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It’s one thing to be frugal. You know what you want to spend money on, and you prioritize it. You know where you don’t want to spend money, and you minimize that spending. But you’re far from militant, and you can be known to cut loose with your money from time to time, while traveling or perhaps on special occasions. Frugal is fine.
You’re certainly not a cheapskate. No one wants to be that person, the killjoy at the birthday party or the grocery store or the coffee shop. But we all know a cheapskate. We all resent a cheapskate. (And to be crystal clear, we’re not talking about friends who are broke or simply earn less money than you. A cheapskate is someone who has the money to kick in along with everyone else, but seeks every opportunity to cut corners and cut costs, even if it means forcing their friends to shoulder extra expenses.) That said, here are a few strategies for dealing with the cheapskates in your life. Because those people are the worst.
Don’t try to argue with them
Look, if someone wants to scrub and reuse the same sheet of aluminum foil 17 times before finally tossing it, it’s their choice. You can’t control anyone’s choices or behavior but your own. Take a deep breath and recognize that whatever logic this person has about aluminum foil, they’re not likely to change if you snap at them for doing it. There are some habits you just have to let go, no matter how much you hate them.
When it comes to cheapskates, it’s best to save your energy for the conversations that truly matter—like ones about stingy habits that affect you directly. If you’ve had repeated run-ins with someone who refuses to pay their fair share of a restaurant bill or ghosts you when it’s time to chip in, it’s probably time to say something. Prepare to have an honest, open discussion with this person, but don’t be surprised if they get defensive. It may take time before they see the error of their ways.
Set expectations early and often
To avoid awkward situations and potential resentment, make expectations around money clear long before anyone has to reach for their wallet. Take the always-challenging birthday dinner, where no one is sure if you’ll have individual tabs, one tab, individual tabs with the guest of honor’s meal split evenly among you, or some other configuration. Don’t leave things to chance or back someone into a corner.
Instead, set out expectations early. For instance, your invitation email could specify, “We’re planning to split the tab evenly and each kick in for Jessica’s meal and drinks, so please plan to bring cash or card for your share.” Or, say you’re planning a bachelor party. For every potential activity you throw out for the consideration by the attendees, provide a cost estimate up front so you don’t end up with a dissenter after the plans are already starting to gel.
If you set these expectations and someone bows out, don’t guilt trip them about it. Remember, the reason you’re being up front about costs is so you don’t have to argue with them.
Being direct about costs is one of the best things you can do for all your relationships, if we’re being honest. Getting crystal clear about costs well before it’s time to pay can help everyone involved—whether they’re comfortable, broke, or somewhere in between—determine whether they want to spend their money on this particular expense. Being thoughtful: It’s not just for anticipating your cheapskate friend’s responses. It’s for everyone’s peace of mind.
Avoid the activity that bugs you most
This tactic is for those of you who can’t escape the cheapskates in your life because you’re related to them. You can’t control what they do, but you can take control of how you interact with it. Think of the thing this person does that grinds your gears the most.
Maybe you know they’re a terrible tipper. Maybe they embarrass you at the mall by ambushing the register with a fistful of coupons and an unflagging willingness to argue with the cashier. Can you avoid doing that one rage-inducing activity with them, or reduce the frequency that it takes place?
Make alternate plans
Even if your budget is feeling flush, you could probably take better advantage of free or low-cost events in your area. Suggest you and your tight-fisted friend meet up at such an event. Or, schedule activities that involve little shared planning, like a walk in the park or a bag-lunch picnic. Cheap people love doing free stuff, as does pretty much everyone else. Look at that common ground.
Yes, this is the same route you’d take with a friend who doesn’t make as much money as you do, or who’s going through a rough financial patch. Maybe it’s what you suggest when there are just too many days between you and your next paycheck. But if you’ve tried to broach a money discussion before and your cheapskate friend isn’t having it, suggesting a free activity can cut out a money conversation altogether—even if just for a few hours.
Reconsider your friendship
Do a quick gut-check of the past dozen or so times you’ve interacted with the person in question. Do you feel like they take advantage of you to avoid spending money? Are they forcing you to spend more in their refusal to shell out? Maybe this person waits for you to book a hotel for a destination wedding, asks if they can bunk with you, and then “forgets” to chip in…for a year. Or maybe they arrive to every single party empty-handed (while heavily partaking in everything offered), when everyone else heeded your warning that your barbecue, while overflowing with provided meats, would be BYOB.
If you can deal with planning around someone’s cheapskate tendencies, your friendship may be fine and dandy. But if it’s wearing on you and your wallet, it may be time to reconsider how much you value that particular relationship. If you’ve already tried talking to someone about how their behavior impacts you, and they’re impervious to your pleas, it may be hopeless. If you need to save your sanity, remember you’re allowed to leave people out of your life if their behavior is downright ridiculous.