Frugal or Tightwad? What Do You Think?

by Vered DeLeeuw · 22 comments

As a reader of this blog, I’m sure you value frugality. If personal finance is of enough interest to you that you regularly read a personal finance blog, or search for personal finance topics on the Internet, then you’re probably a fairly frugal person, and you’re probably proud of it!

But can a person take frugality too far? Is there a point where being frugal turns into being a tightwad?

I can think of several examples where in an attempt to save, people act funny, go too far, or even deprive themselves of basic comforts. Will you go through my list and see if you agree? Are these people taking frugality too far?

Wearing Clothes Until They Disintegrate

My husband insists on wearing his T-shirts until they are practically falling apart. In other areas of his life and finances he’s not a tightwad at all – he’s reasonably frugal and can definitely splurge on the things that are important to him (such as a good meal and quality bikes). But those T-shirts, he just won’t let them go, and even if I go ahead and buy him a new one, he insists on holding on to the old T-shirt, claiming that “there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it” and that it’s “perfectly comfy.”

It’s OK, I’m Not Cold

I used to know an elderly woman who would never ever turn up the heat in her home. Now, we all know that it’s better to keep your home a little on the cool side and not overheat, but in this case, I’m talking FREEZING temperatures in the winter, sweltering heat in the summer, and the lady would insist that she was fine and had no need to use the heater or the air conditioner. She was obviously trying to save, but at what cost?

Reusing Tea Bags

I have a relative who always reuses her tea bags. She says that you can make at least 2-3 cups of tea using the same tea bag and that using it just once is a terrible waste. Maybe it’s a matter of taste and preference, but I like my tea strong, hot and sweet, so reusing just won’t cut it for me.

Washing, Drying and Reusing Ziploc Bags

I once read a green blog where they said people should wash their ziploc bags, air dry them and reuse. It seemed excessive to me, but other on that blog post thought it was a fabulous idea both in terms of saving and in terms of being green.

Reusing Trash Bags!

Even if I was totally off base on the ziploc bags, what do you feel about reusing trash bags? How do you fell about a person who dumps their trash directly into the trash truck, then brings it back home to reuse?

Eating Less-Than-Fresh Food

My late grandma used to buy a fresh loaf of bread every morning, and throw out the leftovers every night. When her daughters would scold her, she would say, “Eating fresh bread is important to me. I am willing to spend a little extra each month to always eat fresh bread!” I was thinking about her the other day, when I opened the fridge and saw that I still had some old-ish cheese in there, and also a new block of cheese. The frugal me wouldn’t let me enjoy the fresh cheese – I would need to finish the old cheese first! But the result, especially if you tend to stock on foods, is that you never eat food at its freshest – you feel compelled to always finish the “old” food first, before it gets spoiled. Not sure if this qualifies as being a tightwad, but it sure got me thinking about how sometimes being frugal can lower our quality of life.

Freeganism and Dumpster Diving

Freegans take a political stance against consumerism. Among other tactics and habits, they engage in dumpster diving –Β  sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items, including food, that have been discarded by their owners, but which may still be useful or edible. Are they being frugal, being cheap or saving the planet?

What do you think? Are the people on my list (including my husband and I!) acting weird or am I completely off base and they’re just being frugal? Do you have examples of your own to add of things that people do that are maybe a tad too frugal?

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  • Beau W. says:

    I’m all for being frugal. I sometimes use a green tea bag more than once. Fresh food only for me. Day old bread is no big deal. I’m frugal for sure. But I’m definitely not cheap to the extreme point.

    • David @ says:

      Balance is definitely key Beau.

      I do many things that people would call cheap, like trying to not even get a movie at Redbox for $1.50 when I could wait until I get Amazon Prime again and watch it for free. And speaking of Prime, I believe we are the only people amongst our circle of friends who don’t pay for the membership. What we do is just use it when we get free trial offers. Am I frugal or a tightwad? It depends on who you ask, but either way, the savings we’ve racked up through the years have given us a comfortable life!

  • Cassi says:

    Whether or not you reuse tea partially comes from culture. My husband is S. Asian there’s no way you are going to get him to drink old tea…come to think of it I won’t drink old chai/ceai either.

  • Steve says:

    We do these too! In the summer, I take the family to car dealers for the free hotdogs during the special sales. I also take out dead light bulbs on my business trips and swap them with the good ones in my hitel room. On Saturdays we stop in one of those hotels that serve the free continental breakfast. No one ever asks us if we are guests are not. Car pool with a co-worker and tell them your car needs a very expensive repair. You can get them to drive you for a few weeks straight! We also do the mustard and ketchup pack thing into our own bottles. This does help.

  • Megan @ Education Cents says:

    I don’t reuse tea bags because I prefer my tea very strong, so I usually let the tea steep until the cup is empty, at which point there’s not much flavor in the tea bag. My cousin, on the other hand, dunks her tea bag twice, maybe three times, and then sets it aside for future use. She reuses a tea bag sometimes four or five times.

    I do wash ziploc bags, a) becuase it’s what my family has always done and b) unless you store something oily or raw in them, they’re perfectly good and it seems such a shame to throw them away. I don’t re-use ziplock sandwich bags (they’re too thin), but I also don’t buy them voluntarily. I find them to be too expensive, where the cheap, fold-over bags have always served me just fine.

  • Mary Pevehouse says:

    I use cottage cheese cups to freeze in and have Tupperware. I do use my tea bags twice by letting them soak in another cup of hot water while I drink the first.I guess I am frugal and maybe a hoarder. I do look in the dumpsters but I do not dive into them, too dangerous. I haven’t bought anything but four pairs of capri pants and tank tops in 12 years. Most of my family uses the clothes I bring home. Since I live in a college town I get lots of Old Navy, Gap, Parisians, Vera Wang, Nine West, Prada, Brighton and many other higher brand items. I have furnished the houses of all three of my kids and two of my grandkids a couple of times over and given several house fulls of furniture and appliances away. presently cleaning out two storage mobile homes and giving it to some of the locals.

  • Sandy L @ firstgenamerican says:

    I’m guilty of a lot of these.

    I definitely reuse tea bags.

    I also reuse garbage bags, but usually only the clear ones where I take yard waste to the dump. During leaf season we would have to use 40 bags if we didn’t reuse them from dump runs.

    I don’t reuse ziplocs, but my mom does.

    I’m really trying to be better at throwing out food, but it drives me nuts when I overbuy.

  • Squirrelers says:

    I always get a kick out these types of questions, and frequently write about them.

    Here’s my take on this list:

    Wearing Clothes Until They Disintigrate – for me, if it’s a t-shirt, I handle it the way your husband does…as long as it’s for around the house or working out. For everything else, especially wearing out of the house, I like good clothes. Very different standards I have for at home vs outside.

    Using minimal heat or A/C – I don’t do those things. I want to be comfortable, and am not going to freeze or swelter to save a couple of dollars.

    Reusing Tea Bags – I do this, but I’ll typically reuse once. Using a tea bag just once and throwing away is wasteful, to me, but reusing it 2 or 3 times offers minimal flavor.

    Reusing Ziplock Bags – if I use these for food, I don’t typically reuse. I have never washed a ziplock bag.

    Reusing Trash Bags – I actually use trash bags.

    Eating Less Than Fresh Food – I don’t like to eat stale, or expired food. Health is more important to me.

    Dumpster Diving – No. I don’t do this. I can understand why some folks with very little would do this, but I don’t do it.

    Anyway, this was an entertaining post.

  • Global Forex Signals says:

    Frankly speaking, everything exaggerated is bad. Of course, people should be frugal, but not going crazy on the ground of their frugality. What concerns freegans, they are not just saving money or anything else. This is the protest against modern world, its consumerist and capitalists system. I like the protest itself, but not really the form of it.

  • Bonnie says:

    I rewash ziplock bags, use grocery store bags for trash bags, and buy the cheapest clothes I can find for work as I am a pet groomer and they get hairy and dirty so no point in expensive work clothes. I often “find items” sitting on the curb that I can use or reuse or buy them at yard sales. But when it comes to my food, I get what I want and spend to get it. I overspend on tech toys and internet as I have an iphone and sprint cell phone, both used for my business. I haven’t cut the service on one because I share a plan with my daughter and our contract isn’t up and I don’t want to pay the extra fees right now. I don’t have T.V. or cable service so I save there and get all my info from the internet so I guess that balances it out. So I am a combo tightwad, frugal and spendthrift, all in one, depending on what I want. And I have been known to dumpter dive, or rescue stuff on the way to the dumpter. Just yesterday I “saved” 3 expensive orchid plants from the trash. Gave two as gifts and kept one. Now that is being frugal at its best.

  • Christy - Ordinary Traveler says:

    I see way too much waste from many Americans. The idea of throwing away a loaf of bread when it’s only a day old seems extremely wasteful to me, no disrespect towards your grandma. πŸ™‚ It’s hard for me to throw things away, maybe it was how I was brought up. I think there is more to it than being frugal, at least for me. If I use Ziplock bags, I feel bad about only using them once, mainly because I’m contributing more plastic waste into our environment. I don’t think there is anything wrong with reusing things or eating less than fresh food. We could all stand to waste a little less, in my opinion.

  • Debbie says:

    I’ve always been frugal to a point but lately I’ll wear my tee shirts at home with holes in them and I have one exercise jacket it is so comfy but it’s literally falling apart but I’ll still wear it around the house:)

  • MoneyNing says:

    I think this question has a lot to do with the culture you are brought up in. I grew up in Asia, and I don’t think ANYBODY bought garbage bags at all. Everyone used grocery bags, and it was just the norm so no one will think you are a tightwad for doing it.

    When I brought up the subject a while ago with my friends over here in the US, they all said I was cheap, so I guess the answer to the question is – IT DEPENDS πŸ™‚

  • marci says:

    Tea bags 3 or 4 times yes – but I like very weak tea – so only makes sense to dunk and pull it back out to use again.
    Ziplock bags – not if I had meat in them, but for anything else, yes. I have lots of tupperware also and use it.
    Tee-shirts have various degrees of used… For Good shirt, for everyday, for cleaning days, for woods or hunting, for house rags, for grease rags…..
    Cheese – my Tillamook cheese never hangs around long enough to go bad πŸ™‚

    I think a tightwad won’t spend money unless they absolutely are forced to – whereas a frugal person will be careful to make money go a long way, but will splurge for their pleasures when they want to πŸ™‚

  • Steve Jobs says:

    Hey, I am doing five on that list and I am not being a tightwad, just being practical I guess. Anything I can reuse will definitely reuse it and I don’t care what anybody says about it. My shirts have holes in it but I still wear since I am comfy with it. I eat fresh foods always as I buy my food when I need it or if my stock is gone. I don’t buy cheese if I still have some on fridge.

  • Amber says:

    I wear my clothes until I feel it’s inappropriate for me to be out in public, not really because I’m too cheap to buy something else, but because it’s so hard to find something that’s exactly perfect. Oh, and when I do need to buy clothes, it’s normally from the thrift store.
    I reuse tea bags. Tastes fine to me the second time.
    I don’t wash ziploc bags but if they’ve had something dry in them or seem pretty clean, I’ll throw them back in the drawer. I do try to use tupperware for storing things so I can wash and reuse those containers.
    Our idea of food “gone bad” is pretty wimpy, in my opinion. If it doesn’t have mold and it smells fine, it’s good to go. Make soup.

    Just because we have enough money to have the luxury of throwing things away or being wasteful doesn’t mean we should be. Everybody comes to their own equilibrium on these issues.

  • Donna says:

    I reuse tea bags, wash my ziploc’s, make my own bread, wear a sweater in the winter inside my home, use a wood stove for supplement heat, old clothes become rags or ripped into garden ties etc, I do not dumpester dive or wash trash bags. I also freeze items before they go bad for future meals. I was taught to not waste, reuse, and not hoard for the sake of hoarding. I give useful things to charity, find a use for them, or toss. I consider myself frugal. A tight wad would not share- just collect and not use.

  • Jenna says:

    To avoid the Ziplock problem, invest in good sustainable tupperware. Saves money over the long run and is better for the environment. Not to mention isn’t a pain to do.

  • Money Reasons says:

    I’ve worn clothes around the house until they practically disintegrate, but not out in public.

    I’ve even reused trash bags (or even better, I just grocery bags for trash can liners.

    I’ve tried reusing tea bags too, but the flavor was lacking so I stopped doing that right quick.

    I admire the freegans, but I won’t go dumpster diving because of health concerns πŸ™‚

    So I agree, there is a point where frugality no longer provides benefit and can have adverse effect on the practicers…

  • Rebekah says:

    I used to think the same about every one of these topics. Then I moved to Nicaragua, and realized this is a way of life for most of the rest of the world. They need to save money because they don’t have any. Major paradigm shift for me.

    • vered says:

      Interesting point of view, Rebekah. Thanks. NOT reusing stuff, always being warm and eating only the freshest food – those are indeed luxuries.

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