"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Friday, April 5, 2013

What's Your Take: Extreme Cheapskates

image credit: www.someecards.com
Have you seen the TLC show Extreme Cheapskates?  For those who haven’t seen this series, each episode chronicles the life of an individual who has made decisions that, to the rest of society, seem unreasonably cheap.  I don’t just mean frugal, I mean “re-uses old dental floss” cheap.  For instance, there is a woman who doesn’t buy groceries, but rather dumpster dives in the Whole Foods trash bins.  Her rationale is that Whole Foods throws out high-quality prepared foods that are “perfectly safe” to eat.  She’s an accountant who owns her Manhattan apartment outright, so she could certainly afford to purchase food for herself.  She also refuses to buy toilet paper, but I’ll let you imagine how that works (one word: ick).  The individuals who are featured on this show are employed in well-paying professions, and presumably have the means to loosen their purse strings a little.  According to the show, many of these people maintain savings accounts in the six figures, so it is not the case that they are struggling to make ends meet.   

In most cases, I try to withhold judgment on the financial decisions that other people make.   I think there should be always be a balance between living frugally and maintaining a reasonable quality of life.   For each person or family, the balance will be different.  That’s what makes personal finance so personal.  People have to decide what makes sense for them and their family members.  As an outsider, I rarely know the specific circumstances informing those decisions.  So long as people have planned for their financial futures and the futures of their loved ones, I try to keep my mouth shut.  No one likes unsolicited advice, however well-intended it may be.  

I find Extreme Cheapskates quite intriguing.  These folks have found ways to save some serious dough.  That’s commendable.  But I also can’t believe that the decisions and lifestyles portrayed in the show would be appealing to many other people – even people who like to stretch their dollar to its fullest potential.  Many of the folks featured on Extreme Cheapskates make decisions that seem to negatively impact the individual’s ability to function within society.  Sometimes the behaviors are unhygienic or otherwise unsafe.  And in many cases, the individuals featured on Extreme Cheapskates make decisions that fail to account for the needs (physical or emotional) of their family members.  The show portrays the cheapskate as the money-management tyrant who refuses to accept input from his or her loved ones.  I think this is the part that most bothers me.  (Of course, it’s possible that the stubborn, tyrannical aspect is created for television.  Without drama, the reality T.V. formula doesn’t work.  Maybe all these penny-pinching decisions are made with full buy-in from the families.  We’ll never know.)

In a recent guest post on Budget and the Beach, My Money Design wrote about creating wealth that matters.  This post resonated deeply with me.  At times, my focus has become so narrow that I look only at the bottom line and lose sight of what truly matters to me: my husband, my family, my faith, my friends, the kids we hope to have, and the causes that are near to my heart.  It’s easy to forget that the point of saving money is not to hoard a bunch of cash, but to have enough financial stability that we can achieve our life goals.       

So here’s my question: Where is the line between frugal and just plain cheap?  How do you balance frugality with your life goals?  What’s your take on Extreme Cheapskates?


  1. I am constantly trying to balance between paying off debt but also living a fulfilling life. A lot of personal finance bloggers love to rail on people who aren't doing everything in their power to pay off debt. And then after you've paid off debt, it's like you're supposed to put all your money into retirement funds before you can have any fun. At what point do we realize that we can't take our money with us when we die? Yes we have financial goals, and I'm working on paying down my debt, but I refuse to not enjoy everyday life now , and sometimes that involves going out to eat with friends and taking a vacation.

    1. This is a great perspective. I think enjoying the present is so important. It's no use feeling deprived and allowing your personal life to suffer just to stockpile money.

      My grandfather has this great saying: "It's only money. It'll all go away." For a while, I didn't understand what he meant. Now, I realize this is his way of saying, "You can't take it with you." He's very financially savvy...didn't have a fancy job, but he and my grandmother are living large in retirement. He earned money mostly through investing, but if his stocks don't do well, he just brushes it off. He refuses to get too hung up on how much money they have or how to make more of it. I think he has a balanced approach.

    2. It's hard for me to relate to shows like Extreme Cheapskate (which I have never seen) because even though I have huge student loan debt, I refuse to go to such extreme measures to save a few bucks. These people sound like they are ruining their quality of life and possibly risking health to save a few bucks and that's rather sad.I'm not even a frugal blogger but I am doing the best I can to pay off my student loans while still enjoying life :)

    3. Yep, exactly. I wouldn't consider myself a frugal blogger, either, but I think there's a balance between smart financial decisions, and going to such extremes as are portrayed in the show.

  2. BF wants to do some weird things when he sees that show. I've since banned it.

    Otherwise, some things they do like use white vinegar, couponing, and walking instead of taking the car, I do that too... so it's hard to say. I'd rather have a balance in my life than to be a miser.

    1. I'm chuckling about your BF's reaction to the show. Too funny.

      I think the steps you've listed (white vinegar, couponing, walking when possible) seem very reasonable and balanced ways to cut expenses. We love walking when we can. Walkability is one of the things we value most about our town, especially since we commute so far during the week.

  3. I had to google Extreme Cheapskates, because you made it sound interesting... and then I saw the preview. Yuck! Seriously, what is with the lady that doesn't use TP and washes her clothes in the shower. That can't smell good. Just disgusted.

    To answer your question: If I have be strict with my budget and not spend money for a week because I messed it up I will, but I will always buy basic creature comforts. I did try not spending for a full month, which helped me pay off my debt completely, but I still purchased TP, soap, water and used electricity. I don't care if school takes me 10 years, I am definitely not going to become an extreme cheapskate YUCK!