How To Avoid Looking Cheap

I need to buy new sneakers today. I know this because when I took my dog for a walk this morning, the plastic heel guard in my right sneaker tore through the fabric cover and scratched my heel. More specifically, the abrasion continued for the full mile that I walked so that I was bleeding when I arrived home. The sneakers, which I have worn daily for three years, have been in bad shape for quite a while, but they still served their purpose so I kept wearing them. Now they are in the trash.

By comparison, if the shoes that I wear to work start to look worn, I replace them even if they could still be worn for several years without causing discomfort. I do not need to wear expensive shoes, but I need to look professional when I am meeting with clients and I believe that professionalism includes proper footwear. Similarly, if I were to attend an athletic event with clients, I would not wear the ratty old sneakers that I tossed away this morning.

One of my sons, who admittedly has much to learn, does not understand why I will not buy myself new sneakers more regularly. In his mind, I am just being cheap. Of course, in his mind, footwear defines a person in all contexts so there is never a time to be wearing sneakers that are not current and fashionable. Fortunately, I can discount his opinion since it is usually delivered when he is wearing ripped jeans that sag far below his boxer shorts (But I digress).

My son’s views on my old sneakers did get me wondering, however, how I define “cheap” as opposed to “frugal” or “cost-conscious.” I never want to be considered cheap. “Cheap” is bad. At the same time, I know that we all define cheap in a different ways.

Can we give generously to charities and still be cheap in our personal lives? Yes. Can we spend lavishly on our friends and still be cheap when it comes to charitable giving. Yes. Of course, these are merely my opinions. You will have your own. Still, there are some steps that we can all take to avoid giving others the perception that we are cheap. Here are a few suggestions, and I hope that you will add others.

Separate Checks: I do not like the concept of separate checks. That is just my preference, but if I go out to eat with a colleague or friend it is just natural for me to assume that we will split the check. I assume that if I am willing to dine with someone, they will order a meal that is comparable to mine. If I order materially more expensive items, I will kick in extra. If my partner orders more, I assume that he or she will do the same. If not, I know better the next time we dine out (if there is a next time). That said, there is nothing wrong with asking for separate checks as long as doing so will not confuse or materially slow down your server. Just make sure that you tell the server (and your dining partners) that you will need separate checks before anyone places their order.

Office Breakfasts: Many offices have informal breakfasts once a week or at some other interval. Typically, co-workers establish a schedule so that everyone knows when they are supposed to bring in food to feed the masses. If you decide not to participate, you need to be very clear with your colleagues before the schedule is made. You also need to ensure that you never take from the communal platter of donuts, muffins, pastries or other confectionary delights that your colleagues might bring to share. If you do participate, make sure that you are not the person who brings the food that no one wants to eat.

Donations: If you live in a large neighborhood, there are probably a lot of kids who sell things as part of school fund raisers. I generally do not buy anything unless I know that I will actually use it, and I try to limit my purchases to kids that I actually know. Also, I never buy from kids who are selling the same things that my own kids are selling. (For that matter, since I do not like the fund raising that schools force on families, I also did not allow my kids to sell to neighbors or anyone else!)

Holiday Tips: At the end of the year, I give some of my service providers a token of my gratitude for their service over the course of the year. I know the fellow who does my lawn every week and I know a few other technicians who come to my house more than a few times each year. I don’t mind tipping them. If I do not personally interact with a service provider, however, I generally do not offer a year end tip.

What other measures of “cheap” can you identify? Are there any costs that you incur not because you want to do so but because you do not want to appear cheap by avoiding them?

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10 Responses to How To Avoid Looking Cheap

  1. rob62521 says:

    I’m with you on the fundraising for schools. As an educator I know it is often a necessary evil, but I truly resent those parents who tell their kids to go out and sell. We had a little girl ring our doorbell and want to sell us something and when I asked where she lived, she didn’t even live in our subdivision! And, when the kids around us come around to sell, they get resentful when I ask where they live and who they are. I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t buy anything unless I know the kid or the parent. Guess that makes me cheap, unfortunately.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    Everyone’s idea of cheap varies. I’m comfortable with my own definition; if others’ aren’t, well, that’s their issue and not mine.

    I have a no soliciting sign on my door and I don’t let my granddaughter sell door-to-door, either.

    I usually request separate checks when dining with a friend, simply because I never seem to have cash with me anymore. Separate checks make debit transactions easier.

    I don’t have a lot of occasions where tipping is merited, but when it is, I don’t hold back.

    As for the tennis shoes… I follow the “Tightwad Gazette Method”. I have three pairs of tennis shoes at all times. The really grungy ones for gardening, camping, etc; the just-OK pair for every day use; and the like-new pair that I wear when I want to look nice, yet still casual or sporty. When one pair falls below it’s current quality, then I toss out the grungy pair. My just-OK pair becomes my grungy pair, my like-new pair becomes my just-OK pair and I buy a new pair of “dress” sneakers.

  3. Nagel says:

    I’ve been to REI couple months ago – they started a program for recycling your old shoes. I think it is a great idea, since who wants to buy old sneakers with worn out soles at Value Village, anyway? At least the rubber is recyclable.

  4. Ann says:

    LOL David, do I need to point out that, long before those tennis shoes died, any arch support was gone? :-) Sounds like you do a lot of walking and you might want to start taking that into consideration so that you’ll be walking comfortably well into old age!

    That being said, I also am a 3-pair of tennis shoes (or more) person.

    I’m a good tipper but I also do separate checks with certain friends — just makes it easier with some people.

    I do everything I can to check out a charity before I donate to it. I’ve had it with “charities” where only 15% of what you give actually makes it to help people. I also like to make sure that people locally are receiving some benefit — particularly right now when unemployment is so high in my area.

    Maybe it’s “cheap” but I’m awfully rough on my workshop clothes, so, even once I’ve lost all the weight I’m working on, I’ll continue to search out jeans and shirts at Goodwill, etc. :-)

  5. Lori says:

    NEVER EVER let your shoes wear out like that! It’s not a matter of being ‘cheap’ – it can be a serious health issue. I have had problem feet since birth. I buy new, and expensive high quality, sneakers about every 6 months. I also need to wear orthotics for at least a considerable part of the day.

    Bad foot/arch support can lead to very painful, permanent foot problems. A few years ago I developed plantaris fascitis which is unbelievably painful. I would wake up 3 or 4 times a night crying in my sleep from the pain. I spent about $6,000 on treatments – most not covered by insurance – over two years before getting enough relief to be livable. It will never be cured.

    Not taking care of your feet is expensive, painful and crippling.

  6. CarolH says:

    For me, having a good pair of sneakers and a second string one is definitely frugal. And keeps my feet feeling and looking good.

    Having been a teacher, I was asked countless times to buy from students selling for school, church, and other organizations. My standard reply was that I do support them but only buy from my own children or those from my own neighborhood. (Although I’ve been known to make an exception for thin mints.)

    I travel a lot as a consultant for business and some of the companies I work for have a tip schedule (something you don’t need to submit a receipt for when turning in your paperwork–but they set a max value.)

    I give up to the max value, if appropriate, and also use the guidlines when I tip with my own $$ for similar services.

    As posted already, everyone has to define cheap for themselves.
    I know some people don’t tip when they won’t be seeing the person or using his/her services again (taxi, hotel, tour bus,…) but I have decided that I am not comfortable building my bank account by not tipping in these situations.

    Separate checks is a hot topic among my friends and I’ve learned to ask for them as we order because I so often need a receipt for work that it just comes out naturally.

  7. Cristi Smith says:

    I agree with the sneaker comments. I wear good sneakers because your health is affected by your feet in some areas. Specifically your back and legs. I am also due for new ones and these are about 15 months old. normally I replace earlier but money has been tight.

    As far as the dinner check thing I don’t like combined checks for the very reason you do. If I go out with someone and they don’t like steak but I do and I want to order a steak I don’t want to worry about them paying too much. Many people love pasta. I don’t. I wouldn’t want to worry about the cost versus ordering what I wanted. I also agree about the school thing. I have so many kids that want me to order that I simply can’t afford it. Not to mention there is rarely anything I would want from those things anymore. Selection has went way down. When I worked at BCBS I usually went in with the food activities but knew there was some that did not and they still participated. The ones that did not bother me were the ones that did generally participate but for one reason or another forgot or simply didn’t this time, possibly due to finances.

  8. I like to look cheap when I’m buying something for myself. It helps me when others want something from me. They have lower expectations.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  9. cptacek says:

    A friend of mine did an experiment. He wore khaki-colored pants (not khakis, but those pants you can hike in?) and a long sleeved red shirt. One week he wore tennis shoes and the next week he wore more dressy shoes. They both looked appropriate with the clothes, and they were both appropriate for work. He said that when he wore the dressy shoes, everyone asked him why he was dressed up, but when he wore the tennis shoes, no one commented about his outfit at all!

  10. Jackie says:

    Occassionaly, my friends and I treat each other but most often we ask for separate checks. No one thinks this is “cheap”, it’s just everyone taking care of themselves.

    In recent years, as I’ve grown more frugal, I worry less about whether my actions appear to be “cheap” or “frugal” to others. They don’t pay my bills, they don’t see when or how much I donate to charities, and they aren’t me. My friends and family do not judge me harshly and those are the only people whose opinion I really care about.

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