Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Today, I was reading an article in Yahoo! News about tightwads, and one of their examples was a woman who is so frugal that when her blow dryer broke, she was using a fan to dry her hair until her friends bought her a new hair dryer. She also uses every drop of lotion, and uses uneaten portions of her kids bagels to make pizza toppings. Other fellow cheapskates did crrrazy things like make their own fabric softener and detergent.

Hmmm. Does that sound like anyone I know? Or like a lot of people I know? Or in some ways, like me?

I guess I never thought of it as severe tightwaddery, but I just don't think it's so weird that someone would use a fan as a blow dryer. It sounds like the kind of insane thing I would do. For example, I don't have a full length mirror in my room, and I am too lazy to go out and buy one. So instead, I use the bathroom mirror, and occasionally, I check out my reflection in the window. Is that insane? Am I insane?

I do shop now. This past weekend I bought a pair of sneakers because I didn't own a pair, and life was getting a little annoying without sneakers. And I also bought a gorgeous skirt from an arts and crafts market. But I did without sneakers for an obscenely long time before I finally caved.

And I don't make my own fabric softener, but I also don't use fabric softener. Nor do I use dryer sheets. Nor paper towels. Nor sponges.

Sure it saves money, and I'm happy to save money, but I never really thought of it as "cheap." Instead I've more thought of it as saving money for the things that I actually enjoy buying. Like the occasional gorgeous skirt designed by a small, local artist. Or used books. Or theatre tickets. Or chocolate. Mmmmm ... chocolate.

I don't know what these so-called cheap people are saving for, but maybe they would just prefer to put their money in their kids' college funds instead of buying a hair dryer. Or maybe they would prefer to save for a vacation instead of buying fabric softener. Is that being cheap? Or is that simply having different values and preferences?

The truth is, I don't think I can in any way be classified as cheap. Even when I was a non-consumer, except for the month when Megan and I were doing our Pseudo-Freegan challenge, and I was eating bagels leftover in the work kitchen for a week on end, I don't know that I could be classified as cheap. Because I've always been willing to spend money on what matters to me: education, travel, books, music, theatre, food. Yeah, I don't spend money on fabric softener. But ... my clothes are plenty soft.

Here's the thing. In the end, you can't take it with you. So you are probably going to spend that money at one point or another. The question is just what do you prefer to spend your money on. So why make it a value judgement. Why call someone cheap just because they prefer not to spend money on detergent?


Anonymous said...

I didn't have a full length mirror. I used to jump up and down to try and see my outfit in the mirror over our fireplace at our old house. SOmetimes I would get a chair and stand on it, but then I could only see my lower half. So never the lower and upper together for more than the split second I was airborne. I never thought of that as cheap...hehe.

My boyfriend bought me a full length mirror for one of those giftgiving holidays. Maybe he did.

ruchi said...

Hee. See I don't think of that as cheap, just inventive and amusing. :)

Farmer's Daughter said...

I don't use a blowdryer. I air dry my hair for free. It looks the same either way.

And I don't have a full length mirror either. Sometimes I stand on the edge of the tub so I can see in the mirror. I'll probably fall and crack my head open someday like my mother said.

We're frugal (nicer than cheap) because we have to be. We make what we have work so we can pay our mortgage!

Last night I was thinking... if this is as bad as it gets economically, we'll be okay.

hgg said...

I don't think that's cheap at all. I've never really seen the point of fabric softener and I only blow dry may hair if it's less than -10 degrees C I have to go outdoors. The full-body mirror however is a must for me. The reason why there's still none in hgd's flat is because I'm lazy.

hmd said...

What they are calling "cheap" used to be the normal way of life. Should we be wasteful now just because we can? How ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Heather. Everyone (well nearly everyone) was once frugal. It seems people have just got used to having whatever they want / think they want.

When I commuted the car heater vents were my hairdryer. I have to say the works hand dryers gave my hair the nicest (most complemented) style. But now sun and wind is my stylist! :)

Stephanie said...

Yeah, I agree with Heather and mrsdirtyboots -- it seems odd what the author is focusing on as "cheap". I see myself as cheap, but more because of my self-imposed limit of spending €¡0 on a meal out instead of whatever it costs and always trying to find a cheaper thing to eat and drink on the menu. Gravitating toward cheaper choices there.

But the fact that I don't use fabric softener? Or use baking soda and corn starch instead of deodorant? Or vinegar for everything? Or that I almost NEVER use a blow dryer, and definitely don't own one of my own (which my friends probably don't know)? Those are all because that works better for me rather than because it's cheaper. It's a different frame of mind.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they're just trying to rationalize their wasteful, unimaginative and too-lazy-to-change lifestyle by calling other people "cheap".

Green Resolutions said...

Ha! I balanced on the edge of the bathtub to sort of see myself in the mirror, until my grandmother gave me a full-length mirror. Although it was honestly more that I was too lazy to buy a mirror that I didn't REALLY need than that I was being cheap.

I would much rather spend money traveling than buying clothes or decorating my house. But right now, I'd settle for being able to afford health insurance. The rude awakening of the newly self-employed family...

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't describe the examples you mentioned as cheap...but as conservationism. Cheap is when you go out with a friend and your meal cost $20 and hers cost $19.50 and she insists you pay the 1/2 dollar difference. :)

Green Bean said...

Too true. It is just all about priorities. I prefer to save my money (and eco-guilt) by using less, not buying new, and so on so that when I really need a new pair of flip flops or a pretty blouse, I can splurge and buy one that costs more because it was made by folks who were paid a decent wage, is made of eco friendly materials and was purchased from a local, independent retailer.

Mad Hatter said...

I don't have a hair dryer or a full-length mirror either. I would really like to have a full-length mirror but, like you, am too lazy to go get one. I've found that if I align the glass doors on my shower just so, it makes an adequate mirror despite the slight funhouse effect.

As for whether those people are cheap, yeah I think they are. But I happen to think cheap is good!

Spot-On said...

Don't have a full length mirror, I own a hairdrier but rarely use it (bought it for guests 6 years ago), and I use natural soap, vinegar conditioner and don't use fabric softener. In fact I haven't ever used fabric softener, why would I need to? People used to manage before softener and bounce why not now?

I don't get why people think the way we live is abnormal when it used to be the norm?

Anonymous said...

We had a roomate who politely asked if we thought we would ever live in a way that was "more middle class".

Personally, I think our lifestyle is *very* middle class - that emergency/college/home repair savings are the difference between middle-class security and living paycheck-to-paycheck, and being able to be a stay-at-home mom for a while was pretty much the epitome of the middle class dream.

It really bothers me that people living the kind of life even my most spendthrift, DINK professional friends think is normal, are presented in the media as "extreme". I mean; people who take home all the sugar packets from Perkins to use at home are extreme. People who eat leftovers are not.

We do own a hairdryer right now - our pipes in the kitchen froze this winter, and the space heater just didnt' cut it. We may use it for crafts someday, too. :)

Anonymous said...

"So why make it a value judgement."

I think the reason to make it a value judgment is that what and how we spend our $ on reflects our values.

Soon we may all have to live much more frugally - some of us will at least have practiced!

TDP said...

I only use my hairdryer in the winter. April - October its sun and wind!

Patio doors make great mirrors too. I do use fabric softener sheets, save them and throw several used ones in at a time to make sure all the softener has been captured.

There are so many neat ideas from the Tightwad Gazette, which was very popular in the early 1980's when we were in a deep recession. I added some of those as habits and kept doing them even after good times came back.
Frugal is a virtue!
Cheap is lacking generosity toward others.

Crystal said...

What's a "tightwad" then? Any photos?