20 Telltale Signs You're a Cheapskate

Are your saving strategies tactical, or just tacky?
Updated April 3, 2023
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Contrary to popular belief, there is a major difference between being frugal and being a tightwad. The former involves healthy discipline, and maybe a little creativity.

The latter? Well, it knows no bounds. Anything goes if it means saving even one penny.

So, how do you know if you’ve crossed the line from thrifty to stingy? If you’re simply and smartly finding clever ways to crush debt and save more, you are thrifty.

But if you are going to unnecessary extremes — such as doing anything on this list — you just might be a cheapskate.

You steal dishes — actual dishes

v.poth/Adobe cutlery

Believe it or not, some people swipe cutlery, ramekins, and even glassware when they go out to eat.

If you’re tucking tableware into your to-go box — or risking it all and putting dirty dishes right into your purse — you have likely crossed the line.

You would rather risk heat exhaustion than spend cold cash

Paolese/Adobe One man sweating suffering summer heatwave at home

If you’d rather melt than turn on the AC, we need to have a heart-to-heart. We’re all for using your HVAC system responsibly, but we cannot, in good conscience, support you on your path to heat exhaustion.

Invest in a good fan, at the very least.

You wear clothes until they’re threadbare

Vadym/Adobe man in old clothes which need repairing and sewing

First, pat yourself on the back for not hopping on every fashion trend or falling for the temptation of a weekend sale.

Now, go replace the jeans you’ve been mending and patching up for the last eight years. It’s time. It was time seven years ago.

You return clothing you’ve worn

Odua Images/Adobe shopping customer returning product to the seller

Maybe you don’t hold onto clothes until they’re mere tatters, but instead your pendulum swings in the other direction. In other words, you buy new outfits every week because you don’t plan to keep them anyway.

Clothing rental services do exist for thrifty shoppers, but your local boutique isn’t one of them.

You don’t believe in single-use anything

Charise/Adobe kitchen drawer filled with colorful plastic storage containers and cups

If you find yourself washing disposable cutlery or rinsing out soiled paper towels so you can use them again later, please just buy actual silverware and dishcloths.

We love a good “reduce, reuse, recycle” moment, but this kind of frugality borders on unsanitary.

You do the smell test in lieu of washing clothes

ryanking999/Adobe housewife smell dirty clothes

You know what we’re talking about: If your laundry doesn’t smell dirty, it must be clean enough to wear again, right?

There are far better ways to save on detergent and cut back on water usage that don’t require you to take a whiff of your twice-worn unmentionables.

You leave every restaurant with a pocketful of Splenda

sheilaf2002/Adobe  hand holding one packet of Splenda artificial sweetener

Perhaps paying for a meal without taking handfuls of sweetener — or creamer or ketchup packets — makes you feel cheated. This habit is especially bad if you feel compelled to take the Splenda even though you never use it.

It really is OK to exercise a little restraint and only take one or two of the condiments you’ll actually use.

You eat yourself sick at buffets

.shock/Adobe buffet food

Buffets can be expensive, but if you get your money’s worth by gorging to the point of nausea, you’re probably overdoing it.

Skip the tummy ache, and go to a regular restaurant instead. (But leave the Splenda!)

You take more than your fair share at office parties

Prostock-studio/Adobe scared woman in mask stealing toilet paper

Perhaps you only contribute napkins to company potlucks. (Napkins you pilfered, no doubt.)

While your co-workers are bringing actual food and making sure everyone gets enough, you’re doing the bare minimum but taking the most. That’s freeloading, not frugality.

You DIY literally everything

dream@do/Adobe wooden pallet furniture making

There’s something to be said for home remedies and DIY solutions, but there’s also something to be said for buying the thing you need.

After all, if you’re spending $15 on the ingredients for a homemade cleaning concoction that costs $2 ready-made, what exactly did you save?

You’re a notorious regifter

Pixel-Shot/Adobe woman making beautiful Christmas gift at table

Repurposing presents isn’t always a bad practice, but it is a dangerous game. It’ll be painfully awkward if you get found out, and there’s a good chance you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.

If you don’t see the value in spending money on new gifts, stick to heartfelt cards instead.

You refuse medical care

Syda Productions/Adobe nurse with syringe and senior woman refusing from vaccine

We get it: Health care is anything but cheap. But slapping on a bandage when you really need stitches really isn’t a good or safe way to save money.

If that $50 urgent care copay feels too expensive, just wait until you find out how much it costs to treat sepsis.

You can’t remember the last time you had fun

Maria/Adobe young woman with long covid syndrome

Cutting back on nights out is one thing, but never seeing your friends or treating yourself to dinner and a movie? That’s a bit extreme.

How does that old saying go? All saving and no spending makes Jack a dull boy.

You make a fuss to get free stuff

Artur/Adobe computer stuff and math book sheet

There’s a widespread myth that causing a scene or demanding a supervisor is a harmless way to snag discounts or freebies.

However, saving a few dollars is never worth throwing tantrums or jeopardizing someone else’s job. Besides, you’d be amazed how far customer service reps will go to reward kindness and patience.

You don’t tip

Pixel-Shot/Adobe woman paying bill in restaurant through terminal

Right up there with the tantrum throwers are the bad tippers. Opinions about tipping culture aside, refusing to cough up 15%-20% of your bill to ensure your server gets paid is a little — OK, a lot — on the cheap side.

If you’d rather save a few bucks than leave a tip, it’s best to dine at home.

You piggyback on other people’s subscriptions

Kaspars Grinvalds/Adobe woman watching TV series and movies

There’s Netflix and chill, and then there’s Netflix and steal. Mooching off of your friends’ streaming logins might save you money, but it’s not exactly fair to them.

Why not split the subscription costs so everyone benefits? It’s like carpooling, but for couch potatoes.

Costco has you on a free sample watch list

Kuma Media/Adobe samples of various cheeses on plates

Do you feast on food samples at big-box stores during your lunch break, or are you normal?

Nabbing a few freebies during your regular grocery run isn’t an issue. But when you turn the exercise into a way to replace entire meals, your cheapskate alarm bells should ring.

There are plenty of great ways to save at Costco that don’t require you to lose your dignity in the process.

You eat expired food

Animaflora PicsStock/Adobe rotten bananas and dried grapes

Eating food that’s a day or two past the sell-by date is one thing. But if you’re slicing off moldy bits and chowing down as if they were never there, we need to talk.

Instead of risking illness in the name of saving, just go to the store instead.

Your hand soap is mostly water

Victoria_Hunter/Adobe amber glass refillable soap dispenser

Using water to stretch your hand soap is the oldest trick in the book. When that “soap” no longer lathers, however, it’s time to buy more.

A palmful of suds is your best friend when it comes to proper handwashing. Scrimping is your worst enemy.

Your toilet paper pulls double duty

Lucky7Trader/Adobe toilet paper isolated on a yellow background

Separating two-ply toilet paper into two rolls of one-ply toilet paper is about as cheap as it gets.

When you find yourself willingly compromising the structural integrity of your TP, your frugality has gone too far.

Bottom line

Gudellaphoto/Adobe running out of toilet paper in the bathroom

If you’ve turned to scheming and stealing in the name of saving, you are officially a card-carrying member of the cheapskate club.

Aside from clear ethical violations, it can be hard to know where to draw the line with your frugality. When your quality of life or your relationships suffer, re-evaluate your methods.

Keep in mind, too, that some people don’t have a choice but to use these strategies. But if you can afford to be more flexible with your money habits, relish that fact, and remember that balanced spending is a goal worth pursuing.

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Author Details

Sarah Sheehan Sarah Sheehan is a writer, educator, and analyst who focuses on the impact of health, gender, and geography on financial equity. Her ultimate goal? To live beyond the confines of chasing the next dollar — and to teach everyone else how to do the same.

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