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?

Closeup portrait of the worst kind of cheapskate who is generous with himself, cheap with others

Ask yourself this: Is my choice to be cheap going to harm or insult another person?
A good rule of thumb is to be cheap with yourself, generous with others.

Here are a few common cheapskate etiquette guidelines to follow:

When splitting the cost of something, always round up. Never freeload in the name of frugality. If you cannot afford to pay your way, don’t go. When in doubt, always err on the side of generosity.

When eating out in a group, how can I ask to pay my portion of the bill and not have it “split evenly” without seeming cheap? Ask the server for a separate check before you order or position yourself to accept the bill from the server. Fully calculate what you owe including tax and a fair tip, rounding up. Place your money on the check and pass it along.

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I am not one to spend coins. I prefer to save my pocket change. In fact, I go out of my way to make sure I get plenty of change so I have more to save! But I hate to carry loose change, and so does my husband.

A Jar of Coins Full and Running Over

We routinely dump the day’s accumulation into a container to save for a trip or to buy something special. One year we saved $1,100 in coins, but I have to admit the logistics can be a royal pain.

Banks and credit unions have strict rules about loose coins. Some require it to be rolled, wrapped and labeled before deposited. Others won’t accept wrapped coins. Either way, most these days charge a fee.

I don’t know what happened to me last weekend. I guess I was suffering from a severe case of TMC (too many coins). In a fit of frustration, I dumped the jars into a big bag and drove to the supermarket. I knew it would cost me 11.9% but at the time, it seemed reasonable. 

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Our kids are fortunate to be growing up in the most progressive and exciting time in history. Sadly, the very culture that offers them the world is also perpetrating this lie:

You are entitled to have everything you want even if you don’t have the money to pay for it. It’s not a problem. You deserve it. Get it now and you can pay for it later!

 

There’s a huge consumer-credit industry out there planning to give your kids their very own credit cards—personal passports into the abyss of consumer debt. This will not require your permission or approval, something that one reader is experiencing first hand.

Dear Mary: My daughter who is in college got a credit card and now she is in over her head, unable to pay what she owes.

She works part-time and makes a very small salary. With the high interest and late fees, the balance is now over $2,500. I will have to step in and handle the account.

How can I negotiate with the credit-card company to settle for less? I don’t know how she got this card on her salary but she kept quiet about not being able to make the payments until we started getting collection calls for her. I appreciate your thoughts and expertise. Millie

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In the wake of America’s big economic wake-up call back in 2008, dollar stores and thrift stores saw, and continue to see, a big resurgence. And now another kind of retail quasi-lender is commanding all kinds of attention from sellers and buyers, too—pawn shops.

I admit to having grown up with a weird bias against pawn shops. To me, pawn shops were just one level above Vinny the Loan Shark operating illegally in some dark alley in the bad part of town just waiting to break some knees.

pawn-shop-stereotype-great-white-loan shark

Where did that come from? I have no idea really, but let me quickly follow by saying it is a most faulty stereotype.

Pawn shops are respectable businesses that offer a viable service in many communities. And these days, thanks in part to Rick Harrison, whose family owns the Gold and Silver Pawnshop in Las Vegas and stars in the History Channel’s Pawn Stars—one of my personal favorites— business is booming.

What it is?

A pawn shop, owned and operated by a licensed pawnbroker, makes secured loans on personal property left in the broker’s possession to be held as collateral. The property can be redeemed by the customer when the loan plus a finance charge (think: interest plus per-month service charge) is repaid.

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Even the mention of words like frugality and thrift send some people over the edge because, for them, those words conjure up thoughts of poverty and deprivation. They assume that cutting costs is tantamount to diving into dumpsters to find one’s next meal. No wonder so many people prefer a life of debilitating debt to one of frugality.

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Let me set the record straight. Please.

There is nothing undignified about spending less than you earn. That’s called living below your means, and it’s a fabulous way to live!

When you spend less than you earn, you have money to save—imagine that! And to give some away, too.

When you spend less than you earn, you are not dependent on credit to get by. It is a very good thing.

So, you may be wondering, how can you move from overspending to spending less, without giving up your quality of life? It starts with prioritizing everything according to how important it is to your life. Then only spend on things at the top of the list, ruthlessly cutting your spending on the things that don’t matter.

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Let’s say that tomorrow morning you wake up to discover that overnight—gulp!—your car was destroyed beyond repair. You’re not covered and you’re devastated.

You can’t live without a car. But you have no money—not a nickel in savings. So what do you do? If you’re like most people in that situation, you head to the only dealer in town who’s offering $0 down financing and a monthly payment that somehow you’ll figure out how to afford.

Salesman handing over the keys to the car of your dreams

Realistically, what payment can you afford if you pull the plug on cable TV, stop eating out, and basically cut out all frivolous spending? $200? $300 $600? 

Okay, back to reality. Your car isn’t destroyed, and you’ll keep driving it for a while. But remember the amount you said you believe you could afford each month if you really put your mind to it? Let’s say it’s $300. Keep reading. 

RELATED: How to Eliminate Odor of Gasoline Spilled Inside Family Vehicle

The Bank of You

Open a savings account somewhere convenient and begin immediately to make $300 monthly payments into that savings account. Just as if you were in that terrible scenario mentioned above. Every month. Make the sacrifices now, cut the spending now. Be strict with yourself—rigid and unbending! No late payments, no slacking. 

In the meantime, and as you are making these big new payments to yourself, continue driving the car you have now for at least one more year, even if it is a real clunker. You can endure anything for a short time when you have a plan for it to end.

Soon, you will begin earning interest —Ally.com currently 2.20% APY—on the growing balance instead of paying interest on a conventional auto loan. 

At the end of one year—12 payments to yourself—you will have accumulated $3,600 cash plus interest. Not bad! 

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I once flew in a chartered jet, not exactly like a rockstar, but I did feel quite pampered. The flight was awesome, but I have to admit to momentarily freaking out when the pilot unbuckled, stood up, left his pilot seat, and came back to chat with his three passengers over snacks and sodas.

While he sat with us for more than an hour, it took only a few minutes for me to relax, enjoy the company and the ride.

Relying on autopilot in both flying and finances is quite an amazing thing.

 

woman-laptop-setting-up-automatic-payment-online bill-pay

 

Creditors, especially banks and credit-card issuers, are unbelievably sensitive to whether you pay your bills on time. So is your credit score. One slip-up could cost you dearly if that means you lose your low- or no-interest rate, or a late payment results in a big late fee.

Late payments are reported to the credit bureaus and that can mean a serious blow to your credit score, which may result in higher insurance premiums now and higher interest rates on your next mortgage. If you’re thinking “domino effect,” you are exactly right.  Bottom line: Do not pay late!

An excellent way to make sure you always pay on time is to automate (sometimes referred to as  auto bill-pay) even when you’re on vacation, sick, or for some other reason suffer from brain freeze.

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Paying off credit-card debt is an uphill battle. If the majority of your minimum monthly payment is going toward interest, that makes the climb even more difficult.

Getting out from under double-digit interest rates with a zero-interest balance transfer can make a big difference provided you understand the risks.

Woman dealing with credit-card debt and in despair

 

Dear Mary: May I ask your advice?  I have a credit-card balance of $4,500 at 18 percent interest. My FICO score is 700. I’ve been paying just the minimum monthly payment for too many years but I am determined to pay this off in the coming 12 months.

Would it be wise for me to transfer this to a new CHASE Slate credit card that offers zero-percent interest with no fees for 15 months? Or should I keep what I have, bite the bullet and just pay it off over the next year? Mary Beth

Dear Mary Beth: Let’s look at the numbers. If you keep what you have and pay off the $4,500 at 18 percent interest over 12 months, you will make 12 payments of $412.56 each, for a total of about $4,950, of which $450 will be interest.

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