What’s the difference between being frugal, being a cheapskate and simply just not wanting to be ripped off?
Obviously, some of it is in the eye of the beholder. If you like someone they are frugal and if you dislike them they become a cheapskate. It’s also somewhat of a regional virtue. For many men and women from the Midwest, thriftiness is the ultimate virtue. Some Midwesterners, no matter what their level of income, can’t help but share stories about the time they smuggled a pot roast in to the symphony, which they received tickets to attend for free, thank you very much. To someone from the East Coast, such a conversation might sound petty, while a good Southerner may wonder why the heck you didn’t instead go to a Toby Keith concert. Only in the Midwest would a pot roast smuggling tale be seen as virtuous.
Thriftiness is also a situational virtue. Finding the cheapest gas in town may earn you some street cred from many of your co-workers around the office. Loudly complaining about the heightened prices of the dessert on your first date is not going to get you to first base. Yes, I know the appetizer, drink, dessert trifecta is a bit of a scam, but we’re going to have to all work on that one together, OK?
I guess as usual, I think the true virtue lies somewhere in the middle. It is obviously wise to be smart about spending, but I think some people also get caught so caught up in the game of frugality that it becomes its own twisted form of gluttony. There’s no prize at the end for money saved, that I’m aware of, so let’s not overdo it.
Frugality is always going to be one of those virtues where we never all totally agree, but I would suggest a few universal ground rules.
1. Rich people shouldn’t tell their petty money-saving stories when talking to poor people. If they want to share these stories with other rich people, that’s OK.
2. Being thrifty should never be oversold. For example “I can pay for our trip to the Moon every year because I order water instead of tea!” No, you can pay for your trip to the Moon because you make a lot of money.
3. We need to all come together and take a stand against flagrant rip-offs. Here are a few:
A. The cell phone company charging an “upgrade fee” when you buy a new phone.
B. Overly-high ATM fees charged by both the machine and the bank.
C. Overly-high checking account service fees.
D. Unfairly high rates for small things that are connected to emotional events, which nobody complains about because it is an important event so you don’t want to sound cheap. For example, many places charge $10 for those white gloves at funerals, which they then have you leave behind!
E. Vending machines in places where you have no options that charge like $1.50 for a can of Coke.
F. Turtles. Always overpriced.
G. Airports charging for internet use.
The ultimate insult to humanity on the rip-off front, the pay toilet, seems to have finally fallen off the radar screen. I looked it up and here’s Wikipedia’s explanation:
In the United States, pay toilets were common until the mid-1970s, and most frequently seen at transportation terminals (airports, train and bus stations) and sporting venues. They came under attack not only from feminists but also the plumbing industry. California legislator March Fong Eu (later secretary of state of California) smashed a toilet bowl on the steps of the state capitol as part of her campaign against pay toilets. She argued they discriminated against women because men could use urinals for free whereas women always had to pay a dime for a toilet stall in places where payment was mandatory. The American Restroom Association was a proponent of an amendment to the National Model Building Code to allow pay toilets only in addition to free toilets. A campaign by the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America (CEPTIA) resulted in laws prohibiting pay toilets in cities and states. In 1973, Chicago became the first American city to enact a ban, at a time when, according to the Wall Street Journal, there were at least 50,000 units in America, mostly made by the Nik-O-Lok Company..
So I’m reading that and I just keep thinking, “There’s an American Restroom Association?” I’m not a socialist or anything, but Pay to Pee just seems like it is taking things too far. Kudos to you March Fong Eu and your toilet smashing ways! Would you be willing to take a stand about funeral gloves?