15 Signs of a Cheap Person

By Alice Garbarini Hurley · December 07, 2022 · 11 minute read

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15 Signs of a Cheap Person

Are you a certified cheapskate, a modern-day Scrooge? Or are you frugal in a smart, reasonable way that doesn’t reflect badly on you or cause those around you some pain? These two classifications differ greatly. With careful introspection, you can learn which side you’re on and go from there.

But this is not just a quiz or a game to find your fun profile. Penny-pinching, or being a cheap person, can be painful for friends and family and also for you. It can stir up feelings of deprivation and insecurity; possibly even dishonesty. Whether you take a pocketful of “free” peppermints from a cafe or stiff your waitress, the consequences can add up, impacting your well-being across the board, from finances to relationships. On the flip side, being frugal means having a levelheaded (and even generous) attitude about money. Frugal people are usually respected and appreciated.

Need more cheapskate identifiers? Read on to learn 15 signs you are cheap, including:

•   Hoarding possessions because you think they might be worth money

•   Stealing things, from Post-its at work to a bagful of granola bars at a social function

•   Skimping on restaurant tips

What Is a Cheapskate?

A cheapskate is a person who is extremely stingy with their money and time. Take a closer look if you want to answer the question “Am I too cheap?”

•   Are you so tight-fisted that instead of paying postage, you mail things from the office, so your employer foots the bill?

•   Do you (over)help yourself to “free” food but refuse to buy a snack or drink at a movie theater?

•   Are you stingy with your time, never volunteering for a good cause or putting in extra hours when your work team is in a crunch?

•   If the kids’ menu is for ages 12 and under, do you lie about how old your children are so they can partake for less?

If, in these and other ways, you think your personal profit is more important than everyone else’s losses, then yes, it’s safe to say you are a cheapskate.

How Does a Cheapskate Differ from a Frugal Person?

Cheapskates want, at all costs, to keep cash in their own wallets and bank accounts. Frugal people, on the other hand, think calmly and clearly about how to spend mindfully.

A cheapskate might go out to dinner with friends and “forget” to bring his money to chip in. A frugal person might suggest the group goes to a mid-priced restaurant (not one with $15 cocktails), and make other careful choices. Then, at the end of the month, they may have enough money for something meaningful, such as a soup kitchen donation or a lavish Mother’s Day experience for Mom and Grandma.

A frugal person tries not to waste money on frivolous purchases but also has a sense of generosity. Guess who’s more fun to be around?

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15 Signs You Are Being a Cheap Person

A few examples of being a cheapskate were mentioned above. Here, we’ll dig into signs of a cheap person in more detail. Watch for these red flags in the game of life. No one wants to be bad with money, but taking scrimping and saving too far can also be an issue.

1. Letting DIY Turn into BIY (Break It Yourself)

Unless you’re an expert, taking the DIY route on repairs can be a sign you are cheap. These fixes are often bad and flimsy, leaving you with leakier pipes or unsafe wiring. Reputable professionals may charge a lot but will stand by their work.

For example, if you go the cheap way and try to fix a car problem by watching a YouTube video before taking a road trip, you could find yourself paying dearly for it. If the vehicle winds up breaking down, it will throw a wrench in your plans and cost you time and money as you get towed, pay for repairs, and have to Uber around while waiting for your car to be road-ready again.

2. Sneaking Refreshments Into Movies

Some people do bring their own snacks due to health reasons. But if you have to sneak something in under cover, it’s probably dishonest. Do you feel guilty spending $7 on a small pack of candy? Yes, it’s cheaper elsewhere, but going to the movies is a little splurge, and the treats are part of the fun. It’s also partly how the theaters stay in business.

While many movie theaters allow patrons to enter with their own beverages, that doesn’t mean you should bring all your bffs and not spend a penny on refreshments.

Recommended: Why Do People Feel Guilty After Spending Money?

3. Hoarding at Home

Many people hoard because they don’t want to part with things that might be valuable. But how many samples of shampoos and makeup, t-shirts, skeins of yarn (in case you take up knitting), Christmas ornaments, and reusable water bottles can you keep? Letting go can be freeing and it feels even better if you donate items to charities that will sell them and give them a second life.

4. Stockpiling Condiments

The 2021 pandemic-drive ketchup shortage led to people selling Heinz packets on eBay for a profit. But it’s cheap behavior to squirrel bagfuls away in your cabinet. Will you ever use them? The same holds true for sugar, soy sauce, and salt and pepper packets. Snagging them for free and hoarding them can be a sign you are a cheapskate.

5. Reusing Paper Goods

Some people save paper cups that still look pretty clean and recycle soiled paper towels for another chore. But that’s a cheapskate way of living that likely doesn’t save you much. Better to buy recycled paper products to help save energy, water, and trees. Get dishwasher-safe, reusable party plates; they are sturdy enough to hold large pizza slices and the like.

6. Doing Only Free Activities

Free activities are wonderful and a part of a smart, frugal lifestyle. But cheapskates take this to extremes and only want to go somewhere if it doesn’t cost money. This limits their plans accordingly. For instance, if you only go to the beach after 5 pm, when there are no entrance fees, you will never experience a classic sunny day. Plus, there probably aren’t any lifeguards on duty.

In life, balance is best. There’s no sense being miserly vs. having fun and staying safe. Paying the fee to visit, say, a beach or a majestic national park could provide a view worth a million bucks and a lifetime of great memories.

Recommended: Ways to Be a Frugal Traveler

7. Being Nosy about Other People’s Money

Cheapskates dwell on what other people spend, gossiping about or criticizing their purchases, such as a designer handbag or resort vacation. But maybe the buyer is a frugal person who has a solid money mindset and saved for a year to afford those nice things. Frugal does not mean cheap, and judging others’ spending can say more about your own financial habits than theirs.

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8. Always Snagging Leftovers

It’s one thing to take home the restaurant meal you couldn’t finish but another to make off with the leftover shrimp at a friend’s party. If the host invites you to take some food, great. But don’t push it. You are a guest, after all.

It’s also a classic cheapskate move to take back anything you brought that wasn’t entirely devoured. If you brought two bottles of wine and only one was opened, the other one stays put, as a gift to your host for welcoming guests.

9. Saving Almost Spoiled Food

Many people look for ways to save money on food. But safety comes first. No matter how expensive that deli meat was, if it’s past the date that tells you it’s safe to consume, throw it out. That’s a risk we take when we buy food, from fresh produce to chicken: Use it or lose it. If yogurt or cheese grows a layer of mold, out it goes. Only an ultracheap person would cling to it, eat it, and risk their health.

If you’re not sure how long food stays safe in the fridge, open a tab and search. There are many sites that share the full details.

10. Regifting Thoughtlessly

It’s okay to pass along (with honesty) a gift you cannot use or that doesn’t suit your needs, such as a pound of rocky road fudge when you’re avoiding sugar or a sweater that’s not your color. But it’s hurtful to wrap up something you have around, like an extra college sweatshirt or a set of mugs, and pass them off to a friend or relative as a new gift. That’s just plain cheap.

11. Buying Cheap Quality

If you buy cheaply made clothing, it will likely fray, fade, and fall apart way before good quality items do. Same with ultra low-priced bedding and towels. Likewise, if you invest in a good pair of shoes, they will stand up to new heels, soles, and repeated polishing. A cheap pair won’t go the distance.

Keep in mind that the same holds true with household purchases: Cookware with a rock-bottom price tag is likely to disappoint you, and the same may hold true with furnishings. Read reviews before you buy, and snag a good-quality item that’s a little pricier but more reliable.

Recommended: Guide to Practicing Financial Self-Care

12. Depriving Others While You Amass Money

Another sign you are a cheapskate can be that you are totally focused on your own wealth management and never help others. Maybe a miser could make a payment to help a cousin or niece with a heavy student loan debt. That kind of money magic fills the heart of the giver and the recipient. Being selfishly cheap just leaves you with a heart tightened like a fist.

Recommended: Common Money Fights

13. Haggling Over Every Transaction

Bargaining nonstop can make everyone uncomfortable, except the cheapskate. The salesperson, other customers, and especially the cheapskate’s friends and family who are present may want to vanish.

There are times and places where haggling is appropriate and can improve your financial life. Overstepping those boundaries can be a sign you are a cheapskate.

14. Helping Yourself to Office Supplies

It’s one thing to take a pad personalized with your name or a paperweight that was a gift from the boss. But it’s another to stock your home office or a kid’s back-to-school list from the office supply closet. Just don’t. It’s veering into stealing.

Same goes for taking condiments and coffee supplies from the staff break room or raiding the bathroom for toilet paper so you don’t have to buy any.

Recommended: 17 Ways to Make Financial Freedom a Reality

15. Being a Bad Tipper

This may be the most obvious and most common sign of a cheapskate. They look for any reason to reduce the gratuity after a meal, from too few sugar packets on the table to the entree arriving too quickly or too slowly. Waiters and waitresses often manage many tables and make a low hourly wage. They count on tips to bring up their earnings.

If the food and/or service is awful, it makes sense that the tip would reflect that. But for a typical meal with perhaps a tiny glitch, not leaving a tip can be a giveaway that someone is a miser.

Tips to Avoid Being a Cheapskate

Try to remember this advice next time you feel your inner cheapskate emerging.

•   Give yourself a fun budget: Find a little breathing room in your budget for things that bring you pleasure even if they are not great bargains. Maybe a fancy coffee on Friday mornings, to end the work week on a high note, can be a nice self-reward.

•   Shift your focus from cash. Consider rewards that have no set price attached to them. That means enjoying a movie plus popcorn with your best friend. Or the smile on your mother’s face when you bring her flowers.

•   Set up a separate bank account for generosity. Put a certain amount of money in every week, even just $50 or $10 can make a difference. Then, at the end of the month, do something kind for someone. This can help offset any cheapskate tendencies.

•   If you are dining out or getting coffee, build extra bucks into your budget ahead of time for the tip.

•   Instead of clinging to your money, think about how hard behind-the-scenes people work. The staffers who put out the free hotel breakfast buffet, the shampoo girl at the salon: Appreciating their work with a tip goes a long way to make both you and them feel better.

The Takeaway

Knowing the difference between being a cheapskate and being frugal is an important life lesson. The former leans toward miserly and is unpleasant to be around, while the frugal person usually spends mindfully and can afford to be generous in meaningful ways.

When you understand the signs of being cheap, you can likely stop yourself and become better at a healthy financial mindset. It’s not just “mine, mine, mine,” but sometimes “yours, mine, and ours.”

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Are there benefits to being a cheapskate?

A true cheapskate may be able to reach financial goals, which is a benefit. But they might be so focused on saving that they cannot enjoy life. They are likely so busy not spending that they don’t know how to give back, chip in, be honest, and have fun with loved ones.

Is being cheap a personality trait?

Being cheap can be a personality trait, but it need not be a permanent one. It could be a habit developed because you grew up poor and wished for more money or possessions or it can stem from other insecurities. It’s possible to change this behavior if you become more aware of it and are motivated to be less stingy.

How do you deal with cheap people?

If you value the person and your relationship with them, do your best not to argue with them. That is unlikely to get them to spend more freely. Set expectations on get-togethers early; if something sounds too pricey for them, make another, less expensive plan. Avoid those situations that are likely to provide a forum for their cheap tendences.

Photo credit: iStock/Morsa Images

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