Frugal? Or Stingy?

I like to think that I am frugal, although the daughter somehow activated my long-dormant shopping gene last summer. My husband says that I would give away the shirt off my back if he wasn’t here to monitor.

One of the things I learned early on as a twenty-something was to distinguish (or at least try to distinguish) needs vs. wants. I guess that’s how I monitor what I buy or where I go. Do I NEED it? Or do I just want it. I don’t think that makes me stingy. Still…some people think that you are stingy if you don’t give them everything they want.

This article on MSN’s Money Central has a lot to say about frugality vs. stinginess. Here are some of the stinginess benchmarks author Liz Pulliam Weston cites:

  • If you use 2-for-1 coupons at a restaurant, you might be frugal. If you base your server’s tip on the discounted bill, you’re probably stingy.
  • If you decide in advance how much to spend each year on charitable contributions, and then try to stay within that budget, you might be frugal. If the last thing you gave to charity was an ancient can of lima beans you wouldn’t eat yourself, then you’re probably stingy.
  • If you use a tea bag for more than one cup of tea, you might be frugal. If you offer a guest the cup made from the used bag, you’re probably stingy.

My son has made much use of a subscription to CHEAPSKATE MONTHLY, authored by Mary Hunt, in order to get the most bang out of his early-marriage buck. I am pleased with the way he has managed. He is frugal, but his wife and kids get needs always and wants when he can figure out a way. Mary Hunt gives some examples of stinginess and frugality in the MSN article as well:

Frugality is the activity required for me to live below my means,” said Hunt, whose latest book is “Live Your Life for Half the Price.” “Stinginess is the activity of requiring others to participate in my frugality.”

She cited some examples:

“A stingy person wouldn’t be caught dead leaving a decent tip, always splits meals, tries to return stuff after having worn it once … hoping to trick the store into a full refund, never gives a dime to the church or synagogue, doesn’t honor the kids’ teachers with a thank-you gift, does everything possible to keep as much money as possible — at the expense of others!”

By contrast, Hunt’s definition of frugality well-lived includes the concept of generosity.

“Giving and saving are frugality’s magic bullets: Giving is the antidote for greed; saving is the antidote for fear,” Hunt said. “If you always give and save first, you won’t become greedy and you’ll never be broke.”

So what’s the answer? None of us want to be thought of as a Scrooge, but especially in the uncertain world in which we live, we need to make the most of the money that we have. The MSN article suggests that, when in doubt, you pull out the Golden Rule. Are you treating someone the way you would want to be treated? If not, it’s time to adjust your actions.

I couldn’t agree more.

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