Cheapness – Can Stop Please Stop

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A friend was telling me how he could get any drink he wanted for free at a certain Starbucks because of a deal with his company. He was telling me about how he chose his drink (yes, this was an incredibly long and boring conversation) and I interjected, you don’t drink coffee so why does any of this matter?

I know, he said, but it was free.

He would make an excellent personal finance blogger. =D

When I was younger, I tried to figure out everything I could get for free. But as you get older, you become a little warier about free stuff. Sometimes the furniture is free because it has bed bugs embedded in it. Sometimes the food is free because you’re getting a sales pitch. And sometimes it is a good product without strings attached but it is still too much of a hassle to pick it up or upkeep, or sometimes you just don’t want it.

Free only means it doesn’t cost money; it doesn’t mean it comes without any costs at all.

As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to appreciate the other costs in life. Costs in time, mental energy, space in my apartment, convenience. It makes sense that the more money I have, the less I use money as my only lens with which to view the costs of things, particularly as those other costs have become more precious.

If you have no money, then it may make sense to base your decisions on money. But I’m exceedingly wary of people who have money who base all their decisions solely on money. There are personal finance bloggers who make much more money than I do and who put up all these constraints on how they can spend their money. No vacations. The cheapest food.

I understand dipping one’s toes into austerity. I think it makes sense for everyone to go through no-spend months and to live like they were college students again. It’s important not to forget that feeling. But living your life based on what saves the most money – that’s cheap.

People think lifestyle inflation is the only thing you need to look out for but cheapness is also a pervasive and somewhat easy trap to fall into. What’s the problem, you may say. You’re saving money.

I mean the problem is you’re a jerk. How do you know you’re a jerk? Because you don’t have a code. Everyone needs to have a code. What do I mean by a code?

Imagine your parents assembled the perfect toolbox. They read up on Consumer Reports and spent their time figuring out what was needed for the best toolbox, and then got to work assembling the best hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, you name it. Then one day you ask for advice on a project and you learn that they have never used any of these tools. They don’t even know how to use them.

You ask to borrow a tool. They won’t give it to you. You ask, what are the tools for. Emergencies. The future. It makes them feel safer knowing they’re there. Even though they don’t use them. And then they leave you behind and amass more tools.

Money is a tool.  If you have no projects, then why are you accumulating so many tools?

I’ve had former friends who invited people over for food and then told us how much the food they were providing would cost us (it was something like $10/person and they were serving us cabbage soup. I felt like I was getting fleeced. Also I don’t know when I had to agree to eat and pay for cabbage soup).

There are things that will cost money and you will have to decide what is more important to you. Your reputation. Your children. Your parents. Fun. Charity.

You have to set out the tenets you want to live by. Because if you don’t value anything at all, then why do you and how can you value money?

6 thoughts on “Cheapness – Can Stop Please Stop

  1. Ahh… the old frugal vs cheap debate.
    Frugal = thoughtfully and intentionally trying to get the best value
    Cheap = trying to get the lowest price, no matter what, and at all costs

  2. I agree – frugality is not about screwing others, are accumulating money for the sake of it. I’m planning to use it as a tool to allow me to travel, and then work in a much different way, and volunteer more.

  3. I always considered myself frugal and not cheap but yesterday I was driving my used ten year old sports coupe on the interstate at 75 mph and the engine blew. I have always been a supporter of buying used cars even though by most people’s standards I’m way past financial independence. But as smoke filled the interior of the car and I struggled to find a safe place to pull over and call a tow truck I did wonder if it made any sense at all for me and my wife to be driving decade old cars with 150,000 miles on them when paying cash for a couple of new Mercedes wouldn’t change our net worth enough to notice. I can’t quite bring myself to buy new cars and probably won’t because used cars offer much better value, but is that crossing the cheap line? Does it make sense to buy really nice new cars when money isn’t an issue or do you just keep living the code that got you there?

    1. I think if the car is unsafe, then it’s cheap. But I’m sure the car you bought is plenty safe and it’s probably just a fluke. I drove an 18-year car with 200k miles and it was perfectly safe until I crashed it. =D Human error.

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