with you.”
There was a time in my life when cost was the deciding factor in nearly every choice that I made involving money. Gift giving and holiday celebrations were always especially difficult. However, I learned over the years that it truly is the thought that counts! A gift given with love is always well received and one should never be embarrassed about a gift that comes from the heart.

True story: When my children were young and my mother was alive, she would take the kids Christmas Shopping at The Dollar Tree. On one of these trips, my son picked out a ceramic Dinosaur, a Parasaurolophus, to give to a family member. He choose this gift, because they used to read books about Dinosaurs together.
Now, this family member is a wealthy man who could and can buy just about anything that he wants. However nearly 30 years later, this humble gift stills sits upon his dresser in his beautiful home. My son gave it to him with love. He put as much thought into a gift as a 4-year old boy could and it is treasured. I think there is a moral in that for all of us.


Joyce March 11, 2021 at 5:16 pm

Bee, what a sweet story about your son’s gift!


priskill March 12, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Just love that story ! 🙂


Robyn Buck March 11, 2021 at 2:59 pm

I’ve been reading ans enjoying your blog for years and enjoying.. I feel we have a few things in common,
1 I’m frugal.
2 I’m a retired midwife and have mostly fond memories.
3 my 14 year old grandson firstly decided he was gay and now is trans. This is very recent. The family is adjusting. I sew and have offered to make some clothes for her. We are both excited about that. I had 5 grandsons and longed for a granddaughter so I am getting what I want!


Andrea M March 13, 2021 at 9:06 am

From the mom of a trans daughter- unconditional love and support from grandparents is truly priceless.


janine March 11, 2021 at 6:09 pm

Tonight we had a layered spaghetti casserole that featured some zucchini from our garden -the gift that keeps on giving! I’ve got to use it up, so tomorrow we are having zucchini “crab” cakes* featuring Old Bay Seasoning. I think there are still more bags of the stuff in the basement freezer……all very cheap!

Loved Katy’s reasoning about why she doesn’t owe anyone a more ostentatious lifestyle. Old car, old house, rescue dog, thrift store finds and inherited treasures all add up to a fairly gracious style of living for us. It works, is more environmentally sound, and helps save the planet as an added bonus.
* “Crab cake” recipe found in Fix it and Forget-it Vegetarian Cookbook by Phyllis Good.


Indigo March 11, 2021 at 9:14 pm

I grew up poor. To be clear this did not make my family cheap or frugal. Honestly with what little money we had much of it was wasted. To this day my Mother and one of my sisters looks down on thrifting, second hand, and more affordable options for groceries and more. This made even less sense as my Grandparents, who grew up in the depression, were very frugal but not miserly.

I have no such problems with being called cheap or frugal or anything else. I buy quality I couldn’t afford if not for second hand, thrifted, repaired, found, and when need be purchased new. As much as possible I want to buy a thing once, like my slow collection of pampered chef, nordicware, cast iron, hand thrown dishes, and quality knives… all of which was thrifted, ebayed, or made by me.

My burberry sweater? Given to me by a coworker who shrank it (I am a very short thin guy). My car used. My groceries bargain hunted from discount grocers like aldi and lidl, ethnic markets, and farmer’s stalls. I grow and pickle my own peppers, freeze corn, bake bread.

I also appreciate it all more I feel. I take care of my things but I also don’t worry about a scratch or a ding because they weren’t perfect when I got them. I don’t owe anyone the need for a bigger house, newer car, trendier wardrobe, or nonfrugal vacation. I like hiking, camping, museums, kayaking, and just wandering around one of the small towns nearby for an afternoon.

Instead I don’t have to worry about a vet bill ruining my finances, or having no money to jump on a great deal for something I need, or worry about putting food on the table or other bills. I get to enjoy life without borrowing from my future.


Alexandra Evans March 12, 2021 at 5:17 am

Indigo, You articulated so much of how we live. I loved your comment about not minding scratches and dings because they didn’t come to you perfect in the first place. That really hit home!


priskill March 12, 2021 at 12:35 pm

“I get to Enjoy life without borrowing from the future” — says it all!!


Mary March 14, 2021 at 4:19 pm

Well said! I was nodding my head yes all the way through reading your post.


Jen March 11, 2021 at 9:30 pm

I love the Birthday Adventures but they are harder to come by as my kids get older and also this pesky Pandemic has put a stop to most of our fun. My son’s 18th was all about food…and not having to do the same ol’ on a Saturday, like mowing the lawn. I much prefer to think of myself as Frugal than Cheap. I hope others think of me at Thoughtful or even dare I say, Generous, with my thoughtful gifts and hand-me-downs. I might drop dead if someone called me Cheap. Although, I do get a thrill out of saving money and all of my hobbies make money and at our house we try to make do, do without, make it last and wear it out. Just spent 3 hours listing on eBay and thought of you, Katy. I prefer acquiring, selling (cha-ching!) and even packing (with re-used supplies, of course) and shipping to the chore of LISTING. But, like you have said, it is a gift to my future self. Happy Birthday to your daughter (and thank her for “letting you” post a photo on your blog. My big kids/teens rarely even let me take photos!). At first, I was like, “What? Movie theaters are open?”. :). Always love to see a NCA post, no matter what. Hugs!


Simone March 12, 2021 at 2:32 am

Very nicely said. I think another word you might be looking for is “smart”. I too have struggled with these terms: frugal, cheap, penny pincher…and all the negative connotations that come along with them. I’m by no means as good as you, but I’ve been trying to embrace my ways – I like spending less on the things I don’t have to so that I have money for the things that matter more to me. Mine and my husband’s solid savings (and complete lack of debt) meant that when my contract wasn’t extended after the arrival of our second son, I didn’t feel like I was in a rush to step into a j.o.b. Instead, I have the means and time to sort out my career in a relaxed way and even pursue some (non-money-making) passion projects. But I can only do this because we chose to be “cheap” (aka: smart).


Val March 12, 2021 at 4:25 am

“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 prison.”


Being “cheap” affords me the life I WANT to live. 🙂


Jenelle March 12, 2021 at 5:41 am

I came from a frugal home as did my husband. My family had to be frugal due to our situation. My husband’s family was frugal so they could do things like vacations, etc. Now we joke about who is the cheapest, my dad or his mom. We all camp together so its funny to talk to them both and joke with them. My hubby and I have adopted a frugal lifestyle so we can basically “survive.” We made some poor decisions when we first got married and are now trying to turn things around.


priskill March 12, 2021 at 12:46 pm

What a lovely day for your daughter and that surprise — that the more thoughtful movie was so appreciated. You know they are growing up when . . . Kudos to you!


Bethany M March 13, 2021 at 6:58 pm

I like frugal better. I consider “cheap” a good word for clothing that’ll fall apart after one wash. But a 99 cent find at Goodwill for a Columbia jacket would be “frugal” to me. I’m happy to alter my vocabulary for others’ preference. It doesn’t mean that much to me. My sister-in-law prefers the term “trim” over “skinny.” Whatever. If you want to correct me, I’m okay with that.


t March 14, 2021 at 9:36 am

I’m cheap and I’m simple. All that baggage weighs me down and I want to fly.

The falderal over semantics?
Please, buy me a burger.


Mati March 15, 2021 at 2:52 pm

Guardians of the Galaxy was worth every cent we paid to see it; it was memorable, anything but formulaic and has become a family favorite. We still see first-run movies, but are picky and wait a little longer for most. This one would have made the cut.

This is a great way to celebrate a birthday! I’m the eldest of seven and it meant so much to have solo birthday afternoons with just our parents once we reached adolescence.


Karen March 15, 2021 at 5:31 pm

I am cheap, frugal, thrifty, careful with money. No apologies.

Income is a token exchange for portions of your life, typically spent in the service of another entity. You don’t get those life moments back – just the money. I do everything with an eye to saving money as much as any other resource, including my time. I decide what is most important for me to spend my resources on. Why are we so defensive about doing that over enriching someone else if we don’t have to?

I won’t take things other people have paid for unless it is offered. That’s theft.

What I want to know is why we aren’t discussing the potential terms for people on the other end of the spectrum. What about people who consistently live beyond their means, and pay extra for almost everything, in the form of credit card and loan interest?

Does the enjoyment they get from spending more than necessary compensate for having to spend extra hours in a job that they dislike? Does the lack of an emergency fund add an extra layer of positive stress when the hot water tank springs a leak? Does the depreciation incurred the second a new vehicle leaves the dealer’s lot make it run better? Are vacations more fun if you are still paying for the last one when you want to take a new one? Do you look nicer when you buy new clothing at full price and then donate it, unworn, with the tags still attached? Are expensive gifts that never again see the light of day deeply appreciated? Short answer: No.


Shona March 17, 2021 at 1:42 pm

Many of my coworkers have a second part time job. I did for awhile and it helped me pay off my student loans. It was also in a field I thought I wanted to go into, so I was also testing the waters (I quit years ago, but kept the great circle of friends I made). I’ve had co workers ask me how I make it (100% debt free) on the same salary without additional income- teach me your ways. But when push comes to shove, having 1.5 jobs in order to pay for a certain lifestyle seems like a better way to go vs. not buying new crap, un-subscribing to monthly beauty boxes, and packing a lunch. All that and don’t even ask any of them about an emergency fund! 401k? No contributions.


Lisa M. March 18, 2021 at 6:30 am

Karen – You are spot-on & articulate with every point you make. As far as working to afford a certain lifestyle, it is an exchange of part of one’s life to gain materials . It is a case of rats in a wheel. It makes logical sense that people would consider their priorities & shift their focus to simple measures that save $ versus constantly working more.

One of my friends was recently bragging about how she never worked just 1 full-time job while single but had 2 additional part-time jobs as well, while failing to mention that living with a parent facilitated her ability to do so. Many years later she related that her cc is maxed to the limit. Pre-Covid we dined out together during Happy Hour – she spent $50 on seafood & alcohol while I spent $8 on 2 appetizers & water. Could there be more of a contrast?


auntiali March 18, 2021 at 11:27 pm

Oh my beauty box subscriptions are something way beyond my comprehension. I don’t wear any make up though so maybe that’s why.

When hubby and I got married I was the black sheep of the family by having a small wedding and catered food by hubby’s aunts and other family members. My maid of honor wore one of her bridesmaid dresses in her closet.

My sister call me cheap but they are drowning in debt or are financially insecure. We bought a house we could afford and I decided to live on hubby’s salary when I wanted to stay home after having our children. I hit garage sales for clothing. My one sister had the nerve to say to me “my kids never wore garage sale clothes.” Once family and church members saw that we were making it on our own on one salary we were very lucky to receive hand me downs, gifts from dh’s old aunties who like to shop clearance and garage sales. Once the kids got older we were able to send them for a week for church camp without help from church and take a short vacation. Our church gave us some money to use toward our two children’s hearing aids! Not covered by insurance at that time.

We’ve stayed in our “starter” house and haven’t moved up like my sister did, we’ve been fortunate that dh has had the same job – moving up the ranks – for the last 34 years. Our son lives in Singapore in a rented bedroom in an apartment. He loves it there. Our daughter is also frugal using the moritorium on student loan interest during the pandemic to pay off her student loans.

We have all been very blessed if not conventional but being conventional doesn’t matter to us.


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