What’s a Skinflint?
On its face, this doesn’t look that bad, does it? I want to save money and spend as little as possible, don’t you?
To me, a skinflint isn’t someone who’s frugal, it’s somebody who’s frugal to the point of causing damage. This damage can be (and most often is) directly to oneself, but it also can affect family and friends.
Where’s that line? When does being frugal become being cheap?
It’s About Balance
As a young man, I frequently bounced between extremes. Spend no money! Spend ALL the money! Don’t drink! Drink until you pass out! Make sure you run enough! Run until the arches in your feet collapse!
Extremes can be useful on a temporary basis if used constructively, like being manic about an important work project. However, extremes tend to fare badly in the long term. They’re simply not sustainable for most people, which is what makes them extremes in the first place.
Personal finance is not immune to this. There are some famous stories (at least in this community) about people peeing in their backyards instead of using the toilet. Why? To save on the water bill.
This is a perfect example of skinflint behavior.
Don’t look at using the toilet as an expense that must be optimized to the nth degree. Look at it as a small price to pay to avoid being the guy whose backyard smells like piss.
It’s a small tax that society extracts from us. If you don’t like it, go live in a shack Unabomber style.
Skinflintiness: Greatest Hits
Other examples of skinflintiness (yes, it’s a made-up word) include:
- Not working out to save money
- Buying low-quality food with little nutrition to skimp
- Wearing worn-out clothing in need of repair because you don’t want to buy new clothes
- Avoiding flu shots because they cost money
- Doing the dishes in the shower and using dish soap to clean yourself
- Not getting new brakes on your car because “muh money”, despite no longer being able to safely stop
In cases of poverty, you simply can’t help but do some of these things that would normally be skinflint behavior. It’s survival.
Poor senior citizens don’t eat cat food because it’s delicious, they do it because it’s their last option. My best friend, who happened to be a poor college student when he bathed with the dishes, wasn’t doing it for fun.
However, If you’re making enough money to sustain yourself and pursue this financial independence lifestyle, DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR HEALTH OR ABILITY TO BE PRESENTABLE TO OTHERS in the pursuit of FI!
My FI path is not about getting my savings rate to 99.999997%. It’s about making sure that my family and I will be able to retire when we want, how we want.
I’m willing to retire 2.3 years later in exchange for daily showers, good health, and the ability to hold my head high.
Are you willing to become a pariah and a) likely put a huge dent in your future earnings power and b) be marginalized and unhappy to retire early?
If not, go ahead…flush that toilet. Nobody’s judging you for it.
As the late, great Rick James said, “enjoy yourself”.
What are some other examples of unnecessarily miserly behavior? Have you done anything ridiculous to save a penny? Where do you think the line between frugal and skinflint manifests?