Time for a kinder, gentler definition of cheapskate

Posted May 03, 2009, at 11:26 p.m.

We need to talk about the word “cheapskate.” It appears as the name of this column, yet what the word means to me has come up only once, in my very first column, which was released more than six years ago. So I can’t really blame the reader who sent me a letter recently 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.

In the years that followed, I made a dramatic change. I taught myself to be frugal. By 1992, we had paid back nearly all of my horrific debt, and I got a wild hare to create a subscription newsletter. I needed a title. Because my husband already had 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 17 years since, the monthly newsletter has been in continuous publication; it underwent a name change to “Debt-Proof Living” several years ago. It remains the flagship for the entire DPL enterprise, of which this column is an entity.

Around here, being a cheapskate is all about doing whatever you must to give, save and live below your means. For some of us, that’s a more difficult proposition than it is for others.

The letter I got recently really took me to task over a recipe that called for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Yep, you read that right. It was about 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 have to 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. If you really catch the cheapskate bug, you could wait patiently until the luxury version of chicken is on sale and buy enough to last until the next sale. That’s my definition of being a cheapskate.

Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 18 books, including her latest, “Can I Pay My Credit Card Bill With a Credit Card?” You may e-mail her at mary@everydaycheapskate.comor write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, Calif. 90723.

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