5 Ways Being The Cheap Friend Is Making You A Better Person

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Without a doubt, this summer, my friends are going to call me cheap. They will question why I’m saying no to dinner at a restaurant (it’s because I just bought my friend expensive flowers as a kind gesture (but f*** the overpriced caesar salad). My money spending will be rationalized, questioned, and not-so-silently judged.

(Disclaimer: My friends are amazing. A lot of them are really good at budgeting, or their parents make triple what mine do and want them to spend, or they work their asses off at Starbucks so they can splurge on the weekends).

(Second disclaimer: Don’t be too hard on yourself. I binge-spend sometimes, too. It’s a learning process. Remember the overpriced caesar salad? Yup, wasn’t just a random aside – I once spent $27 on one of those while at Top of the Hub in Boston and I’m still feeling salty about it.)

I’m fine with my friends’ “you’re cheap” judgements, though. Really.

I’m fine with it because I share an outlook that many other first-generation Americans have. My parents came to the States from India with little except their hopes and a couple of names in their address books. My dad had to save up to buy his first burger from Burger King, my mom worked against people’s prejudiced assumptions and interviewed for jobs daily. I’ve been taught the value of a single penny by their “here’s my two cents” lessons over the years. Even now, my family has been blessed with financial stability, and I’ve been given so many amazing opportunities. But frugality is still something that we have strong opinions on. I used to argue with my dad when he refused to let me go on a trip with friends, but — in denying me the trip — he taught me that just because we could afford something, that did not mean we needed it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to say no to unnecessary expenses more and more. I’ve realized that there are realities, both harsh and beautiful, that come with being the money-conscious friend of the group.

1. You appreciate treating yourself much more.

I’m not poor, and my family doesn’t fall even close to the low-income bracket (which, in my opinion, is set at much too high a number, but that’s for another post). We are very lucky, but that is not a determining factor in whether or not I should value my money. That does not mean I should spend frivolously. Thinking about tuition and future apartments and caesar salads, I don’t necessarily feel entitled to spend my allowance money, or my earned money, freely. Do I wish I got dessert at dinner? Am I sad I can’t attend a weekly Soulcycle class? Yes. And No.

It sucks to have the fear of missing out when my friends happily spend cash, frequently. Thinking twice isn’t always fun, but also it means that when you spend, it’s on something important. I bought a very used book (a ratty old 20-page book called “On Proofreading” from 1850) from Brattle Book Shop for about $7.50. It sits comfortably on my desk, and I’ve barely touched it, but it makes the writer in me very happy (it even has scribbles on the inside). If I always bought the newest book, or — on the contrary —  went antique book-shopping too often, my little find wouldn’t hold as much weight.

2. You have a new role.

Once, my best friend’s brother visited and he threw his wallet at me and said “Buy anything.” Sweet guy, but I just gave his wallet back to him. That boy is known for coming off as a pretentious guy who flaunts his money. Spending money like that isn’t impressive, and it doesn’t make you friends. I would never want to be “that guy” in a friend group, and here’s why.

My roommate and I went shopping almost every weekend last semester. Her taste is impeccable, her Instagram fashion is on fleek, and Newbury’s Brandy Melville knows her by her first name. While I often came away from our shopping trips empty-handed, my roommate always found an outfit that fitted perfectly and made her look flawless (Angela, can you tell how much I love you?). What made me happy was that, before she found that outfit, she would hover over other shirts and look to me for an “It’s not worth it” look or my “Get it, or else I will” eyes. I stopped her from making excessive purchases or impulsive buys. It’s rewarding to know that you’re that person in a friend group, mostly because I love being a “mom,” and it means we get to save up for mini-vacations this summer.

3. If it’s free, it’s better.

Pretty self-explanatory. When something is free or highly discounted, whether it be an event or a t-shirt, it’s automatically more enjoyable. I personally think it’s because you have lower standards for the item or event because there are lower sums of money at stake. Subconsciously, you don’t have high expectations; you’re more likely to be impressed and satisfied, however it turns out.

Another perk of taking advantage of a deal is that you can reallocate the money you would have spent toward a more pricey night and use it somewhere else (that’s cheaper), instead. I got to see Mike Rezendes, a member of The Globe Theater’s Spotlight Team, for free through Boston University. His talk was inspiring, and afterwards I went out to dinner with friends. It was a low-cost evening, and one of my favorite nights of the year. I can promise you that I would’ve paid to see that famous journalist (his one-liners were amazing), but since it was free, it ended up becoming an even more enjoyable experience.

4. The Dunkin’ Donuts Effect.

That is: You fall in love with simplicity. I know Dunkin’ doesn’t have the charm of Thinking Cup, and it isn’t Instagram-worthy. I’ll be honest; expensive coffee shops with newspaper-lined tables rank number one in my heart, but a large iced coffee from Dunkin’ is my bliss during cram study-sessions. Whereas Thinking Cup makes me want to stroll the streets of Boston and pick up poetry, Dunkin’ makes me feel prepared, ready to delve into statistics. I call this acquired taste for cheaper things the “Dunkin’ Donuts Effect” because, over time, I’ve found myself preferring simple sandwiches from the dining hall over artisan, pesto-grilled, mayonnaise-spiced, wasabi-lined, gluten-free wraps from the café down the road. I’ve found myself enjoying the commute on “The T” (our subway in Boston); I get more gratification from successful transfers than simply calling an Uber. You enjoy the little things, and you seek out the perks of getting more out of little, rather than getting a little out of more.

5. Your Future Self thanks you.

You know when you make it as a hard-hitting journalist, and you’ve got those money-conscious skills, you’ll be rolling in cash because you’ve developed a taste for Chipotle instead of Nouveau-American. And that friend who called you cheap? Worried about how they’re going to continue to watch the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because they don’t have money to pay for next month’s Netflix bill after a treat-yo-self moment at Sephora?

Or is that just me?

Natasha Mascarenhas is a Boston University undergraduate studying journalism (and apparently everyone’s two cents of advice on why that’s a bad idea). Follow her on Twitter for cold brew, bylines, and brownstones. If this made you smile, you can leave her a tip, here. 

Image via Pexels

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  • Sara

    Am I the only one who found this article virtually incomprehensible?

    • Angela

      Nope

  • buckwheat

    Readers may be confused because the author’s version of “cheap” is eating at Chipotle, whereas for every other college student, it’s totally normal, not even “cheap,” to subsist on dining hall food and free pizza at student events.

  • Emily

    Pretty sure that spending money on a “ratty” 20-page book you don’t even want to read *is* frivolous and a waste of money, but do you.

    Also, you think the “low-income bracket” is set too high? Try cutting out the $27 salads and living with that kind of money–I think you’d see how wrong you are.

  • Anon

    Why do you think the low-income bracket is set too high? And what do you even mean by that? The poverty line? 10% tax bracket?

    The idea of micromanaging my friend’s money choices sounds terrible.

  • Evarosa1986

    Ok so taking the subway is being cheap.
    Nice to know for people who have to take the subway every day. But it is really nice that you can congratulate yourself for being cheap.

    • Summer

      It boggles my mind whenever someone implies that the subway is a mode of transportation best left for the peasants. Not only is a subway system an incredible feat of engineering (a freaking TRAIN running UNDERGROUND?!), but it’s affordable! It’s cleaner for the environment! It’s efficient! It’s reliable! Yes, sometimes it’s less than sanitary and sometimes you’ll encounter unsavory individuals, but if your city is fortunate enough to have a subway system I can’t even imagine shunning it as the “cheap” option. It’s such an amazing public resource.

      • disqus_XIxHJslPUz

        I don’t get either why it is the cheap option and the Uber should be the “normal” option for anyone who has money. My friends who have money (more than me!!) still get the tube everywhere – nobody can afford to travel with an Uber every single day of the year, and why spend tons of money on it when you could buy a travelcard, use the subway and save the money you haven’t spent on an Uber to go somewhere on holiday or pay off your loan or save for a house or go on a nice dinner with your family?? I mean, I can think of hundreds of ways my money would be better spent than getting an Uber to meet my friends when I can just get a subway, which is likely to be faster (hello, no traffic…) and gets me to where I need to go just as well…

        Violaine

        • Winterlight

          I don’t use Uber, but back when I was commuting regularly I took the subway and bus. Sometimes, if the weather was hideous or I had a serious migraine, I’d take a cab from the subway station. That was a $10 ride. I suppose I could have afforded to do it on a regular basis if I’d really wanted to, but for me it wasn’t worth the money.

  • Anonymous Commenter No. 5

    The writing could be a little more focused. And the gratuitous use of asides made it difficult to follow your writing.

  • disqus_XIxHJslPUz

    I graduated two years ago and have a decent job, and I don’t think I’m cheap – but yes, $27 on a salad is expensive, and eating at Chipotle is still something I think of as a treat. Maybe it’s because in Europe, eating out is something we do maybe 2, 3 times a month so it’s always a treat no matter where. But maybe it’s because we have very different perspective on what’s cheap and what’s not.

    If I go shopping and come home empty handed, I don’t think of it as being cheap. I think of it as being financially responsible. A few years ago, when I had less money than now, I would still have bought a random shirt or dress just to make my trip to the mall “worth my time”. Now I know that I’d rather go home with an empty shopping bag than buy something I’ll never wear. And I certainly don’t think it’s being cheap.
    Taking the subway rather than a taxi is something normal. My friends all earn decent money but none of us feel that we should travel in Uber all the time. An Uber is something handy for when we missed the last subway and need to get home; not a necessity.

    You talk a lot about what your friends do and buy and the expensive places where they eat. Maybe that’s why you think you are being cheap! I’m surrounded by people who go shopping and buy nothing if there’s nothing they like or nothing that’s worth the money, friends who go to the cheap café rather than the trendy-but-expensive one, friends who skip dessert because dessert is another £8 on top of the bill. That’s probably why they never judge me when I tell them I am not going to come to dinner because I haven’t been paid yet, or when I go shopping with them and buy nothing. You say your friends are amazing and I believe you, but maybe you should reflect on whether judging you for not spending money is being supportive. I’m sure I wouldn’t accept my friends telling me I’m cheap because I don’t spend as much as them, and thankfully my friends know better than expecting me to spend as much as them if they make more money or if they have parents who give them money. What I got from your article is that you think you’re cheap when I think your behaviour sounds pretty reasonable, and that you feel this way beause your amazing friends make you feel this way…

    Violaine

    • Anon

      Also, she goes shopping every weekend and “mostly” doesn’t buy things. I mean, sure, she probably is the reasonable one in her friend group but that’s because her friends are crazy consumerists. (By American standards too!)

  • Anon

    Ok, so thinking it over, it’s easy to be judgmental about a college kid who doesn’t have a great sense of perspective on money and begin by opining about how the low-income bracket is too high. It’s really easy to call out one person’s frugality as another’s privilege. She’ll probably be embarrassed by this in a few years and hopefully have less terrible friends.

    I think the question the headline raises is interesting, though: are there character benefits that go along with living a frugal life?

    Having had those years where I had $20/week for groceries and went home and cried because the bread I bought turned out to be moldy, my impulse is to say no. I can’t say those experiences made me feel like a better person or taught me any particular virtues. I can only imagine it gets worse for people in really dire circumstances. When you’re stressed, tempers flare, people lose patience and turn on those they love because stupid things matter. I am a nicer person now that I can walk into the grocery store and buy what I want.

    On the other hand, I had a friend who never worked for anything, married young and rich, and was prone to making pronouncements like “you can’t get a nice rug for under 10k.” That seems like its own flaw. Is the answer just that frugality only makes you a better person if you’re doing it as a tourist of sorts – if you have the option of blowing cash but don’t?

    What do you guys think?

    • Emily

      I think frugality can be the moral thing to do even if it’s a choice rather than a necessity. Avoiding fast fashion and buying nicer pieces is a frugal thing that’s better for the environment (but that’s also a choice that might only be available for those with a little more cash–I’d love to buy investment pieces but don’t have the money to spend up-front).

      Personally, being financially independent when I moved out (and therefore becoming very very frugal) definitely was good for my character–I’m more hardworking, more generous, and more appreciative when others were generous with me. Being less privileged all of a sudden also made me confront how not having to deal with money had allowed me to be kind of an asshole sometimes, which was also ultimately a good thing.

      There is definitely a line between frugality that’s still reasonably comfortable (which is definitely character-building, I think) and frugality that is exhausting and scary (and calling that character-building seems kind of dismissive and gross considering how harmful it is when you’re living it).

      And then there’s the kind of “frugality” described in this article, which isn’t really frugality at all.

      Also, I’m not sure how “if it’s free, you’ll enjoy it more” serves as a reason why frugality makes you a better person, but I think that’s more an issue of bad and convoluted writing. Either way, I wish TFD had been a little more discerning when they decided to publish this particular piece.

      • disqus_XIxHJslPUz

        I think if frugality is buying bread that turns out moldy, it’s not frugality – it’s poverty. Poverty can maybe build some people’s character but not everyone, and I grew up in a poor household and can’t see any benefit to it.
        Frugality I think is very different from poverty because it’s a choice: I can buy an expensive new dress to go out, but I won’t and I will wear what I already own. That’s frugality. Versus poverty: I won’t go out because I have no clothes to wear and I have no money to buy something to bring to the party.
        Being frugal is probably good in the sense it builds discipline and forces you to think about why you want to buy something. But if it’s not a choice, I call it poverty and it’s just depressing and doesn’t necessarily teach you anything – just like every other life experience, it’s what you make of it!
        Violaine

  • disqus_jpV5HfkG82

    Two things worth noting about Boston (from a Bostonian):

    1. Boston University is full of rich kids, as are many of the private schools within the city
    2. The transit system is rather problematic (delays daily, let’s not even talk about how it works during the winter) and lots of people use Uber as a replacement

    That being said, I agree that the writer’s spending habits should be considered “normal” rather than “cheap.” She should stop letting her less responsible friends (who likely have parental support) define what is cheap and what is not. I had a roommate right after college who spent frivolously on her parents’ dime and that behavior was difficult to be around at times, so I understand where the writer is coming from.

    But kudos for utilizing self control. At least it’s not an article about how your friends’ lifestyles put you into credit card debt 🙂

  • Kayhardt

    Having just graduated from the same school this writer currently attends I’ll say by the standards of most kids around her, yeah she is cheap. But not by most standards, and definitely not by this post-grad’s standards. Taking the T and eating at Chipotle ARE frugal when all of your friends are taking Ubers and getting sushi every night. I was in a similar situation when I was there, but now I take my bike to work and eat at places like Chipotle maybe once a month to try to save money.

    Also this is really knit-picky but Mike Rezendes works for the Boston Globe, which is a newspaper, not the Globe Theater.