Me Cheap? Sure, Why not!

by Katy on August 7, 2011 · 104 comments

I get Google alerts whenever someone out there in cyberland writes about The Non-Consumer Advocate, and this morning I received a message that:

“I have a love/hate relationship with The NonConsumer Advocate. Sometimes she crosses that fine line between frugal and cheap, and I really dislike that.”

Hmm . . . do I cross the line between frugal and cheap?

Do I sneak my own candy in movie theaters? Yes. Do I get an inordinate amount of pleasure in discovering new Finicky Frugal maneuverings? Definitely. How about always bringing my own lunch to work? You betcha!

On the other hand:

Am I a big tipper? Uh huh. Does my family donate to charity? Every month. Do we take in foreign exchange teachers, students and athletes? Yup. Fourteen times so far.

So, what is it? Am I frugal or cheap?

I guess what it boils down to is whether my cheapness is seen as a path to living the frugal, yet generous life that I want; or is my cheapness a self-centered habit, benefitting myself at the expense of others?

My conclusion?

Call it what you will, but we all pinch pennies so that they’re available for the luxuries we value the most. This may be the ability to stay home with one’s children while they’re small, or to enjoy a camping-free vacation like I’m about to embark on. Cheapness in one area allows for wonderful splurges in another. (And hopefully one’s own cheapness does not leave others to pick up the slack, nothing admirable in that kind of life.)

So go ahead, call me cheap. I’ll wear it with pride.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Twitter.

Click HERE to join The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group.

{ 104 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel @ the minimalist mom August 7, 2011 at 11:42 am

To me, cheap is all about how you treat others. I don’t see anything cheap in your frugal ways. Cheap is bringing plain potatoes to a pot luck or bad tipping or not reciprocating generosity.

You can be frugal and generous. They are not mutually exclusive attributes.


Erin August 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

In my mind, “cheap” is being frugal at the expense of others. From what you have shared about yourself in your post (donating regularly to charities and hosting others in your home), it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re doing at all.

Love your posts, keep ’em coming!


Sara Wolk August 7, 2011 at 11:54 am

You are super generous! You give great presents, have taken me out to eat lots, and go out of your way to support good causes and put your money where it counts. Waste not, want not. Some people just don’t have the courage to take frugality to the highest level. It’s not always glamorous, but it pays of in the end.


Elizabeth L. August 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I love it when I inadvertently cause blogosphere controversy. 🙂

This Google alert actually came from me, replying to a comment left on my blog.

I read your blog everyday and I know that most of the time your excellent frugal practices, are just that excellent and frugal. I think the compact is a great idea and I applaud you for doing it, sticking with it, and maintaining so many of its principals over the years.

I also commend you for doing what you do so that you can afford to take your family on vacations, pay off your house, and have a nice, comfortable life. And you blog about it, opening yourself up to people commenting on your life and your practices (um hence the reason for this post 🙂 )

What I meant by saying you sometimes cross the line between frugal and cheap is when you talk about taking leftover food from the cottages after you clean them and reselling stuff you find in thrift stores for way more money.

The first just seems cheap and the ick factor (eating food left by strangers freaks me out!) just gets to me. Obviously, you have never gotten sick and don’t have a problem with it (more power to you!), I’m the one who views it as odd, and am, of course, entitled to my own opinion, just as you are.

It’s probably not, but reselling the items you find in thrift stores and making money seems somehow unethical to me. I realize people have discarded these items and we are all free to do whatever we want with things we find, again, just something about it seems wrong to me.

These are MY issues. You and everyone else are entitled to your own opinions and to do whatever you like; I’m not actually criticizing you or how you live your life (I’m sorry if it seems that way; I’m trying very hard to not make it sound that way); just simply stating my opinion and my thoughts.

I read your blog everyday and follow you on Facebook and Twitter. These few examples are not enough to keep me away. (I’m very addicted to your decluttering posts!). I was merely stating an opinion and I sincerely hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. That was never my intention and I apologize if I did.

I also apologize for the length of this comment. 🙂


Maddie August 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Well said.


Karen August 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Wow. Really? Buying and reselling from thrift stores, unethical? That’s crazy talk.


Cate August 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I think most of the time the food Katy takes from the guest cottages is unopened or clearly unharmed (I could be wrong!) Hey, I would do it. 😉 I wouldn’t take somebody’s left-behind restaurant leftovers or anything, but I would totally take a left-behind pint of strawberries or a 3/4 full container of cream with a safe expiration date. But that’s just me.


Cate August 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Oh–it also has the benefit of avoiding food waste!

I don’t really see anything wrong with reselling stuff from thrift stores. Freecycle or charity would be one thing, but thrift stores? Nah.


harriet August 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I’m really more of a spendthrift than cheap–in fact no one would describe me as cheap–but I eat food and drink left behind by tenants at my vacation rental. What’s the difference? If they were my friends and asked me if I wanted a glass of juice, I’d drink a glass of juice. Doesn’t seem any different from drinking a glass of juice from a carton left by tenants.

As for thrift store reselling, I also do the same, as an antique dealer. I get paid for having a very good eye at weeding out junk for clients. Nothing wrong with that.

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I think as long as you’re not reselling something from Freecycle, you’re good. (Freecycle specifically states that you’re not supposed to resell stuff you get)

CB September 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm

This is an opinion some may find judgy (sorry!) but I think that people are a little out of perspecitve when they think that taking food – even opened food, gasp! – is icky.

Taking a stragers hotdog that has a bite taken out of it? Sure, that’s icky. But taking some stranger’s opened salad dressing bottle or half used bag of baby spinach? What’s the big deal? It’s perfectly good food, it’s not like it’s got some sort of weird disease from someone else having handled the bottle so something. I think it’s great that someone else is willing to use up this food.


celina boulanger August 21, 2015 at 2:35 am

again , each their own opinions…but when i leave the food in the fridge or the counter all neat like when i leave a vacation rental< I HOPE someone takes it home….

i discard any iffy stuff…but i think most would be thrilled to know.

as well ..(again each their own opinion) i have dumped stuff during a move (several of them) that i just couldnt deal with….would put at curb..and someone would take it….i'd be thrilled if they could benefit from it…it is all in the hunt…she does the work, of cleaning, washing, posting…very few former owners would be upset (i believe)


celina boulanger August 21, 2015 at 2:38 am

(and Katy..your finicky frugal manuvering link is not working..thanks)))

Katy August 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Keep in mind that I have almost always met the tenants in my mother’s high price rental cottages, so they’re technically not “strangers.” (Almost full container of organic shredded parmesan cheese? Yes please!)

I am totally fine with the ethics re-selling things found at Goodwill. Would you have a problem with it if I had a booth at an antique mall? I do put the work into researching the items, photographing them and then listing them on craigslist or eBay.

It’s funny you mention this because just today I bought a $300 bike for $15 at Goodwill. It’s already on craigslist, and I’m asking $120. This will give us an extra $100 in spending money for our vacation.

Thanks for the fodder. 😀



Su Mama August 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Katy’s Ma here. Alas, she wasn’t able to help clean one of the cottages today. The guest left a big thing of red pepper hummus and tortilla chips, two pale ales, almost-full tub of that soft butter stuff, some Tillammook cheddar, 3/4-full big jar of salsa, most of a half-gallon of soy milk. I’m finally home, the TV’s on with a program segment about the 29,000 Somali kids who’ve thus far perished of starvation in that country’s recent famine. As Katy points out, the people who can afford $150 a night, up to $2000 a month, to stay in our little places are generally well-off, educated, and spend WAAAY more on specialty foods. (They’re often in town for family events, and have little parties.) I wouldn’t DREAM of throwing away that stuff — and get a kick out of Katy’s willingness to share in the bounty.


CB September 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Re – reselling thrifted items – I actually think that this is a really AWESOME example of how people are creating efficiency in our economy. They are providing a service by finding and marketing goods that people want. They are paying for the good honestly, and selling it honestly to someone who (presumably) can give it another useful life. It think it’s great!

I myself sometimes sell items on CL for the full value they are worth, and sometimes don’t have the time to invest in getting their worth so sell them cheap to the first person who comes by with the cash. If that person re-sells I really don’t care.


Shannon August 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I don’t agree about reselling being unethical. The thrift store prices an item at what it believes is a fair and realistic price. They don’t have the time or resources to figure out how much money some niche item might bring, or even if their local clientele would be willing to pay a higher price for said item. Buying low and selling high is the principle behind all retail activity. If anything, I’d say what Katy does is actually more ethical, than say, a big box store buying cheap goods from an overseas wholesaler (goods created by underpaid workers) because she’s buying used items, and the money she pays for them—the price asked for by the thrift store—is going to a good cause because most of those thrifts are charitable organizations.


namastemama August 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

Wow! well said.


priskill August 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I agree — first time poster (read your comments often at the Frugal Girl, another wonderful blog) and am really enjoying your site. You sound cleverly frugal, NOT cheap, i.e., generous yet mindful within your personal budget — more power to you!! I try to be like this (not always successfully) so I really appreciate the examples set by you, Kristen, et al. Love that your good ideas come with humor!


Tracy August 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Yes, they ARE your own issues, and kudos to you for realizing that.

Using left-over food is not necessarily icky, unless someone has actually put it into his mouth, and then left it. Reselling stuff you find at a thrift store is smart. There are a lot of people out there who would NEVER go to a thrift store, but have no compunctions about buying used from a “real person.” Katy is using this fact to her advantage. If she has the time and patience to find things, clean them up, and sell them for more than what she paid for them, she DESERVES the money.


AK August 9, 2011 at 7:56 am

I think that re-selling an item clearly *given* to you…for example, hand-me-down clothing from a neighbor…smacks of bad taste. If something was freely given to me, I feel I should freely pass it on. However, things that I have purchased and no longer have use for are fair game, no matter where purchased. The thrift store received the item freely, then they *sold it* to benefit (usually) a charity. They also pay workers, at times. If I then pay for it, I am supporting a business and a charity. What I choose to do with the item is “fair game” at that point. Perhaps you should be most offended that Goodwill Industries has now made quite the business of re-selling things it KNOWS to be of value, for a higher price on e-bay or other bargain sites. An out-of-print book I was seeking was being offered, used, sold by Goodwill. They took a donated item, and RESOLD it. 🙂 I think most Americans are just grateful there are charity outlets for old clutter and that such items don’t end up in a landfill. I think re-selling items is ethical and smart. 🙂 As for taking left-behind food, I find it so interesting what people are squeamish about… I think we are ridiculously phobic about food. I don’t want a left-behind bitten sandwich…but three leftover apples, whole? Um, I’ll take em. They are being saved from waste!


WilliamB August 9, 2011 at 8:35 am

Elizabeth L, can you go into more detail about why you consider reselling thrift store purchases is unethical?


Elizabeth L. August 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

I think I should just probably write a post about it and take some time to really lay out my thoughts, but for now, read the comments on this ( and you’ll probably get a good idea of why I think that.


WilliamB August 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

I read the post and the comments. I think I understand a bit better. I don’t agree but I have an idea of where you’re coming from.

I also backtracked your original comment. I think it would take either someone new to your blog or a contortionist to take what you wrote as really offensive. It was a negative opinion (oh noes!) (note sarcasm), and there may have been a gentler way to say the same thing; but it was on your own blog, it wasn’t a personal attack and you didn’t try to insist others have the same opinion. Seems within the pale to me.

Another county heard from, as my grandmother used to say.


Ani Mia August 21, 2015 at 5:17 am

I Agee with you William B and just wanted you to know I will now be appropriating your Grandmother’s phrase for use with my kids. It is amazing

Auntie Karen August 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Anyone who has been in the presence of true “cheapness” can easily discern the difference between that and the frugality that you advocate. The host who decants painfully bad wine into an expensive basket-wrapped chianti bottle and passes it off as something other than the crap it is, is cheap. The parent who consistently drops a child off for an hour-turned-half-a-day playdate but never reciprocates, is cheap. Living in a spirit of schadenfreude, lest they be tempted to give emotionally or tangibly to others, is cheap. Someone who is cheap not only pinches their own pennies, but pinches the pennies of others (that would be literal pennies as well as metaphorical ones). The spirit of generosity overflows in your Non-Consumer Advocate blog. Perhaps that love/hate relationship floating out there in cyberland has more to do with how a reader or two might feel about their own failure at achieving the balance of frugality and happiness that you are striving for. I have yet to meet someone who is cheap who is also happy. I have met you and your family and you all seem quite balanced and happy. Don’t let any cheap shots change that for you.


Mary Kate August 8, 2011 at 4:04 am

Ditto. Exactly what I was thinking. Reselling thrift store finds is no different from any other form of commerce. Katy has inspired me to be less picky about accepting food that others no longer want. It’s a win-win because there is less waste (trash) and I save money. My verdict: Katy is frugal in many ways but I have never perceived her as cheap.


priskill August 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Nicely said! It has been very worthwhile reading this whole discussion and the original comment from Elizabeth that set it off — it has definitely made me more mindful while demonstrating, for about the umpteenth time, that things are so often muddled in grey areas. And everyone was classy!


Mama Minou August 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Interesting debate! I’m getting that “cheap” embodies the spirit of stinginess (even selfishness) to most of us while “frugal” has much better associations. I don’t know if I agree, but haven’t checked the dictionary.

I’m proud to be frugal. Extreme in some areas so I can splurge in others, as Katy said. It’s all about the choices and trade-offs!


Trish August 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I disagree about the ethics of reselling thrift store stuff to make money. When we were in the market for a truck, my brother considered selling us his truck, for less than what it was worth. He was being generous. I told a neighbor, who wanted to buy it from him to resell at a higher price. That’s cheap and rude, taking advantage of someone’s generosity. Or how about the neighbor who needed a tool box for his truck bed, or so I thought. I gave him the one sitting in our garage which had gone unused for years. It turned up at his next garage sale.

I am always really impressed with you Katy. Of course there are always people who disagree with us. Remember when Amy Dacyczyn was slammed in Money magazine for her frugality, and the Money folks went so far as to say she was depriving her kids. What always struck me was that they failed to acknowledge that Amy was able to spend TIME with her kids, way better than any nintendo or expensive pair of shoes.


asrai August 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Trent at the Simple Dollar once posted about this.

“The seller has the responsibility of setting the price for the item. If they want to set an accurate price, they should investigate the item they’re selling.”


harriet August 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

That’s not necessarily true. As an antique dealer, it’s unethical for me to accept rock bottom price on a very valuable item. Actually happened to me last year: someone wrote to me asking to buy something their SIL left them. I could have paid $1500 for it and they would have been thrilled. But I knew it was worth much more, so I told the person to take the item to the local art museum, where they confirmed it was a treasure. The seller put it up for auction and it sold for $85,000.

I think I did the right thing, but sometimes I think “FOOL!” Heh.


Jessica August 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Thanks for sharing that Harriet, I had read before about how people with a knowledge of the true value of an item are required to act ethically when faced with getting the item for much less than its worth, its good to have it confirmed as I was beginning to think I was crazy.


Shannon August 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

That article about Amy Dacyczyn still just kills me! Goodness, her children were largely eating organic, home grown and home cooked foods, spending time with their parents, and learning tons of skills that will go far in helping them survive and thrive in life!


Trish August 8, 2011 at 4:50 am

Yeah, Shannon. Alot of the complaints against Amy and the way she raised her kids don’t hold up in light of what you point out. Freshly cooked muffins for breakfast? even though, as the article pointed out, Amy used some leftover stuff in them, they’re better than a ‘toaster strudel’ full of artificial ingredients.


Karen August 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I remember seeing Amy on Donahue. Some people in the studio audience actually stated that her kids were deprived if they didn’t go to the fast food place with the goofy clown on a somewhat regular basis. Now look at what people say about eating there. I think frugality is smart, cheap is underhanded.


Amanda August 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Trish, I have to respectfully disagree with you about the ethics of selling a gift or donation. Once you donate or give something to someone, you relinquish control over that item, you give control over to the new person. What they then do with that item is their business, no longer yours. If they want to put the time and effort into selling an item you gave them, so be it, you could have sold it, but you chose to give it away. If I donate all my maternity clothes to Goodwill and someone else buys them to sell, not wear, I have no right to be outraged because I got ‘cheated’. I was not under duress to donate, I freely gave my items.


Trish August 8, 2011 at 4:45 am

I agree with you Amanda. But in this specific circumstance, my neighbor misled me into thinking he personally was in need of an item, when he planned all along to sell it himself. I didn’t think it was very ethical for him to deliberately mislead me. But he had done us a favor or two over the years so I didn’t sweat it all that much.


AK August 9, 2011 at 8:02 am

Trish, I agree with you. My neighbor indicated she “loved hand-me down clothing” and then sold what I had given her at the next garage sale she hosted.. Next door to my garage sale. Ahem. 🙂 I think, in both cases, the neighbors were obligated to try to return the item– saying it was no longer needed– and then I should have been given the option to reclaim the items or allow them to dispose of them at their own discretion. I thought it was in super bad taste to collect a few dollars, under my nose, for items I had given her three months earlier. Lesson learned.


CB September 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I think that an item purchased at asking price at a thrift shop and one given or sold at a discount due to a personal relationship is two very different situations. I agree with you that it would be a poor move to do either of these things! If he was going to sell the tool box he should have offered to give it back to you first.


asrai August 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm

One person’s “too far” is someone else’s “not far enough”. Frugal and cheap are so subjective, that it’s impossble to say. It depends on your values. To someone who makes $200/hr, making their own laundry detergent isn’t worth the effort. To someone who stays at home, it is worth it.

“I don’t know what obscenity is, but I know when I see it.”


Teresa August 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Well put. Depending on where you are living in the world Katy’s and most all of our lives would be considered far from cheap, but rather a life of luxury. We are all different and that is what makes the world go ’round. Thanks for all you do and your constant inspiration Katy.


Rivqa August 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I have a very frugal friend who won’t donate to charity unless it’s tax deductible. To me that crosses the line but nothing I’ve read here ever does. Your generosity of spirit is obvious.


Maddie August 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Amanda is right, once you donate/give something, you do relinquish control over it. However, imagine if you gave me a gift and I laughed at it then smashed it with a hammer. I think you would have the right to be upset even though you no longer have control over it. I think what rubs me wrong about shopping at Goodwill to make money is that many of the people who shop there don’t have the money to buy expensive or new. For many, the $15 bike is all they can afford for their child or it may become their sole source of transportation. Many years ago, I shopped at thrift stores out of neccessity, now I occasionally shop for things I need although I could buy new. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is wrong to shop at Goodwill to make money, but it does not set well with me.


Jessica August 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Maddie that is the way I view it as well, buying something at a thrift store to resell deprives someone who actually may need the item at the thrift store price for necessities, like those you mention.

On the other hand, I take snacks to the movies pretty often, especially drinks since I don’t need a vat of Coke, just a bottle.


Sherry August 8, 2011 at 6:35 am

Goodwill is pretty clear about their primary mission, just look at their website: “We help people who are looking for work or better jobs so they can better provide for their families.” They give people jobs that for a variety of reasons have a hard time getting a traditional job. They welcome shoppers from all economic groups so that they can fulfill that mission.
I don’t really feel great about taking your own snacks and drinks to the movies (even though they are SO overpriced and my dad would do it all the time when we were kids) because I think you are pinching pennies at someone else’s expense.


CB September 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Interesting I never would have thought of it that way.

However, to extend this logic, would that mean that if you can afford retail prices you shouldn’t shop at thrift shops at all, so that you don’t deprive people of less means of the availability of whatever items you would have bought for your personal use?


Elizabeth L. August 8, 2011 at 6:34 am

Maddie, this is how I feel as well. While I mostly see buying and reselling items found a thrift stores as savvy and points to an excellent ability to recognize quality items, I do think about the “typical” thrift store customer. The one who is just trying to clothe her children and perhaps bring home a special gift that she couldn’t ordinarily purchase. If I buy something and resell it, I could be depriving someone of something they truly need.

Of course, this is VERY nit-picky and certainly isn’t the way everyone is going to view the issue. That’s just the way I view it.

I do see a difference in buying something at a garage sale and reselling it versus buying and selling something that was donated. When I donate something, I hope it’s going to someone who actually needs it, not someone who is going to make some money off it.

I’m so glad to see this discussion. I’ve never thought so deeply about this sort of issue and I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s response.


Lisa Under the Redwoods August 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

I can see your point, but when I donate something it is with the idea that the thrift store that I donate to will make money off of it. (They support an abused women’s shelter.) I know the store I donate to is savvy enough to price their items correctly for their market. (Keep in mind that they generally make more money if they can turn items over quickly.) If someone were to go out and make the effort of finding another market for an item, so be it.

If I were worried about items going specifically to people in need, I would simply donate directly to a shelter or a church’s clothing closet.

***I’m really hoping the next paragraphs doesn’t sound harsh. I can’t think of another way to put it. ******

I don’t really have to shop at thrift stores, but if every time I do, by your logic, I could be “depriving someone of something they truly need.” Regardless of whether I am going to wear that shirt I just bought, or put it up on e-bay it is no longer available for purchase at that shop.

On the other hand, if I, and others in my economic situation, didn’t shop at the thrift store then the women’s center would have a harder time keeping its doors open.


celina boulanger August 21, 2015 at 2:51 am

i was just at goodwill yesterday, getting an new to us fall wardrobe for my teen. the prices are reasonable there…(as opposed to some i’ve been to..)..and i can tell you..the clientele there….was mostly all in the middle class or higher range (you should see the cars in the parking lot)… they have such an abundance of clothes..they need them gone for the truckload of stuff dropped off daily. No i might not be ‘in need” but i can’t find modest decent well made clothes for my busty 14 yr old (who is an environmental freak who requests modesty and loves that i go to goodwill) and i figure for the several van loads i donate each of our (too many) moves…i can fork over my cash like anyone else and benefit from their service…Let’s face it it is not the poor who tend to go thrifting…(i’ve seen better prices at walmart) with freecycle they can often scoop up what is NEEDED for free…i always reply to iso posts if i have it… thrifting is today..more about repurposing the HUGE amount of consumer goods we are going through today….


Ann August 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I don’t have a problem with anyone buying from thrift stores to sell for more…more power to them. Actually, I would love to have a buddy who could sell my stuff on ebay and craigslist and maybe split the proceeds, because, frankly, my work schedule makes posting and photographing prohibitive.

Not the movie candy, though. Either I don’t eat any or buy it there.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Yup. I lovingly disagree with Katie on the movie candy issue.


danyel August 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm

How do you know an item (like that bike) is worth so much when you see it? Do you research it on your cell. I’d love to do that kind of stuff. Thanks



Katy August 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

It was the girl version of the bike my son used to have. Also, it was a “Trek” brand bike and had a sticker from a local expensive bike shop.



Tracy August 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm

“Cheap” is saving money without regard to the quality or safety of one’s own or one’s family’s life. “Frugal” is giving high regard to the quality of one’s own AND one’s family’s life, but doing it in an inexpensive way.

You rock the frugal, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that you do that I thought was cheap.


Heather August 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I don’t agree with breaking rules to save money. Bringing your own candy into the movie theater is really walking the line.


Ellie August 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Wow, interesting post and comments!

I have to say, I never thought of Katy as “cheap”, for all of the reasons cited above. I know people who I consider “cheap”, and it’s totally different.

Also, regarding smuggling candy into movie theaters: yes, it’s technically breaking the rules, but I personally feel the game is rigged to begin with. You pay to see a MOVIE, and then are held hostage for a ridiculous amount of advertising, in the form of endless trailers, lobby advertising – even ads in the restrooms! – and of course, the pushing of the over-priced concessions. The whole “movie” experience often feels line one giant ad for more products. If I paid to see a movie and got a movie without being used as a pair of captive eyeballs to sell advertising and push products, I’d have more sympathy for the theaters. But that’s just me.


Cate August 8, 2011 at 4:47 am

I feel the same way about the movie candy issue. It’s not my fault that the movie theater makes their money from concessions! If that’s not working for them, then they need to figure out something else. I patronize them for their movies, not their snacks. And honestly, I’m not taking money from their pockets because while I’ll occasionally buy a drink or a small popcorn there, I NEVER buy their $6/box candy. Are you kidding? So they’re not making money off of me either way in that instance.


Dylan August 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I have a question: Would you sneak candy into a movie theatre if it was a small independent theatre and not a big chain?

I ask, because I admit to occasionally bringing my own treats when I go to a movie at the big chain theatres. When I’m in a smaller theatre that is a family run business, (no commericals, 2 trailers max, no advertising in the bathrooms) I buy from their concession. The prices are better there, and I know they only get a portion of the box office ticket sales. The candy and popcorn is what pays the bills.

Would knowing that your candy purchase from the concession stand is a vital part of them staying in business make a difference?


Cate August 8, 2011 at 4:48 am

I have noticed that my husband and I tend to buy snacks much more frequently at our wonderful locally-owned theater, and we’re happy to support them. However, they don’t blatantly gouge customers on snack prices, either. They’re pricey, but less so than at huge chain theaters.


Ellie August 8, 2011 at 5:27 am

I have to agree – back when I actually HAD a small, local theater, I had no problem buying something if I wanted it, mainly to support them. (Honestly, I actually usualy don’t care to eat during movies anyway – so normally, I just don’t buy anything – but at that movie theater, I’d occassionally get a drink, and I’d do it part because I figured “hey, they can use the extra money.”)

I understand that most of all theater’s money goes back to the distributers and that they depend on the concessions, but honestly, I just don’t have much patience for a system of chain movie theaters that charges me (an ever-increasing price) to see a movie and then “delivers” me to the advertisers, to the extent that it’s done today. (I also can’t help but wonder about collusion.) It’s one of the reasons I don’t even really go to movies much any more.


Elaine August 8, 2011 at 5:50 am

Sounds like the movie theater business needs an ethical overhaul.

I used to go to the $2 movie theater to see movies, and I never bought snacks there, either. I take my water bottle everywhere with me, even to church, so taking it to the movie theater doesn’t even blip my ethical radar.

Mostly, I seldom go to movies anymore because I can’t afford them. No big deal. I can go to the library and borrow DVDs any time.

Not spending $8 on plastic popcorn and a water-down soft drink leaves me $8 to spend on food pantry donations each month.


Gina August 9, 2011 at 6:50 am

I am a rule follower so I don’t typically feel comfortable bringing in snacks and we don’t generally eat candy or drink soda pop so it’s a non issue. However where I have a problem is water. My husband and I like to keep well hydrated and bring water everywhere. I do not want to pay theatre prices for bottled water and the free tap water they sometimes will provide comes in such small cups that there is no way that is going to keep us through a two hour movie. Do you think it is wrong to bring your own water?

(We had an experience once where a theater employee was going to confiscate my husband’s Nalgene bottle if he didn’t dump out the water.)


NZ reader August 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Very interesting post and comments!

There is definitely a line between being frugal and cheap and I try hard not to cross it, but it is so very subjective. What I consider frugal, someone else might call cheap and vice versa. It is such a personal choice and perspective.

I can’t stand food waste, so I’d happily use up food someone had left in cottages rented out by a family member.

I don’t quite understand the taking candy into movies issue. In New Zealand, we do that all the time and no-one thinks twice about it. Theatres do of course have candy stands but they are expensive. Plus, their range is limited. In some of our theatres, you can take wine and beer in with you – purchased there of course. And I would never take anything other than candy in. Can someone explain to me why it’s considered taboo in the USA? (just cos I am curious)


Ellie August 8, 2011 at 5:30 am

It’s against the rules of the theaters. Most US movie theaters have signs posted informing you that cannot bring outside food or drink in. Occassionally, some theaters even used to demand that you submit to a bag search to get into the movie, although I think that went over so poorly that I don’t hear about that happening much any more.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 8, 2011 at 5:31 am

It’s against the rules…the theaters specify that no outside food or drink is permitted.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 8, 2011 at 5:31 am

Ha! Ellie and I posted at almost the same time. 🙂


Frugal Down Under August 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I’m in Australia. I take my own lollies and drinks to the movies. By doing this I spend roughly $10 instead of $30 for the 3 of us, that is a huge difference in our finances. Our big chain never has searches and I don’t see any policies about food marked anywhere on the walls. And if they did, I may go to their movies even less as the costs are so high anyway. (Cheaper to buy a second hand DVD)

Our small outdoor independent cinema welcome people bringing their picnic. They ask that you don’t bring alcohol as they sell wine and beer. They seem to do ok and only advertise local small businesses and community organisations. Once a week they run a fundraiser screening too. I think they are doing something right that others could learn from.


Kathleen Harris August 8, 2011 at 2:17 am

Regarding movie theaters–about 80% (or more) of the ticket sales goes back to the movie studios, so the concessions are how the theaters make their money. I know the prices seem ludicrous, but that’s really how they’re going to pay for salaries, utilities, and building upkeep.


Jude August 8, 2011 at 4:51 am

A big tipper. Charitable. Provider of shelter to athletes and exchange students. You’re awesome.

By the way, who doesn’t bring their own candy to movies?


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 8, 2011 at 5:30 am

*sheepishly raises hand*

I hardly ever go to the movies, but when I do, I usually just don’t buy snacks (it is possible to watch a movie without eating, after all).

Obviously, that’s not helping the movie theater, but it’s also not breaking the rules.


Ann August 8, 2011 at 11:40 am

I don’t either.


CC August 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I don’t either. I almost never go to the movies but when I do I buy a small popcorn and coke. Small because I don’t want to run to the bathroom in the middle of the movie. I just think of it as part of getting out and enjoying the experience.

Its funny how some think this part of the movie business should be changed and shouldn’t be part of the cost of going. And its not, you could eat before or after, which is what we used to do. Dinner and a movie. Because some people I talk to are fine with tipping servers for any type of service, because they get so low wages and need the tips. I would rather they get a good pay and then tipped on the service you receive.

But then again I go out and I tip around 20% because its not a everyday thing, and to me at least its part of going out.


WilliamB August 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

I agree: I would much rather waitstaff got reasonable wages (or at least minimum wage) and the menu prices were higher, than to do through the rigamarole of tipping.

But until the system changes to this, or until I move to a country that has this system, I will continue to tip at restaurants.

CB September 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Here is a business/ethics question for you (I’m unbiased as I cannot remember the last time that I went to a movie)

From the theatre’s perspective, which do you think they’d prefer:
– You pay to watch the movie, but bring your own snacks.
– You don’t go to the movie because you don’t want to have to “sneak” in snacks, but aren’t willing to pay the very high cost for snacks

It could be that there take from the ticket sale is so low that the incremental cost of the extra paytron isn’t worth it (cleaning and such).

Anyway, I just wonder. Because of these kinds of issues I perfer to watch movies in the comfort of my own home where I can eat what I like.


Elaine August 8, 2011 at 5:28 am

You’re frugal if you buy less expensive toilet paper

You’re cheap if you separate one 2-ply roll into two 1-ply rolls, or if you ration the number of squares each person is allowed to use.

You’re frugal if you use meat as an ingredient in your dinner, instead of as the main event.

You’re cheap if you use one ounce of meat (total) to make dinner for four people.

You’re frugal if you take care of your older and paid-for car and drive for a long time.

You’re cheap if you save money by never changing the oil in your car and leave a trail of blue smoke where you go.

You’re frugal if you sneak your own candy, popcorn, and/or drink into the movies.

(You’re not very bright if you buy candy, popcorn, and/or drink at the concession stand.)

You’re cheap if you sneak in one soda and one candy bar, and split it up among four people (or even two people, especially if you’re on a date).

I think “Frugal” enriches our lives, but “Cheap” impoverishes our lives.


Lindsey August 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Really? I am stupid because I respect the rules at the theater? Really? Or is it that you are ethically challenged and anyone who is not is stupid for being honest? What I am teaching my children is that I cheat. And if I cheat on this, I will cheat on other things and so will they. You act like there is no other alternative—one is not to go to the movies and the other is not to eat at the movies.


CC August 10, 2011 at 2:41 am

That is a good point Lindsey.

Because children are sponges soaking up everything around them. And usually the things we would rather they not learn.LOL

My child is 30 and the first 10 years of teaching/showing him to be a good citizen has severed me more than him I think for all this time. It became a good habit I’m happy to follow. Plus I now know not much is a big deal and I’m much happier when I follow the rules.


CC August 10, 2011 at 2:43 am

I meant that it became a habit after the first 10 years and was much easier to do what I thought was the right thing most of the time.

Too early to be posting I think.LOL


Barb August 10, 2011 at 5:54 am

sorry, but while Im with Katy on the bike issue, deliberately ignoring the rules of the theater is the stupid choice in my opinion. I tried to teach my now grown children that ethics are not situational. cheating because you think the rules re unfair doesnt make it right.

In our case, we assume that the cost of the movie includes popcorn and a drink. If we dont have that cost we dont go. But rahter than sneak something in, theres always the opportunity to have no snack, watch the movie and comehome and have a treat


Barb August 8, 2011 at 6:20 am

I have not read ahead and dont read on Sunday so forgive me but….while I wont comment on the food issue, Im unsure how buying something ANYWHERE and reselling it is unethical. I have an Amazon store front. Almost all the books I buy and resll come from thrift stores, yard sales and estate sales and the occasional large library sale. Ive been doing this for a long time and never thought ofit as unethical. As a thrift store owner, you have the opportunity in this day and age to research value and set it. Heck, I bought a handmade (handpieced and handquilted) quilt for thirty bucks a few weeks ago at a thrift shop. although this one will be kept for me, I surely would not feel an guilt if I resold it at the next craft fair or on etsy, as long as I was clear that I did notmake the item.


Mel August 8, 2011 at 7:31 am

As to depriving people who rely on thrift-store shopping to provide for their kids (I am among them)….Have you actually been to a thrift store? Y’all we live in a land that is overflowing with STUFF! I regularly shop at a series of thrift stores (BTW, we are not even in the “nice” part of town with the allegedly “good” stuff) and I always think we need more shoppers, not less, to help us handle the abundance that shows up at any given thrift store every single day! I could clothe all of my children, fill their toy boxes and bookshelves to overflowing again and again as well as fill my garage, my kitchen cupboards, etc over and over again and there would still be more at my local thrift stores. So, say I, shop on…there is more than enough to go around in this land o’ stuff!


Ellie August 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I have to say, I think this is the best explanation as to why I feel there’s really nothing unethical about re-selling thrift-store finds.

If there really were a limited supply of affordable second-hand items out there, and if re-selling a “vintage” (as opposed to merely “old” or “used”) item were really depriving someone of something they needed, it would be one thing. But it’s not like the person who “misses out” on the opportunity to re-sell a piece of vintage Fiestaware or a Mary Quant dress (and most people have no idea that there is a market for those things) can’t find another perfectly good dish or dress to serve their needs. If you think that someone in Katy’s economic position should leave quality stuff in thrift stores for “needier” people to re-sell, then it’s kind of like saying any job should be left for a “needier” person.

I agree – there is too MUCH stuff out there. People who know what can be re-sold at a higher price are not depriving others of anything they need – there’s lots more stuff that, even if it’s re-sale value is less, will be equally functional. And unless you’re already unemployed and desperate, ANY job or way that you make money is always in a sense “depriving” someone needier of that income opportunity.


Barb August 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Not only that, but agencies generally fund other programs with the cash gotten from selling those things. Many times agencies have already pulled out items to give to folks without any income. and frankly, agencies get such a high amount of stuff (especially when it comes to kid stuff and kid clothes) that they need roation.

as to the comment below, I havent read the compact, but I cannot see how buying and selling only used goods violates that. what If she had gotten the bike, ridden it for six months and then sold it.and the people who buy my resold books on amazon are certainly still buying used items-and they may often resell those books again. Its the ultimate recycle chain.


Jessica August 9, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thrift stores are full of clothes and dishes, but they aren’t full of good bikes, which is where I see the difference being, and thus why I would leave behind something that I was buying only to resell that would be beneficial for someone else.

I do think jobs should be left for needier people in many circumstances and that if more people who didn’t truly need a second income but only do it to buy more junk or have a bigger house that they don’t need would be happier with less there would be a lot more positions open for people who have two unemployed household members. I know that view is pretty unpopular and not a majority view, but it’s how I feel because the things we do for our own benefit, that are beyond the basics, can negatively affect the lives of others in major ways.


Barb August 10, 2011 at 5:50 am

Im certainly not going to second get who needs “more” and who doesnt. Many of the things I buy others might consider junk, and are beyond the basics (and I live on social security and a pension).

That said, people who run thrift stores have the opportuntiy to find out the qualify of the things they sell (and many often do, one of the thrifts I go to has a section of collectible books)

That said, I consider thrifts part of the general market and treat them as such. And yes, I have gotten a book for two dollars and sold it for fifty, and crystal glasses and resold them as well.


Ellie August 12, 2011 at 9:04 am

“I do think jobs should be left for needier people in many circumstances and that if more people who didn’t truly need a second income but only do it to buy more junk or have a bigger house that they don’t need would be happier with less…”

The question then is, where do you draw the line on what’s okay to work to afford? What do people “need” that justifies extra jobs, and at what point should they “leave” jobs or other income opportunties for people who are needier?

The only thing that anyone really “needs” is food, shelter, transportation, and the most basic clothing. If I get a second job or take advantage of an income opportuntiy so that I can afford a vacation, music lesson for my kids, a more fuel-efficient car, a house in a nicer neighborhood with better schools, or to pay for my hobby, is that wrong? Is all of it wrong, or just some of it? Is it okay to take a job to afford a more fuel efficient car, but not a more-expensive neighborhood with better schools – or vice-versa? Are the music lessons for the kid okay, but money for my own hobby is selfish – or are both or neither okay to work an extra job for? What about making money I don’t need now to put into savings? Is that wrong? How do you define “buying more junk” – are you refering to just replacing things that don’t need to be replaced, or is it wrong to work an exra job to afford your kid’s sports equipment and supplies for your hobby? (Neither the sports equipment not the hobby are “necessary”, after all.) Is working an extra job to afford an educational vacation to a hisotric site okay, but Disney World is wrong – or are both wrong, because of course nobody “needs” a vacation.

As long as other people can’t pay the rent, should the rest of us give up as much work as possible and live at subsitence level to leave as much work for other people as possible? Or are there only certain things that peopel should give up – and where do you draw the line?

“…the things we do for our own benefit, that are beyond the basics…”

Again, how do you defining “basics”? Enough food to eat? Or is working extra to afford organic produce to help keep yourself and your family healthy okay? Should you work only enough to afford the most basic shelter, or is it okay to work enough to afford shelter in a nice neighborhood with good schools? Should you work only hard enough to keep your kids clothed and fed, or is it okay to work hard enough to provide them with extra educational, athletic, and learning opportunties that go beyond the “basics”? Should you work only enough to survive, or is it okay to work a little extra to afford some pleasures?

As for the good bike, yes, that is a rarer item, and I can see the argument for how re-selling that might actually deprive a person who really needs a bike…..but again, where do you draw the line? Does the fact that another re-seller is likley to buy it and re-sell it matter? What about buying a second-hand bike to use yourself to save money, when you could afford a new one? Is that wrong? What about buying a used car – should someone who can manage to get financing for a new car do so, and pay more for a car because they can, so that they can leave the good used cars for needier people? Well, if they do that, then they may need to work more – which brings us back to the other issue!


Jessica August 12, 2011 at 9:17 am

Well I’m not here to be anyone’s moral compass, I was merely sharing my views, I can’t answer those questions for you.

Lisa Under the Redwoods August 16, 2011 at 11:24 am

I agree many people could be happier living in smaller houses, which cost less and have the benefit of one or both spouses working less. My husband and I did this and we do just fine on what works out to be part-time work for both of us.

That being said, my husband and my departure from the full time work force also had a negative effect on jobs. Since I wasn’t working full time anymore (when my daughter ws between the ages of 2 and 5 I didn’t have an outside job at all) I no longer employeed anyone to watch my kids, clean my house or work in my yard. I also ate out far less frequently and bought fewer clothing items.
Our we happier now? Sure and for that reason I wouldn’t change a thing. But, if everyone were to do this I doubt there would be a huge supply of work available for the “needy” as service jobs would quickly disappear.


Lisa Under the Redwoods August 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

I wish I was better at editing my writing before I hit submit.

CB September 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Preach Sister! Agreed.


Ann August 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I am just wondering…is there a disconnect between the overall philosophy of “The Compact” and buying thrift store goods to resell? I know that the overall idea of “The Compact” is not to buy anything new (save for each individual’s particular exceptions) – but to be buying used stuff because it is a good deal and to resell it…is that somehow in violation of the spirit of “The Compact”? I’m not a Compacter, so I don’t know. This thought just hit me and I wondered if anyone had any opinon on that question.


Jessica August 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

That is an interesting idea Ann, is it only consumerism when it’s a new item? Or is buying anything you really don’t need just feeding into the same culture?


Ann August 11, 2011 at 6:52 am

That’s a better way of couching my question…Thanks.


Paula in the UP August 9, 2011 at 5:31 am

Don’t forget when you buy food from the theater concessions, you are not only helping the theater to pay their employees, utilities, etc. Some of the theaters are also buying from a locally owned small business, which then helps that small business pay their employees, utilities, etc. I work for said small business that sold all the candy, popcorn, popcorn oil, seasoning salt, popcorn tubs, nachos, nacho cheese…….so you aren’t just supporting your local theaters, your supporting a small family owned business.


Jessica August 9, 2011 at 5:23 pm

This is an area to consider that I find interesting, if you know your local theatre buys their goods locally vs. if they buy them from a large chain. It’s become very difficult to know what has the best/biggest impact on local businesses because we don’t know all the interconnections.


Vicki August 9, 2011 at 10:20 am

I do not sneak food into movies, and I don’t allow my children to, either, if they are coming with me. (Several of them are teens and older)

My feeling is that if the rules prohibit it, then it is wrong, and in many cases it is stealing. The movie theater has a right to charge whatever they wish. If I don’t want to pay it, I can decide to not buy a snack, or I can not go to a movie theater. By going there, I am tacitly agreeing to their rules, and therefore I feel a moral obligation to follow the rules.

My children frequently want to “stretch” rules. They want to say that one is younger than he is to get a cheaper price for a movie or buffet. They want to reuse the $10 to park beach pass, because it always looks the same and on busy days the attendants don’t have time to check the dates. When they were younger they wanted to eat the fruit at the grocery while we were shopping, before we paid for it. I say no to all those things. A business has a right to set their prices, and I have a right to agree or to not.

To me all those things are stealing. I can vote with my pocketbook if I think a merchant is too expensive. I can find an alternative. But once I decide to patron his shop, whatever it is, I am agreeing to his rules. No cheating! 🙂


Ellie August 12, 2011 at 9:24 am

“I can vote with my pocketbook if I think a merchant is too expensive….”

Yes an no. You can just not go to the moveis, or not do any number of other things. But I think we’ve been trained to ignore tha limites of “voting” with our pocketbooks; often, we’re not “voting” on any sort of level playing field of business.

A lot of large chains are monopolies, and they got that way by, to use your word, “cheating”. Chains often drive out competititors unfairly – they open in new locations and discount their own merchandise or services until the small competititors go under, then raise their prices when they’ve acheived monopoly. Other industries have only a few players, and they collude on how they “set their prices”. Sometimes chains use their money and power to influence zoning laws for their own beneift, and big corporations use vast sums of money to influence politicians to their advantage.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where many (not all, but many) of the organizations we buy from are themselves “cheaters”. How someone should respond to that (boycott? cheat back? be honest even though they cheat the public? something else?) is debatable…but it’s not simple.


Karen August 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Interesting thoughts on this topic. Just wondering, if a needy person who could only afford to buy at the thrift shop bought something knowing they could resell it at a profit, would that also be considered unethical? I don’t really understand the problem with it. I think the thrift shops simply price donated items to sell quickly in order to obtain the cash they need to render the services the organization provides. They don’t question your income level before allowing you to make a purchase. They don’t care. I know in my area, people who are absolutely destitute can obtain merchandise from the thrift shops at no charge at all. There are also a couple of people who make the rounds first thing every morning, and sometimes again in the afternoon, specifically looking for things they can resell. They appear to be on very good terms with the people who run the shops and make no attempt whatsoever to disguise their motives.

The thing that I think is unethical and really cheap is the people in their Escalades dropping off big bags of stuff and large furniture when the store is not open and has signs posted saying they cannot accept items after hours. All those items have to be hauled to the landfill at the thrift shop’s expense because they cannot verify that the local guy that goes around urinating on it hasn’t been there before they get it inside.


Kate in NY August 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm

My husband is from Ireland, and he proudly describes himself as “cheap.” To him, being cheap essentially means always looking out for GOOD VALUE. Being “mean,” on the other hand, is something negative – it means you are stingy, withholding, ungenerous. The Irish are genius when it comes to their expressions – – – cheap vs. mean. So perfect! I am honored to call myself cheap.


STL Mom August 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

My mom used to make me lie about my age, so I could get the children’s meal or the children’s price on admission when I was above the stated age. I hated doing this, and in the end it backfired on her because as a teenager I could justify all kinds of lying and rule-breaking to myself.
I want to teach my kids not to waste food, and that used clothes are as good as new clothes. However, I don’t want to teach my kids that it’s okay to break the rules or to lie. My kids are very quick to point out my inconsistencies, and I hate it when they are right!
I like to go to a matinee movie right after lunch. It’s a cheaper ticket, and because we are all full, no one asks for snacks.
Anyway, this is an interesting discussion! I’m glad I popped over from The Frugal Girl.


Julie @ The Family CEO August 14, 2011 at 11:03 am

This is such an interesting discussion! Love it.

Here’s my question: If it’s wrong to buy and resell from thrift stores because we should be leaving the items for people who can’t afford to shop anywhere else, is it then wrong for people who can afford to shop somewhere else to be shopping in a thrift store at all, if it’s only done to save some money?

Hope that makes sense.


Katy August 14, 2011 at 11:08 am

Or . . . is it wrong for wealthy people to shop clearance racks or reserve camping spots when they can afford to go to shop at Neiman Marcus or vacation at a resort?

It goes on and on. 🙂



Betty Winslow August 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I buy stuff to resell sometimes and have no problem with it. When I doante things, it’s not only to benefit the organization I give it to, it’s to get it out of my house. Sometimes, it’s even something I already tried to sell and was just tired of fussing with! So, if someone else wants to buy it and use it, keep it, give it away or try their luck selling it, go for it.

As for movies, you don’t have to eat to watch a movie, but I do take in a water bottle, because as someone else said, I take one everywhere, including church, and never even think of it. If a theater had a problem with it, I’d dump the water out, then take it into the bathroom or over to the fountain and refill it.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: