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?