14 Signs You're Cheap Not Frugal

Make sure your attempts to live a modest lifestyle don’t turn you into a penny-pinching cheapskate.
Last updated April 13, 2023 | By Katelyn Washington Edited By Chris Kissell
young man holding money

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Growing your wealth means always looking for opportunities to save more money. Living a frugal lifestyle is one of the best ways to eliminate some money stress and pile up the dollars.

But some people aren’t frugal. Instead, they are simply cheap, usually at the expense of someone else.

If you are guilty of any of the following habits, take note: You have probably crossed a line.

You skip things that are important just to save money

Mirko Vitali/Adobe friends sitting at a restaurant drinking and enjoying time

While it’s a good idea not to overspend on the things you want or on special events, skipping them altogether isn’t wise.

If you avoid going out with friends — or even to birthday parties — just to save $20, you’ll probably regret it. Your friends and family are worth a small splurge once in a while.

You refuse to tip appropriately

Darwin Brandis/Adobe five dollar tip on restaurant bill in table

People in the service industry rely on tips to supplement their pay. Refusing to tip appropriately isn't just cheap, it’s downright disrespectful.

Try accounting for tips in your budget when you go out to eat, order delivery, or visit the spa. Plan financially for these expenses and view them as special, occasional treats.

That way, you can afford to tip appropriately and avoid being a cheapskate.

You overindulge in free samples at Costco and elsewhere

Tyler Olson/Adobe salesman in restaurant assorted cheese on wooden board

Everyone loves free stuff. For example, one of the great Costco hacks is indulging in free samples. But taking more than your share isn’t a good look.

Feel free to sample the wares, but do so with class. Don’t try to load up on a sample simply so you can skip your next meal and save a buck.

You take creamer cups and condiment packets from restaurants

matpit73/Adobe sachets of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise scattered on table

It might seem harmless, but taking condiment packets and creamer cups from restaurants can hurt the businesses you like so much.

Besides, you would need to take a hefty amount of these single-serving packets to equal a full-size bottle. You’re probably not even saving $1. 

You grab more than 1 treat from the free candy bowl

New Africa/Adobe white bowl with chocolate eggs in colorful foils

It’s a nice gesture when restaurants and other businesses offer free chocolate, hard candy, or mints. But taking more than one is bad form.

It might even mean someone else will have to go without. The business might decide it’s just too expensive and stop providing the freebies.

Pro tip: If a lack of savings is turning you into a cheapskate, perhaps it is time to tap into a new source of income. A part-time job or side hustle can help you build a cash cushion that might reduce the risk of sliding from frugal to cheap.

You go dumpster diving

theartofphoto/Adobe young man in black jacket disposing trash outdoor

You might think of dumpster diving as searching through garbage cans for food. But people dumpster dive for all sorts of things — everything from tires and toys to electronic gadgets.

Rather than take someone else's garbage for free, check out your local thrift stores. You might pay a few dollars, but you’ll avoid all those germs. You will probably feel better about yourself, too.

You pretend to forget your wallet when dining with friends

Davide Angelini/Adobe multi ethnic friends at bbq party outdoors doing cheers with their glass of champagne with food on table

Getting your friends to pay just because you don’t want to is a crass move. And this cheapskate ploy is something you should avoid.

Of course, it is possible to honestly forget your wallet. If that happens, pay your friend back promptly so you don’t ruin the relationship.

You complain about items and services just to get a discount

fizkes/Adobe client in cafe with girlfriend getting furious over worker for bad service at cafe

Don’t be that cheapskate who complains just to save money. When you complain, you could damage an employee’s reputation. It might even result in the employee losing their job.

If the complaint is legitimate, it is fine to raise it. But don’t stretch the truth just to save a buck.

You buy things, use them, and then return them

auremar/Adobe male client checking out products by sales woman in shop

Buying something with the intention of returning it is a cheap, dishonest practice. It can also come with extra costs for you. Some companies charge restocking and return-shipping fees, for example.

When you return items at the store, remember that you are wasting time and gas. It’s better — and more ethical — not to go down this road.

You steal supplies from work

Mihail/Adobe male shoplifter stealing gadgets at electronic store

Stealing from work is wrong — and it could get you fired. Those pens just aren’t worth the risk.

If your boss decides to keep you around, you’ll probably still feel the consequences. You shouldn’t expect a decent raise or promotion anytime soon.

You lie to get a discount

AntonioDiaz/Adobe woman standing with her partner in cinema paying for tickets

Many places offer reduced prices for seniors, children, and students. Unfortunately, not everyone is honest.

Some companies might require adults to verify their age. But others do not, and being required to prove a child’s age is even less common.

You can tell a cheapskate lie to save a little money. Or you can save your kids and yourself the embarrassment and tell the truth. Check for available coupons and other discounts if you’re that determined to pay a reduced price.

You buy low-quality items because they’re cheaper

Aritz87/Adobe flea market with old colorful chairs and desks for sale outdoors

Sure, you will spend a little less money at checkout when you buy cheap items. But they probably won’t last as long as quality pieces. That means you’ll have to replace them, and you might spend even more money in the long run.

And don’t forget about disposal costs. Throwing away large pieces of furniture isn’t cheap. Save yourself the hassle — and the money — and buy something good from the start.

You avoid going to the doctor

Monkey Business/Adobe female patient in discussion with african american female doctor

Medical appointments can be costly, especially if you don’t have quality health insurance. But skipping out on preventative care might cost you more than just your health.

When illnesses go untreated or undiagnosed, they can progress and lead to much more expensive medical bills down the road.

You ask for discounts from family and friends

Halfpoint/Adobe assistant in plant shop using laptop

Supporting your friend’s small business is a great thing to do. But asking them to give you a discount is not. It’s just cheap.

Your friends shouldn’t have to charge less than they’re worth just because you know them.

Bottom line

Asier/Adobe young woman holding piggy bank

Keep looking for ways to cut costs, but don’t turn into a cheapskate. You could ruin friendships and might even end up spending more money.

Create a budget, take advantage of reward programs and cut unnecessary costs instead.

Unplug items when they’re not in use, cancel unused subscriptions, and get out of debt. You might save more money — and you will keep your dignity intact — if you make the switch from cheap to frugal.

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Author Details

Katelyn Washington Katelyn Washington is a writer with a passion for finance and business. She put herself through business school as a single mother of three and has had pieces commissioned by national magazines. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and editing manuscripts for indie authors.