Are You a Cheapskate? – 9 Signs You’re Taking Frugal Living Too Far

dumpster divingMy dad is a hoarder – no, not the kind that needs an intervention on the “Hoarders” television show. Just the kind that has managed to cram every cabinet, shelf, and drawer in his house to the gills with tools, already-used nails, paper clips, pens, and other useful things. His theory is that the more he has on hand, the less he’ll have to buy down the road.

And honestly, the theory works to a point. I cannot tell you how many times growing up he saved me from having to run to the store and buy staples or magic markers or glue for a school project the night before it was due.

That said, on a quest for frugality, there is a point when you’ve simply gone too far. Your desire to save a dollar can start to outweigh your desire to be seen as a sane person by your friends and family. I think my dad is teetering on the brink of being too cheap. Are you a cheapskate? If you’re doing anything on this list, you may have taken your frugal lifestyle to the dark side.

9 Signs that You’re a Miserly Cheapskate

1. You brew more than one pot of coffee with the same grinds.
I read once that you could save money by removing half the coffee grinds from the filter, adding in some new beans, and brewing another pot. I tried it and it did not taste good. In fact, I actually wasted half a pot’s worth of grinds on my little frugal experiment. In all honesty, you can get decent standard ground coffee for under $5 a bag, so making one pot costs a few cents. If you stock up when the store runs a sale, or use grocery coupons, you can save even more. Don’t needlessly sacrifice the taste of your coffee just to save a few pennies.

2. You reuse paper products.
Some paper products like printer paper, notebook paper, and notepads need to be used as many times as you can. It saves trees and your money. But several years ago I watched a TV special about the extreme ways people try to save money. One couple would rinse out paper towels, hang them on a clothesline to dry, use them again, and then repeat the whole process. This strikes me as both terribly time consuming and non-hygienic. Things like paper towels, puppy pads, Kleenex, and toilet paper should go in the trash when you’re done with them. If you really want to save money on disposable products, buy in bulk at places like Sam’s Club or Costco, switch to a generic brand, or wait for the items to go on sale.

3. You spend an entire day grocery shopping.
I know people who will visit multiple stores to buy the cheapest milk, cheapest bread – you get the idea – even if they have to drive 20 miles out of their way to get to each one. This is actually counter-productive to frugality, especially with rising gas prices in the U.S. expected to hit $5 a gallon in the next few years. You’re most likely spending more on gas than you’re saving on bread. Stick with one store and make your life easier.

4. You keep broken items you can never hope to repair.
My dad does this all the time. He keeps broken DVD players, shoes with worn-out soles, even an old dishwasher in our basement. He thinks he may just fix them or find a use for them one day. He won’t.┬áNow, I’m not advocating tossing perfectly good items into the trash, but when you know deep down that your cell phone, old dishwasher, or pair of heels with one heel missing really has reached its last leg, then you need to part with it. Call your local waste management company and figure out how to recycle your items (i.e. electronic waste recycling and disposal), or put them up on the free section of Craigslist so they can collect dust in somebody else’s home instead.

5. You do your own auto body work – even when you don’t know what a spark plug is.
Are mechanics overpriced? Typically, yes. Can you save a lot of money by doing your own repairs after a car accident? Absolutely. But if you open the hood of your car and think, “Now, which one’s the engine?”, you’re most likely going to cause more damage than there is in the first place. If you’re not mechanically inclined and don’t have the patience to learn, leave auto body work to the experts. It will actually save you money in the long run.

6. You ignore expiration dates.
Granted, milk doesn’t go “bad” at the stroke of midnight on the date printed on the carton. You can safely drink it sometimes up to 7 days after the expiration date. But if you’re one of those people always pushing the limits of what’s spoiled in your fridge, you are definitely crossing to the dark side of frugality, and you can make yourself seriously ill. (Dad, are you listening? Blocks of cheddar cheese covered on all sides in green and blue mold should go in the trash – not in your mouth).

7. You dumpster dive – and are not picky about what you’ll take.
I know – one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And dumpster diving (the practice of actually going through someone’s trash for things that can be re-purposed) can often uncover diamonds in the rough – like perfectly good chairs that only need a new covering, or appliances that with a $5 part will work as good as new. However, if you’re scavenging trash bins and bringing home things that you will never use in your lifetime, you may need to find a Cheapaholics support group near you.

8. You crash weddings – for the free food.
I know it’s tempting. You’re sitting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn when you notice huge trays of food in the banquet hall and you think to yourself, “I could run in there, smile at a few people, grab 25 lobster puffs, and be out before anyone realized I’m not related to bride.” You probably could, but are those savory bites of deliciousness worth the embarrassment of getting caught?

9. You jump in the water to save the life of a golf ball.
I get it. Golf balls cost money and you can lose them pretty easily. It makes good financial sense to pick up the odd ball you see sitting along the green, but don’t take it too far. In this case, too far being swan diving into a questionable pond in your golf clothes to save a ball. Instead, just take a small bucket with you and grab the easy ones you see along the way.

Final Word

Saving money is a good thing, but just like anything else in life, you can take it to the extreme. People around you can (and should) question your sanity when you refuse to part with your used paper plate at a barbecue. The bottom line? Pinch your pennies, but be reasonable. If you lose a golf ball in the lake, leave it there.

Do you or someone you know take frugality to a whole new level? Share your stories in the comments below!

  • Heather Levin

    Angela, this was a great article! I was cracking up reading it. :) I recognized SEVERAL of my own family members in this article (including my grandmother, who definitely takes frugalism too far). Thanks for the great article, and for the laugh. :)

  • Sara Tetreault

    Angela, this was very funny! Everything in moderation – even frugality. Although, I do always look into every dumpster I happen upon. You never know…

  • Kira Botkin

    Too funny! I have a friend who puts chicory in cheap coffee to stretch it and she says that it actually tastes pretty good. But reusing coffee grounds is missing the point of drinking the coffee in the first place, which is that you drink it because it tastes good. If all you want is caffeine, just go all the way on the frugal train and take it by pill.

  • Angela Colley

    Kira, I just had to say, I tried your friend’s chicory and regular coffee blend, and it does work. Total revelation for me. I’ve been buying chicory at $10 a bag for years. Given how fast I go through coffee, I probably could have bought a new car for what I’ve paid for those bags. I’m mixing from now on.

  • disqus_4EqUH0ZxLn

    I visit multiple stores when grocery shopping however the cost of fuel is null and void in my case since I bicycle commute everywhere. I do save money over just buying everything at one store.

  • Amy Livingston

    I’ve tried the coffee-recycling trick, and it actually worked fine for me. I use a manual drip filter, the kind you just set on your cup and pour boiling water into, and I think with this method, the grounds from the first cup still have quite a bit of flavor left. So I just add an extra tablespoon of coffee and pour in more water to get an almost-full second cup. This also cuts down on the amount of trash I produce (half as many filters), so that’s a nice bonus.

    Reusing paper towels, on the other hand, is just dumb. Why not just use rags? They last a lot longer, and they’re free.