Frugal vs. Cheapskate

Ok, I’m the first to admit that I’m a frugal person, and that I consider this to be a virtue. But sometimes I go too far and become a cheapskate. Being a cheapskate is not Worthwhile Living. Here’s an illustrative story:

Last summer we went to Water World, a water-oriented theme park, with lots of rides where you get wet on each one. A whole lot of fun. One of the great things about Water World is that you can bring your own picnic, so you don’t have to pay their prices for the greasy food they offer there.

Along with the several families we went with, we set up a picnic area; claiming a piece of grass on one of the lawns for our own. We’d leave our stuff there all day. But what to do with the keys to the car?

Here’s where the cheapskate (and maybe even the worrier) in me becomes apparent.

Waterworld has nice lockers to rent for 50 cents. Cheap! But they’re 50 cents each use. What if I needed to get in there more than once? Why, that’s a whole dollar! What about leaving the keys with the rest of our picnic stuff? NO way, I’d be worried that someone would take our stuff. And then I’d lose the key. How would I get home?!

So I elected to keep the key in the pocket of my bathing suit. I’d taken the key for the car off the ring and left the rest of the keys (to the house, etc.) in the car itself. So, I put a single key in my bathing suit pocket, closed the little velcro on the flap and hoped for the best.

Throughout the day, I checked to see if it was still there, and it was … up until after the last ride. Thereafter ensued a frantic search for the key. We never found it.

A friend had to bring me home to get a spare key, then drive me back. I finally got home with the car many hours later.

Then I had to replace the key. It’s not a normal key, but a transponder key. (A neat theft-preventing technology that makes it so only the right key will start the car even if the teeth on the key are correct.) So the key is expensive.

The key cost $300 at the dealer.
It cost $60 at a local locksmith.
It cost $15 at ebay.

I ended up getting a replacement key from ebay. That’s being frugal.

Through this episode, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between being frugal and being a cheapskate. To me, when the frugality begins to have a negative effect on my life, I’ve become a cheapskate.

Since making this discovery, I now take a mindful look when I’m being frugal to make sure I’m not going too far. Am I skimping in areas that diminish the joy of living? or are harmful to my health? or will cost me more in the long run? May be a good area of inquiry for you too…

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2 comments on “Frugal vs. Cheapskate”:

  1. Ah, but you locked the keys to your house in the car! So how did you get into your house?
    Tip – from one who has been there: Use a good old fashioned safety pin and pin your car key to the inside of your bathingsuit pocket. OR Make sure your wife has a second set of keys!
    Great story!

  2. Fantastic reflection – keep up the good work.

    I have been a cheapskate for a LONG time, always buying the cheapest of the cheapest. I usually end up paying twice because the item breaks, fades, etc. It took 7 years of being married to my wonderful wife that I started learning the difference between being frugal and being a cheapskate. I now have a much more balanced approach to spending.

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