When my grandmother and grandfather got married they did their gift registry with Sears — this was back in the day (late 1940s) when they had a 'lifetime guarantee' on almost everything they sold. My grandmother has moved house almost 10 times since then, but she has kept every single flattened box and warranty for every appliance she got when she was married.
About two years ago I drove her to Sears to get her iron replaced, she brought all of the boxing, and paperwork from all the way back in the 1940s to get a new one. They actually did fulfill the guarantee and gave her a new iron!
I think it's hilarious, but she literally hasn't had to pay for a new appliance in over 60 years because she's so cheap! She's a Ukrainian immigrant to Canada, and she always insists: “lifetime guarantee means lifetime guarantee.” I kind of feel bad for Sears because our family is notoriously long lived (her father lived until 104). I sometimes think that maybe this is the reason why Sears [did] so poorly, a ton of cheap old women cashing in on their lifetime guarantees.
Why buy a nice house when you can buy a cheap house?
My father is pathologically cheap. I have tons of stories, but I'll share the biggest.
My dad only looks at the dollar amount. Literally nothing else. If he sees a six pack of toilet paper for $5 and a twelve pack of toilet paper for $7, he'll buy the $5 pack, every time, guaranteed.
So you can already imagine how any major purchase goes with him. When I was about eight, he decided to buy a house. Back then, you could buy something relatively decent in my area for $110k. We're talking newer cabinets, newer floors, interior appointments like trim, newer doors and windows, etc.
He ended up buying a crappy house for $89k. It was built in 1947. The guy who built the place was just as cheap as my dad. All of the windows and doors were original. It still had its original asbestos siding. On the inside, there was no trim. No interior doors except the bathroom door, which itself had no knob. No kitchen cabinets or counters. The living room floor was bare plywood, the ground floor bedroom had linoleum haphazardly unrolled onto it.
So essentially, he "saved" $21k when buying the house, but has had to put way more than that into it over the years.
My grandmother may be the sweetest old Jewish woman on earth — she also may be the cheapest. If there is a way to get something for free (or cheap) she will do absolutely anything to take advantage of it. Eating at Burger King? Fill up a bag with free condiment packets.
Ordering a drink? Separate cups for beverage and ice, to maximize value. She's gotten cosmetic surgery, not because she wanted or needed it, but because she found out a way to get it for free. One time she even haggled with a Starbucks manager about the price of a scone because it had broken in half in the bag. But the one experience I will always remember is the fruitcake.
I was visiting her a few years back and we had just finished dinner. She offered me dessert, and asked if I liked fruitcake. I don't, but I didn't want to be rude, so I agreed to have a slice. I was curious as to why she had a fruitcake around, as that is generally a Christmas time dessert and it was the middle of the summer. "Oh, this is from Christmas," she said. At that moment she walks over to the freezer and pulls out what I can only describe as a block of plastic-wrapped freezer burn.
"So that cake is six months old?" I ask, growing increasingly more nervous. "Oh, no, this one is from two Christmases ago." My heart sinks even further. I joke that she must really like fruitcake. "Not really," she replies, "but they go on sale after the holidays so I decided to stock up. I usually give them away to the neighbors but no one seemed to want any this year."
At this point she has carved off a slice of cake and placed it on a plate in front of me. It looks sad. I stare at it for a moment, coming to terms with the two-year-old block of fruitcake-adjacent ice I'm going to have to consume, when grandma pipes up: "Wait! Do you want some Grand Marnier?" I nod, and figure that some liquor could only make this experience easier. She grabs the bottle and, rather than pouring it into a glass or something, tips it onto the plate. I'm no fine-dining expert, but I assume that having a dessert with a small drizzle of liquor is not uncommon.
But, my grandma having the fine motor skills of an octogenarian, free pours several shots worth of the stuff. The frozen cake is now swimming in a sea of sweet, pungent liquor. She looks at me and smiles. I hesitantly begin to take a bite, and it is just as vile as I expected it to be. I got three or four bites in before telling her that I wasn't feeling well and wanted to lie down. She lovingly obliges and tells me that she'll clean up dinner and I should go rest. I retired to my room, confident that the ordeal was over.
The next night after dinner, she told me she had dessert ready for me already. I pondered this for a moment as she went to the fridge and pulled out … the half-eaten slice of cake, slowly liquifying and mixing with the puddle of grand marnier surrounding it.
And that is why I can't eat fruitcake anymore. I love you, grandma.
Invest in Real Estate with Just $100
Save tape, buy boats
My parents weren't really cheap, they were just frugal. They'd spend money on nice things, but couldn't stand the idea of wasting any.
We had a pool, plenty of electronics and typical middle-class luxuries, but cut our own hair and made our own toothpaste — that sort of situation. My dad would spend two hours fixing a $5 pizza cutter, but we had a boat.
Anyway, when I was in middle school, a few friends and I built a fort in my backyard. We mostly used cardboard but also tarps and whatever we could find. We held it all together with duct tape.
My dad thought it was great, but when we were done, my friends went home and it was time to take down the fort — my dad says, "make sure you save all the tape that's still sticky."
He seriously had me make a "roll" of used duct tape that he would suggest I "use first" before using any new duct tape. Not too long after that, the battery cover to my electronic football game broke and I made it stay on using used duct tape.
Priceless paper towels
My dad hoards his paper towels.
To this day he still expects me to ask permission to use them (I'm 21) because he doesn't want me "wasting them."
I remember growing up thinking that it was a $100 bucks for a roll because he was so concerned about preserving them.
While my girlfriend and I were at his house, I dropped a gallon of milk and it went everywhere. She immediately grabbed paper towels and began using the whole roll to soak up the mess.
The look on my dad's face when he found out we used a whole roll was priceless. I knew he wouldn't yell at my girlfriend, but he was visibly holding back his pain, anger and heartbreak over the "wasted" roll.
When I was a child my grandparents had an apartment at the seaside and every summer we would go to spend a month there, meeting other families that were coming on vacation from all around the country. My parents became friends with a couple — they had two children and the eldest girl was my age.
Probably due to the husband having gambling problems in his youth, the wife was the worst cheapskate I've ever met, even if they had a pretty generous income.
When we were out of the house, the husband was "in control" of the finances, being the main breadwinner of the family. So we would go to the restaurant all together, eat fish, spend the equivalent of 50 euros per person (we didn't have euros back then) and he'd have no problem putting out this amount of money.
In the house, though, the wife was the queen. So they'd have no hand soap in the bathroom, because it was a waste of money. When I was visiting, she would get a jar of Nutella from the top drawer and spread the tiniest amount of it in an almost invisible film on the cheapest bread. Her children's faces told me that when they had no guests, the Nutella would not even come out of that drawer.
The pinnacle was when one time they invited us to their place for dinner and they served a main course of ... ONE PIGEON for four adults and three kids.
My parents' response, as a good Italian family, was simply inviting them to dinner for the next week and preparing a huge and delicious dinner. They willingly exaggerated the size of the dinner, we ate leftovers for days.
I'm friends with their son and daughter on Facebook. He still is the golden child — good guy, did nothing wrong — but their parents always preferred him to his sister. She got out of home and is working in beautiful beaches in summer, and ski schools in winter, all around Europe. Good for her.
Candy wrappers and car parts
When we demolished our brick garage, my dad made us clean every one of those bricks with a pickaxe and line them up around our house for future use. They are still there eight years later.
Our cars are worth $2,000. He buys identical cars and dismantles them for parts. Just when you think he's done scrapping, he lifts the engines out of them and stacks them underneath the carport. They have 300,000 kilometers on them.
Our TVs are 20" in size to save on power.
Dad saves candy wrappers because they may be useful.
Most of our furniture is stuff people threw out on the street.
We use soap for shaving cream and shampoo.
Our granny’s flat has cupboards and couches stacked on top of each other to the ceiling — you have to shimmy through everything — the weight is so heavy the ground has settled and cracks have started to appear everywhere. I tried reasoning that the space could be better utilized by renting it out, but apparently it's more important to keep faulty treadmills, lawnmowers, fridges, ovens and washing machines for spare parts.
There are many more examples because he doesn't understand the value of time and space.
Gift-giving gone gritty
I used to think that Christmas wrapping paper was always printed funny, like a cheap 3D picture. All of the Santa faces were a half centimeter or more off of their faces, stuff like that. I later realized that my mom always bought discounted wrapping paper that was misprinted.
The thing is, when I see really nice paper now, it doesn't feel like Christmas to me. The cheap, misprinted paper is more Christmasy to me even 30 years later.
In the same vein, my parents and aunt would count the boxes that they used to wrap gifts in before Christmas morning. So, if my aunt brought 16 gifts that required the shirt/clothes boxes you would get at Sears/JC Penney, she would start Christmas morning by saying "I came here with 16 boxes and I am leaving with 16 boxes!" Funny thing is, back then you would get the boxes free with your purchase, not like today where you have to buy the boxes usually.
So, my parents and aunt were hung up on boxes they got for free. We still have boxes that have ancient tape on them and they're starting to fall apart, but now my family is more likely to say that it's okay to throw them out. Back then you boxed them up for next year and taped up the major rips. We even had an old box from a store called Structure that lasted years and years longer than the actual store did.
I love cheap shoes
My parents don't understand the "invest a few more dollars for a much better quality product" thing, so when I was in high school or just starting uni and they bought me clothing, it would be a $20 pair of jeans from JayJays that would last just a few weeks because of my thighs wearing them down as I wore them daily, and then we'd have to buy another pair. They'd buy one pair of $5 shoes from Kmart because they were the cheapest, but they were also the most uncomfortable and, again, I'd wear them on a daily basis so they wore down within a month and we had to buy more.
I'm in my early 20s now and teaching myself the concept of "bigger price tag is better quality.” I bought myself a pair of Dr. Martens in 2015, and my parents almost fell out of their chairs when I said they cost $180. Except I've worn them practically every single day since I bought them — whether to uni or work (hospitality) — and they're still solid and in good shape. Best investment of my life, to be honest.
Yes yes yes, I know, a bigger price tag doesn't always mean better quality. I mean this in terms of what I have talked about in this post — good quality, comfortable shoes and clothing.
The MacGyver of eyeglasses
This happened last summer when I visited my dad. My glasses broke and on account of me being blind without them, he bought a cheap plastic eye frame and got a new pair of glasses made that were too big for my head. They would keep sliding down to the tip of my nose every 30 seconds and when I asked him for a new pair, he proceeded to perform a rather hilarious looking yet ingenious hack.
He pulled his lighter out of his pocket and lit the flame, and with his other hand he bent the glasses at the center where the small hyphen that connects the two lenses is situated and held it above the flame. As it melted he formed a pronounced U-shape out of the joint so that the width between the lenses shortens, hence making the glasses fit relatively more snug.
The plastic did not look burnt because it was of a deep mahogany color to begin with. I wonder how he thought of that so fast.
Video games gone wrong
When I got my first PlayStation, my dad decided to only buy me copied games. This was before broadband had even hit the streets here, so you needed to know a guy who would solder a chip in the PSX in the back of his workshop. They always overpriced it, and then "needed to fix something else" which would cost extra.
And you couldn't do anything about it because it was illegal to begin with. Not sure how strictly illegal it was to solder a chip in a PSX at the time, but my dad believed it and by extension so did I.
But not every copied game worked with every chip. About half of the games I got, I could never play. The rest would have quirks like not being able to save the game, or it crashing randomly or after a set amount of time.
Not only did I only get copied games, but I got the weirdest games, never well-reviewed or popular games. The closest I got to a known game was FIFA '97 and my parents were well aware how much I hated soccer.
This is the same dad that has always proclaimed that "if you don't want to spend money on quality, you're an idiot." Except when he wasn't buying things for himself, since he cheaped out on presents for my mother too.
Frozen laundry and cheap gas hunts
Oh my god, dads are terrible. Mine hates paying for electricity, so he hangs his clothes up outside, which would be fine if he didn't do it year round even when it's below freezing.
Whenever my sisters or I would clean our rooms he would go through our trash looking for "valuables" we had thrown away (money or recyclables).
He's obsessed with gas prices and I once sat in the car with him as he drove around town for half an hour searching for the cheapest gas.
When he wants to drive down a hill he literally puts his car in neutral, opens the door and pushes himself down the hill with his foot.
One time we went to a Burger King and I was only allowed chicken fries because a burger was "too expensive."
Not-so-happy birthday gift
[They told us] not to flush the toilet. My mother also tried to continue with that terrible decision when she came to stay at my and my (now ex) husband's home. Needless to say I put a stop to that in a hurry.
She was (still is) an incredibly scrooge-y gift giver. The last birthday present that I received from her — three years ago — was a pocket spiral notebook. Nothing says "Happy birthday!" quite like a mother who goes to the effort of showing you that she knows that it is your birthday but simply doesn't care about putting any thought into a gift. She probably fished it out of her handbag just before seeing me and thought "meh, this will do."
Hard-earned money lessons
When my boss's kids turned 14 he had the talk with them. He let them know he was responsible for food and basic clothes. Anything that goes beyond that he would buy, but they had to pay him back when they graduated college. When his kids graduated college, he gave each one a bill — every prom dress, any stylish clothes or money spent going out to eat with friends was meticulously detailed with date, cost and most of the receipts.
When he told me about it, I thought it was a joke. The kids knew that was the deal and each one paid him back before they bought new cars or houses. He also made/taught them to put together a business case/ROI if they wanted a new TV, exercise equipment or things shared by the family. The kids are brilliant, well rounded and conservative with their money. They enjoy great vacations and have the freedom to do anything.
The amount of discipline and commitment to stick with it and then give them the bill is amazing. Though interest didn't start until graduation, so he was pretty lenient by banking standards.
Boss billed his kids for anything above basic food and clothes starting when they turned 14. Gave them an itemized bill the day they graduated college. Interest starts accruing that day. Kids paid him back within three years. He has an amazing family.
Bought a car for my son, paid for his insurance, phone and gas because I grew up poor and didn't want him to work as hard as I did growing up. He's selfish, self absorbed and refuses to work a normal high school job.
The cheapest millionaire/mother in law
My mother-in-law has inherited her father's war effort frugality. She once asked if she could get a happy meal cheaper if they didn't have the toy. Her husband was in the hospital and he asked her to bring him tissues for his nose as the tissue paper was rough, she just took in toilet paper but folded it into a tissue box.
She took back a single tin of macaroni to the store beside it wasn't the right one (it cost like 48p).
She gets shoes off her daughter but they are slightly too small so she cuts the toe of the shoe so her big toes just hang out.
She will ask her husband for £50 for shopping but then give him back the change! They have been married for 37 years. Can't she just keep a few coins?
She only buys clothes on sale — always the wrong size — with the intent to sew them into something new.
So many things that don't make sense for someone who is effectively a millionaire.
They now stay in their son's old room where the wallpaper has been up since the day he was born. As a teen does, he covered said cloud-covered wallpaper with posters; in his early 20s he moved out and his parents moved into the room because it was quieter. To get rid of the marks and holes made by the posters, she took a sample to the D.I.Y. store, had it paint matched and painted each dot individually — hundreds of them.
There are other things. What tops it off is that her husband spends money like water on "his rooms" while she is fitting her own carpet tiles so they fit around the rugs.
A cost-cutting hack for every season
My father was in the restroom at the mall one day and noticed that the janitor had come in and replaced a roll of paper towels even though they were still 75% new. Turns out it was cheaper to replace them every time than it was to have someone check on them more often. So, my father strikes up a conversation with the guy and is able to talk him into giving him all the partially used, rough paper towels. And that's how my family didn't pay for paper towels for four years.
Growing up as a child, bath time meant he'd fill the tub up a few inches with cold water, and then add a pot full of boiling water from the wood stove. The free wood stove, which is the only thing we used to heat our house, for which I spent my summers chopping down and removing trees from family and friends property (also for free).
Is it summer? Then guess what, time to shower outside! Using the free hot water that we get from the solar panels my dad installed to heat the pool. My dad and I had a running competition to see how late in the year we could shower outside. He has the record — December 3rd — we live in the northeast.
Is it Christmastime? Well, every present I got for the first 20 years was wrapped in free maps. My father is a pilot, and in the old days they would get these updated maps of all the airports (I think?) and when they were out of date, my dad would bring them home. Hundreds of them! My family is notorious for that.
The last one I'll share is before I was born. It was Christmastime, and my parents were extremely poor. My dad happened to stumble upon an old fake Christmas tree someone had thrown out. He brought it home of course. The only problem was it didn't have the center pole. So, my dad goes out and gets an old broom handle and drill and makes one. I was told it was the saddest tree imaginable, but it was a tree.
I have hundreds of stories like these. My family is not poor (used to be) but through financial responsibility and tricks like these, my parents managed to save, pay off a 30-year mortgage in less than 10 years and seem quite comfortable now.
Staying cool at no extra cost
I'm from Georgia, the land of humidity and heat.
My dad wouldn't turn the AC on until the temp went over 100 F. He went out and bought these styrofoam pads that were metallic foil on one end. We had to shove those into all the windows and exiting doorways when we had the AC on to "keep the heat out" and save on the AC.
Also, our city has a natural spring. The water is drinkable and free. So let me set this scene — there is a line in front of it, kids wanting cold water on a hot day, moms with a pitcher to get some, maybe a guy with an empty milk jug … and my dad with 32 5-gallon bottles filling them all up "in case this thing dries up tomorrow."
Not my parents, but I work for a small-to-medium business. Our COO, who oversees almost $25 million of contracts and revenue, insists on reviewing every single equipment/purchase request.
He actually once spent 30 minutes asking me whether I really needed a $10 screwdriver (special torx head for working on computer parts). He then questioned my request for a $10 wireless mouse only to forget to approve it, costing me a half hour to follow up to get it ordered.
He also asks employees to crimp and custom make ethernet cables, but won't spend $200 for a link checker tool to make sure the wiring is done properly and has a good electrical connection. I once spent three hours troubleshooting a flaky network issue WITH A CUSTOMER because of this.
Forest for the trees people ... jeez.
Bring your own mug (even though you shouldn’t)
My dad, who is solidly upper-middle class, found out that Starbucks had a 50 cent refill price on regular coffee if you go back up with your cup. Obviously this is meant for people still sitting in the shop having just finished their last one.
So each morning, for years now, he goes in with his ceramic Starbucks mug and asks for the refill price. At first they argued against it, but the ~$1.50 he's "saving" wasn't worth making a scene over when he pulled the elderly card and adamantly claimed they're trying to cheat him out of the stated price, so now they just give it to him. Sometimes he'll go fishing for quarters in his pockets after the argument until they refill his mug for free just to get the line moving.
When I witnessed this awkwardness and tried to explain the policy, he told me he isn't an idiot and knew they would cave from the beginning. He'd rather go in every morning and confrontationally act like a senile moron than pay an extra buck and change for coffee.
Quick fixes never last
My parents were never extremely cheap with the small things, but when it comes to larger things they always cheaped out in ways that have hurt them in the long run. When our AC broke, my mom got a bunch of AC window units. When we ran out of oil for heating and hot water, my dad would fill the tank with a couple of gallons of diesel to keep us going for like a week.
When the handle for our sliding back door broke, my parents literally cut a wooden board to the exact length where it could block the door from sliding open to replace the broken locking mechanism. And when the door from inside the house to the garage broke, they put a hook door latch on it just so we could keep it closed. When the actual automatic garage door broke, they stripped out all the automated parts of the door and used a 2x4 to wrench it open. It was like my parents were ghetto versions of MacGyver or something.
I should probably clarify, usually when purchasing heating oil, we would have to buy it in bulk from an oil company in increments of 50-250 gallons. What they did instead was they would get 5 gallons of diesel from the gas station and use that. It would last for about a week or so then we would run out of oil and be out of heating and hot water sometimes for days before they went back and did the same thing. It was basically a constant quick fix.
When my dad moved into his house, he had a guy come over to do a free demonstration for a water filter that goes under the sink.
The guy used a bar of soap for his demonstration and left it when he was done.
My dad couldn't help himself — he called at least four other companies for a "free demonstration" just to keep the free bar of soap, and never intended to have a water filter installed.
He does things like this, and it's gotten worse as he's gotten older. Seems like a lot of effort just for small freebies. But I just let him do his thing.
When I was a little kid I used to spend summers at my grandparents' house, and one of my chores was to set the table before dinner every night.
Whenever we were having company over for dinner, I was instructed to use "the good napkins." That meant the napkins that didn't have restaurant logos printed on them.
My grandmother had an enormous purse, and whenever we went out to eat she would stuff it full of napkins and food from the buffet. She didn't see much point in going to any restaurant that didn't at least have a salad bar.
One year, when my mother and I offered to take her to dinner for her birthday, we ended up having to drive over an hour to get to a Sizzler she hadn't been banned from.
Father dearest (and cheapest)
My dad was cheap, bordering on kleptomania.
I once wanted a volleyball, so he went to Sears and put a Mikasa pro ball inside the box of a cheaper brand so he would get the good one for less.
Another time, he bought some materials to fix up the house, and slipped a little jar of spackle into his shopping bag when he thought the cashier wasn't looking.
The cashier realized the jar was in the bag and asked if he was going to pay for that too.
He then blamed me and reamed me out for "stealing." I was nine years old.
He always did that sort of thing and, much to our embarrassment. He's still cheap, but not to that extent anymore.
A real packet-rat
My dad eats ramen noodles but seasons it with other things, so he keeps the flavor packets in an overflowing reusable baggie.
I swear we have 100 of those things. It does come in handy though when you run out of your favorite flavor of ramen, but I feel like we have enough to outlive us both.
My dad also saves every sauce packet we get from fast food places. It gets embarrassing because when we go to a fast food place, he'll shovel in tons of ketchup, vinegar, salt and pepper packets.
There's a bag of them in the fridge and we do actually use them on occasion, but they've got to be getting pretty old by now.
Fishsticks and sad shoes
As a teenager, I was not allowed to bathe more than once per week. I was also told I used too much toilet paper and was taught how to never use more than 6-8 squares per "session."
Our shoes had to quite literally have the bottoms fall off before they'd be replaced. And usually that was finally done by my father who we didn't see very often, but was always flabbergasted when things got to that point.
To this day, I can't eat fish sticks since we were forced to eat them multiple times a week along with boiled peas. Always those two in tandem. No idea why.
Our hair was cut by a family friend, if at all.
These weren't trailer-folk, these people owned a two-story house in a good area of town. Middle-class Canada all the way.
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