We need to talk about this word “cheapskate.” It was in the original name of my newsletter, Cheapskate Monthly, and for the past eight years it’s appeared at the top of this column. Yet what the word means to me has come up only a couple of times, in the early days of the newsletter and in the very first column. So, I can’t really blame the reader who sent me a letter accusing me of being a hypocrite. I’m the one who took the bold move to redefine the word, a little something I may have failed to mention to her and to you.
It all goes back to my life as a credit-card junkie. My house of cards finally collapsed after 12 years of outrageous spending. It wasn’t a pretty picture: over $100,000 of unsecured debt (and those were 1985 dollars).In the years that followed, I made a dramatic change. I taught myself to be frugal. By 1992, we’d paid back nearly all of my horrific debt, and I got a wild hare to create a subscription newsletter. I needed a title. Since my husband had already begun teasing me about becoming a cheapskate, it took only seconds for me to come up with Cheapskate Monthly. I liked it. I found it endearing because, to me, it defined the person I’d become: someone who gives generously, saves consistently and doesn’t spend money she doesn’t have. I didn’t care what the dictionary said.
In the 20 years since, the monthly newsletter has been in continuous publication, has undergone a name change to Debt-Proof Living several years ago and changed formats from print to digital last year.
Around here, being a cheapskate is all about doing whatever you must to give, save and live below your means. For some, that’s a more difficult proposition than it is for others.
The letter I received really took me to task over a recipe that called for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Yep, you read that right. Chicken. Being a cheapskate is not about whether we buy chicken already boned and skinned, or buy the whole bird and do that ourselves. It’s about what we need to do to live below our means. That’s where it becomes very personal. What you must do to live below your means is different from what your friends, relatives and neighbors do. There is no one-size-fits-all shopping list.
Being a cheapskate is about managing your personal finances in such a way that you are able to give back, save for the future and not be dependent on credit, even during times of financial emergency. If you can do that while loading up your grocery cart with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, God bless you. Or, if you really catch the cheapskate bug, you’ll wait patiently until the luxury version of chicken is so cheap you buy enough to last until the next time it goes on sale.
That’s my definition of a cheapskate.
Question: What’s your definition of cheapskate? Let me know in the comments section below.