Some Frugal Guidelines Because Sometimes, Cheap Can Go Too Far

Imagine how excited I was when I found a show on TLC called So Freakin’ Cheap. The premise being that the cameras follow these four families around to record and document how frugal they are.

Imagine my shock, disgust and dismay at some of the things these people resorted to doing — all in the name of saving not a few dollars but pennies. Pennies. These people were often just too out there for what I consider acceptable frugality.

It is one thing to be cheap at home, say, by making your own blended drinks from scratch. It is entirely another thing to leave a bar, go out to the car and hook up your blender with a very long extension cord to God knows where to make your own blended drinks after conning the bartender into free cups and straws.

That’s just going too far.

It is one thing to hunt down thrift store priced furniture and redo it, DYI style, it is an entirely another to convince yourself that you can remove a load bearing wall in an already structurally compromised 100-plus-year-old home and tell yourself that nothing bad will happen.

I saw all of this on the show and more including some very tactless woman drag her sadly hopeful daughter to a wedding dress shop with no intention whatsoever of buying anything; she was just there for the free bubbly which she tackily took home with her. She ended up making her daughter wear her older sister’s hand me down wedding dress which did not suit or even fit her. The second time she showed up asking for free drinks, the wedding dress shop owner said no although the mother of the bride did eventually spring for some minor alternations for the worn-out old wedding dress. She did the same thing at a very reasonably priced wedding venue and actually took the tasting menu food home with her in a doggy bag. Really. They ended up having the wedding in some chiropractor’s office of all places although the spray-painted tumbleweeds woven with twinkle lights was a pretty cool free decor idea if I say so myself. Making really nasty old tuna sandwiches and reusing an ineptly decorated and tacky bachelorette cake for the reception? No. Just no.

Point is, embrace the cool frugal ideas and discard the stuff where you can potentially insult people who are just trying to make an honest living or where you would clearly be foisting your extreme frugality on others. The guy who turned off all the house lights at the breakers in the middle of his wife’s lady’s night is an example of pushing it too far. You want to impose lights out rules at home then fine, don’t do that to people you are hosting, it is embarrassing, just like putting cheap frozen pizza into a store pizza box.

Instead, figure out ways to remain frugal and still share time with others. For example, the lights out guy could have made homemade pizza dough for mere pennies, put out fixings and toppings and invited all his wife’s friends make their own pizzas for ladies’ night.

The woman who granted her daughter’s wish to try modeling cleverly thought of getting a pet photographer to take modeling photos for her portfolio and trading some of those pictures for make-up services with a make-up artist? Smart and frugal; both the photographer and make-up artist agreed and it cost the mom way less to jump start the daughter’s portfolio as a result. Conversely, picking up stray golf balls by wading into the pond during a free trial at a local country club which they had no intention ever of joining? Just plain tacky.

Bottom line, pick your frugal battles especially in public. You need not insult people or impose any overly cheap habits on others to remain fiercely frugal. I always serve the best champagne I can afford when family comes for a holiday meal. I also send them home with leftovers, so nothing goes to waste because I know they like my cooking. I only do that with family by the way. I would only make doggy bags for friends if they asked.

Some frugal rules to live by:

1. Cheap at home is fine and actually a great idea. Just don’t impose your super cheap habits on anyone else. So, when at home, go ahead and squeeze that last drop out of the toothpaste tube and make your own margaritas with fruit you bought at a steep discount because it was a little bruised. Just make sure you keep the lights on when people are visiting.

2. Don’t develop such a thick frugal skin that you seriously offend others. Tip generously when eating out, don’t ask for free samples instead of ordering off the menu, be aware that your actions and cheapness very much impacts others trying to make a living.

3. On the other hand, using special coupons for discounts like eating out is perfectly fine. That is why the vendor spent his or her hard-earned money to advertise; to bring in your business at a discount. A doggy bag is also fine but if you get a free sample, don’t expect or ask to take free samples home. Tacky and insulting.

4. Keep your cash and trade instead. Barter your skills for other things and services you need so you don’t end up with something less than acceptable. My daughter’s partner helped a neighbor build a fence and he did the same in return, saving them both considerable funds and now both families have brand new fencing. Barter baking skills for example, for something you can do in return. If you don’t have any particular skills liker baking, you can offer to walk pets, babysit, do yard work.

5. It is ok to ask. Maybe the local bakery would be willing to sell those day-old pastries at a steep discount. Find out when the local thrift store has their mega red tag sale.

6. Make do and help others do the same. Organize kid clothing swaps with neighbors and friends who have children of similar ages. My daughter is starting a garden cooperative with friends and neighbors so anyone with a green thumb can share excess produce and herbs this summer.

7. Potlucks are a frugal person’s answer to entertaining. My daughter and her partner provide the grill labor and protein, and everyone else brings a dish or drinks. It is their circle of friend’s favorite way to get together. I usually provide the dollar store craft activity for all the kids and something fun like an ice cream bar for desserts. We did a vampire dessert bar one Halloween where all the sweets were red. The kids still talk about it.

8. Garage sales are a great way to find items you need at a very steep discount and where you can certainly bargain. Keep a list of things you are looking for/need and hit the garage sales. Some cities organize massive block wide garage sales every year which means a lot of people will be trying to unload a lot of stuff very cheaply and where you can literally go door to door in search of a major bargain. Check online and schedule your thrifting weekends accordingly. Some people make a hobby of going to garage sales every single weekend, but I find those people tend to buy a lot of stuff they never use or need just because it is super cheap. Check online as well. A lot of people will advertise items for free with curb side pickup which seems a whole lot safer than knocking on a stranger’s door. Still, take someone with you, just to be safe.

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