Can you be too frugal?

Post-holiday belt-tightening is a good thing, right? But you can take it too far, as Sandra discovers.

Photo: digitalhallway/iStockphoto

When I was in Grade 5 — same age as Bronwyn is now — one of my lunchroom friends unabashedly told me that her mother washed and re-used plastic drinking straws. Not to be confused with the meant-to-be-reused glass Strawsome straws, but flimsy plastic disposable straws. This family also pinched spider-plant babies from public places, put them to water until they formed roots, and hence scored free houseplants. This mom managed, with her husband, to put three girls through university and pay off a house, so who am I to judge her money-saving habits?

Years later, I would date (but not marry) an environmentally-minded man who washed and re-used plastic wrap. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: If he were truly environmentally-minded, he wouldn’t have used plastic wrap at all. But my point is, you’re not supposed to re-use plastic wrap, just like you’re not supposed to microwave leftovers in re-purposed yogurt containers. In both cases, there’s a health risk involved. I knew things wouldn’t go on much longer with this beau when I spotted him saving a receipt from our dinner date. I have the antithesis of a poker face, so he must have spotted my skeptical visage when he offered, “It’s for my tax return.”

What. The.

Dude, that’s breaking the rules. And breaking the rules, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the signs you’ve morphed from frugalista to cheapskate. Plus, it’s breaking the rules. (I’m a straight-and-narrow kind of girl, especially when it comes to dealings with the Canada Revenue Agency.) Not to mention, it was soooo not romantic.

The topic of what makes a cheapskate is alive and well on the Internet. Recently, The Globe and Mail posted an online survey to determine which qualities make someone “cheap” as opposed to “bargain-conscious”, asking participants, “What are your most unusual methods of saving money?”

Here are a few behaviours that I consider to be responsible and frugal:

  • stocking up on staples like dried pasta and toilet paper when they’re on super-sale
  • waiting until a 40% off online sale to buy a top you’ve been eyeing
  • buying your kids’ clothes with room to grow
  • stocking the freezer with homemade vegetarian chili and lasagna, so you are less tempted to order pricey takeout on a Thursday night when you’re too tired to cook

Here are a few behaviours I believe fall in the cheapskate category:

  • not paying your share of a group meal
  • “forgetting” to include a tip
  • leaving home without your wallet knowing that your friend/mom/someone else you’re with will pick up the tab
  • eating expired food (not worth the risk; and besides, true frugalistas monitor expiry dates so this is never, or rarely, an issue)

What’s your take: Is there such a thing as “too frugal”? Sound off here.

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