Frugal vs. Cheap
I attended a private university that cost upwards of $50,000/year to attend. That meant the student body consisted of three main financial groups: students whose parents were capable of footing the bill, those who were taking the gamble on financial security by taking out huge loans in hopes of having a great career, and scholarship students.
As an athlete, my social circle fell mainly into the last two categories. I lived mostly off of my scholarship reimbursement check each semester. It covered my tuition, rent, utilities, and food with just enough left over go out on the weekends, fly home for break once a semester and have a small safety net for random expenses like necessary costumes for theme parties. Oh how I miss the gems that could be found in the Winston-Salem Goodwill store. Being “cheap” was okay, even expected, as a college student.
Now that I am working a salaried job and the need to pinch every single penny is gone, it’s tough to figure out what “cheapness” is no longer okay.
A recent article by a personal finance blogger I read from time to time addresses when to be frugal vs. when to be cheap, but is directed more towards adults well on their path to retirement/financial independence. Read it for yourself here:
I thought it would be interesting to try and address this point for topics relevant a recent college graduate. I realize these are all just my opinion, not fact so feel free to comment if you agree/disagree
In college, asking the waiter to separate the bill for everyone was the norm. If you could only spend $10, it was OK to order an appetizer and a water and expect to only pay your share. Going out with a group of friends now, we’ve transitioned into getting one bill and splitting it equally. It can be frustrating if you’ve intentionally ordered a cheaper meal and foregone the $9 cocktail. But, part of dining out now means paying not just for the food but also for the social company. Everyone’s lives are busier, you no longer live in a half mile radius, and going out to eat is just plain expensive. I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to let a friend offer to pay more if they ordered a pricier dish, but making a big deal or skirting the bill when it comes is going to make you look cheap.
As the MMM article linked above mentions, you can balance the extra money you shell out to eat with friends by not spending that kind of cash when dining alone. Weekend dinner plans coming up? Forego that chipotle lunch by yourself and save it for the social experience that weekend
Ah, drinking life will probably never be as great as showing up to a fraternity party and being showered (sometimes literally) in free beer. In drinking life post-college, you have to provide for yourself. You can’t walk into someone else’s home and help yourself to their refrigerator. Flasks are okay at football tailgates, but bringing one into a bar is definitely on the cheap end of the spectrum.
It’s not all bad though; now you can pick out your favorite beers (hello IPAs) and no longer suffer through case after case of Busch lite. Unless of course, you like Busch lite.
In college, rocking Forever 21 and Target is fine. In my case I pretty much wore athletic department issued gear 24/7. Now, looking professional is necessary. This doesn’t mean wearing designer clothes every day, but investing in nicer work clothes is a must. Actually being the youngest one in the office is tough enough, you don’t want to dress like you are, too.
Also, you need a good suit. Even if you’re not looking to work in the throes of corporate america and wear one to work everyday, you should interview in a suit. First impressions mean a lot at a job interview!
As a student, shelling out hundreds of dollars for one weekend would have seemed far too extravagant. In the real world now though, seeing your best college friends means travelling more often than not. I think about it this way: There are 52 weekends a year. At least a third of them you’re probably going to be necessarily busy with either family holidays, apartment maintenance , general life up keep. Another 1/3 will probably conflict with your friend’s busy lives. That means you have just one third of the weekends, or 17 opportunities, PER YEAR to catch up with friends working hard in far away cities. Maintaining friendships after college takes work. It’s a two way street. You can no longer walk out your bedroom door and walk 5 minutes maximum to recap the shenanigans of the night before with any friend you please. Now, that friend may very well live 500 miles away (or in the case of one of my roommates who moved to Hawaii—3000+ miles away). So, foregoing the several hundred dollar weekend trip is cheap. Book the ticket and maintain your friendships without groaning about the travel fees.
The reality of life without college meal plans (or metabolisms that can handle ramen and fast-food day in and day out) is that groceries account for a lot of your paycheck spending. This is not an area which you should try and cut out—food is important. You need it to live, it greatly affects your energy and mood during the day, and no one likes gaining weight. You have to suck it up and buy healthy groceries. Yes vegetables and protein sources are expensive, but filling up on processed junk is definitely more expensive in the long run when you factor in happiness and health. Don’t ever be cheap when it comes to taking care of your bod.
As someone who strives to be as frugal as possible, I also try hard not to come across as “cheap.” It’s definitely a balance, and after just 3 months of real paychecks my spending habits still need a lot of refinement. But I guess that’s just part of being an adult!