Cheapskate Etiquette: Cheap with Yourself Generous with Others

Face it. Living below your means requires a good bit of creativity from time to time. You have to get pretty clever to stretch a buck.

But just how far can you go in matters of etiquette before you cross the line?

Ask yourself these questions when making a decision having to do with gracious living and etiquette:

  • Is my choice to be cheap going to harm or insult another person?
  • Will my behavior leave a fragrance or an odor?

Rule of thumb: Be cheap with yourself and generous with others.

Don’t, for example, require a service person to forego a tip so you can live below your means. If you cannot cover a decent tip, don’t eat out. Or order less.

When in doubt, err on the side of generosity.

I am invited to a bridal shower I cannot attend. Must I send a gift anyway?

No. Simply respond with your regrets. However, if you are invited to the wedding and cannot attend, in that case you should send a gift.

Am I obliged to give a person who gave me an unexpected Christmas gift, a return gift even if he or she is not on my gift list?

No. A simple thank you note is all that is required.

Do I have to tip the bellman to carry my bags to the room? I really do think it is ridiculous but don’t like that awkward moment when he just stands there.

Yes. It is customary in our culture to tip a bellman $1 per bag, or if the bags are heavy $2 per bag—but only if you choose to use that service. You can be kind in saying that you’ll carry your own bags (and save the tip).

I received a gift certificate for a very elaborate day at the spa. Am I obligated to tip the staff?

Determine in advance whether a service charge is included in your gift. You can either look on the certificate itself or call ahead to ask. If none is included, then you should tip 10 to 20 percent of the value of the treatment to be shared between those who provided the individual services.

My former fiancé broke our engagement. What happens to the ring?

The ring belongs to the person who paid for it regardless who broke the engagement, according to the The Emily Post Institute. And both parties should return any gifts received from the other during the relationship.

On what portion of the restaurant bill do I pay a tip?

Pay the tip on the total for food and beverages before tax. It is customary to pay 15 percent for good service; up to 20 percent if the service was excellent.

When using a two-for-one restaurant coupon how do we figure the tip?

Determine what the cost would have been for the meal had you not had the coupon. Figure your tip on this amount, before tax.

The pastor of our church will perform our wedding ceremony. Do we have to pay him since we are members of the church and weddings are part of his job?

Performing weddings and funerals is typically outside the scope of a minister’s regular duties. Yes you must pay him at minimum $200, more if travel is involved. Give this gratuity to the best man in an envelope along with a gracious note of thanks. He will in turn give it to the officiant following the ceremony.

What is the etiquette to follow when having a makeover at a cosmetic counter in a department store? There is no charge for this service, but am I expected to leave a tip?

There is typically no charge for this service. You owe nothing if you buy product or take less than 15 minutes of the sales person’s time. Otherwise leave at least $15.

Must I tip a flower delivery person?

According to Judith Bowman, author and etiquette expert, no. When the customer pays a delivery charge for non-food deliveries like furniture, flowers and balloons, a tip is not required. Flower delivery people do not expect to be tipped.

However, if the driver goes out of his way to make a delivery under special circumstances or has had to return more than once to catch the recipient at home, a small tip of $2 to $5 is a gracious gesture.

When we eat out in a group, the bill is often divided evenly among group members. We are not big drinkers nor do we make extravagant food choices, while some people in the group go nuts. How can we ask to pay just our portion of the bill without seeming too cheap?

Kindly ask the server for a separate check before you order. If this is not possible, try to position yourself so you are the one to accept the check from the server. First check to see if the gratuity has been already added to the bill (this is not an unusual practice when there is a large group).

Place your money on the check—being extremely careful to include every item you ordered plus tax and a generous tip (round up)—and pass it along. Believe me, your gentle boldness will be appreciated by others who will follow your lead.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ruth

    Don’t, for example, require a service person to forego a tip so you can live below your means. If you cannot cover a decent tip, don’t eat out. Or order less.

    I don’t often disagree with you, Mary, but in this case . . . I stopped tipping years ago. Employers should pay their workers a decent wage, not expecting customers to subsidize them, or adjust their menu prices accordingly. I am a pensioner and I budget (yes, with your help) so that I can afford to eat out. I eat out once a week – or less – and tipping would interfere with my ability to do that. And my enjoyment of it. In restaurants where the staff know me, I make sure they understand my inability to tip them, and I make sure they know they are appreciated. I have never suffered poor service as a result of not tipping.

    • Betty Thomas

      Dear Ruth, you may “feel” that employers should pay their employees a decent wage but that isn’t how the restaurant business works or how the law governing them is determined. In most states tipping is part of their hourly wage so if you don’t tip they make about $3.25 an hour. As much as you explain to a server why you have no intention of tipping what do you think they should do, start crying? Of course they will be courteous and smile and continue to serve you well. Mary is correct. It is not generous to go out and eat if you can’t afford to tip. If you still insist on eating out and not tipping go to a fast food joint where the workers are paid a minimum wage. These servers at a sit down restaurant are supporting families on that income and without a tip from a customer they have to do that on less than the minimum wage. It is irresponsible to not tip and honestly you need to change your mind set because it isn’t what the employers should be doing but what you should be doing.

      • Linda Lavine

        I live in ca where servers do receive minimum wage so tips are over and above. In a higher end restaurant where people tip average 20% that can boost server pay to $50 or more. Really??? For servers???

        • Betty Thomas

          @lindalavine:disqus Unfortunately Ruth isn’t talking about a restaurant that pays a living or even minimum wage, she made that clear by “explaining” to the servers why she isn’t going to tip them. She can’t afford to and it would lessen her dining experience. That is her warped reasoning for stiffing the people that serve her. And your remark “for servers?” smacks of superiority. For some people being a server is their careeer choice.

    • Ed

      Ruth,
      Rationalize it however you choose but the truth is you’re a cheap jerk. If you cannot afford to tip, you cannot afford to eat out. Do you really think it is acceptable to ask these servers to subsidize your lifestyle by stiffing them? No one owes you anything. Either tip, eat at home or at a fast food establishment where workers do not work for tips. Mary does a great job of promoting ETHICAL frugality. Clearly, you’ve not picked up that.

    • Kimberley Hunter

      I wonder if you would support restaurant owners paying their workers a decent wage if you knew just how high the prices would need to be. I’m on a fixed income too, and whenever I eat in a restaurant that isn’t fast food, which is almost never, I tip, erring on the side of generous. If you eat out so you can have a night of No Dishes To Wash, I would suggest you look into recipes for one pot meals, slow cooker meals, maybe those “dump” meals I keep hearing about, and unless you have to live on a special diet, buy a frozen pizza or a rotisserie chicken once in a while. If you do that, you might find you get the same feeling you get when you eat in a restaurant, when you’ve treated yourself, but you don’t have to tip anyone. And there’s little to no dishes to wash.

    • Ruth

      To all who have commented . . . To each his/her own . . . I live in Canada and servers are paid the minimum wage. I live on less than minimum wage. I offer no apologies for my opinion or action. Kimberley Hunter, I do every single one of the things you suggest. Ed, you are rude.

      • Ed

        You’ve got a lot of nerve to call anyone rude given the overwhelming sense of entitlement you display, unapologeticly and at the expense of others. Karma has a way of dealing with folks like you. You get what you put out into the world. Maybe that has something to do with your limited resources.

    • Linda Kreitz

      Ruth…in SOME restaurants at the end of the server’s shift – they print out a TOTAL sales slip.
      This is presented to the manager. According to their total sales (your bill would be included) which is based on a pre-set percentage, the server must give the manager a certain dollar amount which might be shared/given to the buser, bartender, a runner, or a host (each restaurant has their rules).

      If you leave nothing…it is quite possible that it is actually COSTING the server money to wait on you.

      AT the very least please keep this in mind. Maybe you did not know this.

      In life, I try not to be the person who takes advantage of people…especially if what I do
      negatively impacts them. I live in the US now for almost 57 years (born here). Our tipping system is well known…it’s how some people make their living.

      My parents always taught me to do the right thing. In the U.S. servers make their living by tips. I know that. If they do their job well…I tip them…because to me that is the right thing to do.

  • Betty Thomas

    Such good tips on tipping Mary. I often had some of these same questions, especially on flower delivery. This is a good article to keep on hand!

  • jane

    I agree a ring should be returned if you don’t get married, but gifts you gave each other during your relationship? That seems weird to me. You gave it when you were with them, it’s theirs. If someone has a good explanation, I would love to hear it.

    • Renee

      I totally agree – a birthday or Christmas gift? It’s not part of the wedding “agreement” which an engagement ring would be. What if it’s a 5 year relationship and there were many gifts? How about a pet that was gifted? This part of the answer was way off.

  • Linda Lavine

    I have a teen nephew who had no idea about how to tip in a restaurant. I taught him to double tax (here tax is %7:75) and round up. Seems to be easy to do this

  • Barb

    Why don’t ministers just set a price for performing a wedding ceremony instead of getting upset if someone didn’t know it wasn’t part of their usual job?

  • bcapp

    Regarding the server who wrote in to say they present one bill to a table of 10 people…. Why do they assume one person is paying the bill? (my pet peeve) But, if that is what they have assumed- why can they not at least prepare seperate bills and present them in one folder? Sometimes it is a bit cumbersome for the diners to ask for seperate bills.

  • Sandra

    In the case of funerals…also, please give money to those who assist…in the case of a military funeral – Veterans of Foreign Wars, bag pipe player, etc. I appreciated the beautiful addition they were to my husband’s funeral and had money in an envelope which I asked someone to give them. The VFW is a not for profit and would have given a 21 gun salute gratis but they greatly appreciated being remembered.

  • Pigoff

    I don’t use a card to pay for my meals anymore at a few restaurants because they charged me for a tip on my card and we had already left a tip on the table. I even marked through the tip and they still charged my card. I think we even left a $20 tip on the table and we only spent $15. I called and they said they would reimburse me the tip but that was over a year ago and it still hasn’t happened. We still eat there but now I will only go if I have cash. It took me 3 times before I learned that our Mimi’s does that on a regular basis.