When Friends Say You’re Cheap

by Reader Contributors

When Friends Say You're Cheap photo

Does it bother you when friends make false assumptions about your frugal lifestyle? No matter whether you are frugal by choice or out of necessity, heed this advice from other frugal readers when your friends think you’re cheap.

Dear Gary,
How do others deal with the non-frugal? Our closest friends are hyper-consumers, and though we love them dearly, it’s a challenge to hear them lament their credit card bills and high-interest car loans (especially after they spent $800 to redecorate their bedroom since it was all “on sale”). Since we don’t spend the way they do, they sometimes make comments that lead me to believe they think we’re also in financial trouble. This is more common since I’ve left my highly-paid but totally miserable technical job in order to complete some renovations on our home. Have other readers found it’s best to laugh off these comments on our lack of consumerism or to quietly respond with something like, “Yeah, these shoes (curtains, sheets, clothes) are nice, but for the money, I’d rather replace my kitchen sink faucet?” Ideally, they would understand that we aren’t in financial trouble AND possibly learn that instant gratification isn’t the best plan. Thanks for all your help!

The “Assumers”

People love making assumptions about their friends, especially about their friends’ finances. I’ve found that it’s best to ignore this tendency as long as it’s vague and only annoying in a minor way. If it becomes specific (and annoying in a major way), I will grin, suggest that they are presuming a lot, and change the subject.

A friendship between the frugal and the un-frugal can be pleasurable and interesting, even amusing. If you’re satisfied that you’re making the right life choices, that your choices bring you and your family happiness in the short and the long term, and that you get your kicks by living frugally and responsibly and by mastering the skills that allow you to revamp your bedroom for $80 instead of $800, then you can probably see that it doesn’t matter what anyone else assumes about your lifestyle or your income. There is tremendous pleasure and peace in this realization. So stop pondering: put a Neil Young album on the turntable, make some oatmeal cookies, and take a big plateful to your less-enlightened buddies.

Happier Now

I’d simply say, “Yes, I used to feel that I had to treat myself when I was working that miserable job. I bought a lot of cheap junk on credit and still felt unsatisfied. Now that I’m happy, I find that I get more pleasure fixing the kitchen sink than I ever did paying off a new car. My bank account’s a lot happier, too!”

You’re never going to convince someone else to be more frugal. They have to make that decision on their own. What you can do is show them that you are happier now that you aren’t working a miserable job to pay off your debts. Real happiness comes from doing what you want to do, not from what you own.
Teri P.

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Lifestyle Choices

I would gloss over the misguided comments of the friends and give them a copy of Your Money or Your Life and see if they start to see the light. It’s difficult to be an evangelist about anything, but sometimes, people will respond to a little nudge because they truly don’t realize the choices they’re making.

Different Strokes…

Some people find personal satisfaction, and it builds their self-esteem to have the very best. I am reading a book on financing right now as I attempt to dig myself out of debt, and one of the things it teaches is that when we buy our stuff on credit, we usually end up paying two to three times the amount of the original purchase price due to interest rates and such. If you are content and happy with your life and where you are at, then great! I would suggest just being happy for your neighbors if they are happy about their purchases.

I find for myself that there is much more reward in owning something clear and free, knowing what was involved to get it and knowing I won’t pay more than the purchase price for it. Frugality brings out the creative parts of us – so be creative and have fun!!

Read the Situation

It can indeed be very frustrating when you have friends and/or family who do not share your views on frugality. Trying to stick to a budget is difficult and is not made easier when it seems your friends are buying everything they want while you go without.

From personal experience, I have found that what works best for me really depends on the situation. Sometimes, it is best to simply compliment the item, “Yes, that is a really nice (whatever)”, and leave it at that. When directly questioned about my spending/frugality, I find it is better to simply state my reasons why I do NOT go right out and buy whatever I want, “My priorities are getting out of debt right now,” “I have found that I really do not need a new (blah blah),” or “I am saving for a (thingie).” Sometimes, when questioned rudely, I laugh it off with a comment “I’m a cheap (blank) and hate spending my money needlessly/foolishly” – that often makes people back off.

Besides, if they are good friends, they will probably already know your frugal views and priorities and respect them.

No Apologies

We, too, have friends who are spenders. Their income is at least double ours, but we are not about to begin to spend money like they do. We bought an older fixer-upper and are doing the repairs and remodeling ourselves. I have sewn all the curtains, done all the painting, etc. My husband does all the carpentry, drywall, etc. We have a great time working together as a family.

We pay extra on our mortgage, which is almost paid for in six years. We drive older but dependable cars. We do most of our cooking from scratch, such as baking bread and cookies, homemade soups, etc. We eat very well. We walk together each day (don’t pay gym expenses). We are very healthy and grow and can a lot of our own food from a garden. We are not poor. In fact, we are wealthy. Maybe not in liquid assets, but in lifestyle.

Our friends actually envy us because they always comment on how they wish they could be like us. One of the greatest benefits I see is that we could get along quite well even if one of us was sick and unable to work because we are not in debt.

We also love to travel, and when we do, we camp. We eat out probably once a week. We entertain other families often. We take off at least a day a week and go to museums, yard saling, or sightseeing. We don’t spend much time shopping. We buy groceries monthly, with a trip or two for perishables.

We never apologize for our spending habits and try not to put them down for theirs. (Even when we see them throwing money out the window.) I believe eventually, they will begin to be more like us in more ways and begging to live “frugally fun.”

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Laugh It Off

I think it is better to laugh off or ignore such comments rather than to address them directly with something like, “Yes, your shoes are nice, but I’d rather replace my kitchen faucet.” That kind of reply will be more likely to be considered snide or offensive than taken in the instructive spirit with which I’m sure you intend it. Presumably, your friends are adults, and although their financial woes may be tiresome to listen to, your example will be more likely to make them realize the truth than any unsolicited comments or advice.
Kris C.

Live Like a Millionaire

Read the book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley, Ph.D., and William Danko, Ph.D. You’ll find out that YOU are living the lifestyle of the average millionaire, not your Un-Frugal friends (as they may be thinking). For me, just knowing this has made me awfully proud of my creative, used, hand-me-down, thrift shop decor and wardrobe.

Don’t feel like you have to “let them know” you aren’t having money trouble or that you choose to spend your money elsewhere (the latter will only sound insulting to them and won’t teach them a thing). They will eventually realize they are the only ones complaining about their bills and high interest rates. Your silence alone will speak volumes.

A Secretive Smile

The best thing to do when faced with friends who make comments about your financial status is to smile like you know a secret they don’t. This is true because you know a sense of freedom they can’t comprehend.

I have been living frugally for the past eleven years, and for the first several years, I was constantly trying to infect my friends with the excitement I felt at learning to take control of my money. Being frugal lets me do and have the things that are really important to me.

But sadly, not everyone (even our nearest and dearest friends) sees things the way we do. Though I tried very hard, I could not get my friends to see what I was doing. The need to “keep up with the Jones’ ” is a way of life a lot of people don’t want to give up, and we can’t change that, no matter how destructive we might think it is.

Before long, I feel you will be in the boat I am now in. My friends constantly make comments about my being rich. If I mention on the phone that I have to run to the bank or pay bills, I always get the same comment, “I’ll bring some of mine over for you to pay, you’re rich.” I am far from being rich, but I am comfortable because I have control of my money instead of my money having control of me. My bills are always paid ahead of time, and if something needs fixing around the house or on the car, I always have the money to get it fixed without taking out a loan or using a credit card.

That is financial freedom. You don’t need to win the lottery or inherit a fortune to achieve this. You just have to know what your priorities are. When I first started on my quest to take control of my money, I got comments about being cheap. Like that’s a dirty word. Now, I’m treated like I’m rolling in dough. Neither of those descriptions is true, but I get tired of banging my head into a brick wall, so, in self-defense, I learned to smile like I know a secret you don’t know and let it go at that. I am satisfied knowing that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck and that a catastrophe could not make me a homeless person a month from now. I think you need to take great satisfaction in the fact that you know where your priorities lie and let your friends think what they like.

Reviewed November 2023

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