RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Thursday question: Pathologically cheap friend

Posted by Robin Abrahams  July 23, 2009 05:52 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Here's one: how do you deal with a pathologically cheap friend? I've gotten versions of this question before, but this may be the most thoroughgoing example I've ever seen:

A group of us have a friend who is incredibly cheap. She will re-box an item from her own house to use as a gift, has brought left-over food to get-togethers (which is very insulting to us), and once she even wanted a large group of us to split up an extra $3 so it was not given to a waiter who "already had his 15%." The problem is not economic...her and her husband are doing okay. Being with her socially has become an nightmare and just about everyone has had it with her behavior. This is a delicate subject. Any advice on how to let her know how we feel without hurting her feelings

Summaries of last week's questions to come later ...

UPDATE: I'm finding responses to this one really interesting! Especially the deep questioning of "what is a leftover." Keep it up, but I'm going away this weekend WITH Mr. Improbable and WITHOUT our computers, so I won't be modding any more comments through until Sunday night. Or maybe even Monday morning, so there!

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

70 comments so far...
  1. I had a friend just like that. It was a true nightmare and VERY embarrassing. When we would go to a restaurant and decide what the tip is she would say, "I believe we should all leave what we feel is correct". While most of us would leave a few bucks she would leave about 50 cents--if that! It got so bad we just stopped inviting her out. She got the message pretty quick and, after that, stopped acting that way. That's my advice.

    Posted by Wayne July 23, 09 08:08 AM
  1. Delicate subject? You are worried about hurting her feelings? How about the waiter who has to stand there while a large group of people each pocket 25 cents of his well deserved tip, since it was decided that he is only worth 15% - what about his feelings? You are nice to want to spare her feelings but honestly, why? She sounds like a selfish, petty individual who is making your entire social circle uncomfortable. How about just telling her straight out that she is a cheap skate, that you don't want to socialize with someone who cares that little about her friends that she passes off leftovers to them. This woman is not acting like your friend, why are you worried about acting like hers?

    Posted by J Bar July 23, 09 08:12 AM
  1. There should be a rule with these questions that the letter writer MUST included at least two reasons why she/he wants to remain friends with said person with glaring personality flaws because, frankly, WHY, PEOPLE, WHY? From this letter I have gathered that doing anything with this person is uncomfortable for the group at best and insulting to the group while still being ridiculously uncomfortable at worst - so, why bother? Life is short, hang out with people you like. Don't tiptoe around the elephant in the room, it only encourages the behavior, as does continuing to include someone even though no one wants to deal with it. Without those caveats of: but she once saved my child from drowning or something, I don't get it.

    Posted by Alyson July 23, 09 10:21 AM
  1. In short, why are you friends with her? And why would you be afraid of hurting her feelings?

    I would never, ever be friends with someone who was so cheap and who so obviously doesn't care about others. I mean, seriously, why put up with it? Life is short, don't hang out with jerks.

    Posted by brook July 23, 09 10:29 AM
  1. Stop inviting her out, she'll get the message. If she doesn't, write it down in 36point capital letters and staple it to her forehead.

    Posted by Phil July 23, 09 10:48 AM
  1. I am very frugal, some may say cheap. I will more often than not buy the generic or store brand of something with certain exceptions because quite frankly I cannot tell the difference. I will shop the sales and clearance racks first because if I can find what I want there is no need to go further to look for something for full price that would also suit what I need. When purchasing a present for a family member or friend and I budget to spend $50 and I find the item I want on sale for $40 I buy it and don't worry about it nor do I put in a little extra so I spend what I had budgeted. I will use coupons when I can and do try to time my purchases to sales cycles. However when going out to restaurants as a former waitress my standards are high and while I wouldn't quibble over an extra three dollars to be split by a large group I am not an over tipper; if the service is good but not spectacular I will balk at a crazy tip. I cannot fathom brining leftover food to a get together but I can imagine taking some with back home with me, but only if the hosts suggests that the guests take leftovers back with them.

    And I have to echo some of the previous commenters why are these people friends? I cannot fathom why they are friends, but if they want to continue to hang out with them they have limited options. (1) Let it go they know their friends and just accept them and move on. (2) Speak to their friends about their concerns and how it makes them feel uncomfortable. (3) Start doing things that involve less money or where it is easier for each party to pay their own way. For example, suggest meeting a park (local or state park) and state in the invite bring your own lunch and blanket and we can hang together. As the weather gets cooler it may become more difficult for those types of outing but you never know how creative you can get.

    Posted by WES July 23, 09 10:50 AM
  1. Someone who acts like this is not worth the effort. being frugal is one thing, being selffish is another. I would stop inviting her to events and evenings out. If she asks why, i would be blunt with her. "We understand you are an extremely frugal person, but the level of cheapness you bring to anything makes it unpleasant and embarassing for the rest of us, and ruins the fun." If she can't loosen up the purse trings once and awhile when she's doing stuff with you, then it's not worth the aggrevation of having her there.

    Posted by Erin July 23, 09 10:55 AM
  1. this gene runs in my family but thankfully it has skipped me. I can't tell you how frustrating it can be to be surrounded by these people. I can understand being frugal and saving money but, in my case, my elders are in their late 80s and give my kids gifts that are either in the discount bin or were found during their walks around town. Yes, they walk around looking for cans and during their trips find what they call "as good as new" stuff in people's trash. They then give us these things. i used to get them as a kid as well, so crazy. i still will never forget the day I wanted a bicycle from a police auction, it was pretty beat up and cost like $20, my grandfather said it was too much. You can't spend money from gave.

    Posted by SoxSupporter July 23, 09 10:57 AM
  1. Here's some passive-aggressive piece of advice in which the "aggression" is actually quite nice: next time you are in a situation when you have to share a bill, suggest that everyone in the group give $3 extra and put this money in fund which, at the year (or half year, or whenver) you all agree on a charity to receive it. This could (though I'm not saying it will) have an enligtening effect on Ms. Miser. If it doesn't, there's still a charity that gets a good benefit. Most everybody wins.

    Posted by Sarah Smiles July 23, 09 10:59 AM
  1. This is probably a deep-seated emotional problem. I've seen this in my own family, especially those who lived through the depression. I see it along the same lines a "hoarder," the kind of person who can't let go of their stacks of newspapers even though they know it would improve their life.

    In this case your friend (who probably has some other really great qualities otherwise she wouldn't be your friend) needs to learn to let go of some of her money to improve her standing within your circle.

    Before I dropped this person, I'd ask them out for a cheap cup of coffee - heck, your treat! - and explain that her cheapness makes you uncomfortable. Maybe she could set aside a special fund of money that she's willing to spend publicly? Perhaps she can explain what her limits are and why she's so reluctant to spend money? They might get defensive and lock down, but they also might explain what it's like to be so broke she comparison shopped for ramen noodles, which I suspect might be the case.

    Posted by Linda July 23, 09 11:08 AM
  1. Playing devil's advocate here: Are you absolutely sure things are ok economically? Are these trends new or have they always been there?

    I have a good friend who was a cheap SOB in college, seriously he bartered with the waitstaff to get a cheaper price. When he got his 1st job, which paid like 12 or 14k (barely enough to live on in NYC, esp with loan debt) he used to skip out on dinner and join us for one beer. I actually believe he has Asberger's or is on the spectrum somewhere, but why should it matter? I love him because of his idiosyncracies and not in spite of them. The fact of the matter is a lot of my so called friends NEVER come to any of my parties or dinners and give some pathetic last minute excuse....whereas he always comes. Even if he can only make it for 10 or 15 minutes.

    And in this "green" world, what's wrong with trying to decrease waste? If I have something I'm not using and know someone else will love, why shouldn't I give it to them? If I made a spectacular dish the other night and I have a party today at someone's house, why not bring the leftovers? Of course I would put the leftovers into a different container so they don't look like leftovers. Most behaviors like these are learned at childhood, perhaps her parents or role models lived through the depression, and being thrifty was ingrained in her brain...

    Posted by Veronica July 23, 09 11:08 AM
  1. I'm glad her is doing okay.

    I'm not sure what advice to give... If she has other redeeming qualities, perhaps you should include her only in situations where she won't do something embarrassing or rude. But it seems like she does it both in public (at restaurants) and in private (at people's homes), so that is a tough one.

    I do think, though, that one can never really know how another couple is doing financially. Maybe she has dug herself into a hole with her credit cards. Who knows!

    Posted by fram July 23, 09 11:11 AM
  1. I could not be friends with someone like that and would have no qualms about telling them so to their face.

    Posted by Harrybosch July 23, 09 11:12 AM
  1. I think the worst way to get through to this person is to sink to her level and respond to her demeaning behavior with insults. I think Miss Conduct's word "pathologically" is the key here -- there is something very, very wrong with a person who, despite being comfortable financially, is cheap to the point of being offensive and insulting, especially in public. I would try going out with her one more time, and mid-way through the meal, have the nicest one in your group start asking questions, starting with a statement like, "Jenny, I've noticed in the past that you seem very concerned with the cost of our meals together, particularly about the tip. When you do this, I feel very uncomfortable, because I know the rest of us want to share equally, and to give our servers the acceptable tip, 20%. Can you help us understand what's going on, and why this is so important to you?" There's no guarantee that your friend will respond appropriately, of course, but she may explain her feelings in a way that leads all of you to come up with a way that you're comfortable with her behavior. If she reacts badly, you've done your part politely, and can safely drop her from your get-togethers -- she may even offer not to join you in the future.

    Posted by Nani July 23, 09 11:13 AM
  1. My comment isn't related to the question above (although I agree with everyone's comments!). My question is about the format of this "blog". Every time I click on this Miss Conduct blog I get a question....and comments....where is the response from Robin Abrahams? Am I missing something here? It seems like a poor use of Ms. Abrahams resume to simply post a question and then let readers answer. I don't know, just wondering.

    Posted by Cat July 23, 09 11:14 AM
  1. Bringing the leftover food is the one that gets me. And since it's so insulting, I don't see the point of keeping quiet. Have you called her on it? Said something like, "Can't afford to make something?" Maybe then she'll be the one insulted and will see the err of her ways, especially if she makes a decent living. We've all had these kinds of friends, and two people that I know of are no longer friends of mine. It just gets to the point where you're no longer willing to be taken advantage of. I just wonder if they know how ridiculous they look to other people if it's not brought to their attention.

    Posted by NoMoreFreeloading July 23, 09 11:18 AM
  1. I've had friends like this. Usually once you notice someone being a cheapskate, the 'evidence' starts to pile up in your head: remember when she gave us a knickknack from her mantel? Remember when we went out to eat...? This is what I've done to cope:
    First, which behaviors are REALLY bothersome? Paying the check should take 5 minutes, tops. Are you going to let that 5 minutes ruin your whole evening? Also, getting a reused gift is funny. Have the group save them all up and do a Yankee Swap with them at Christmas. Then it'll be a joke and hopefully she will get back that dreadful miniature birdhouse/Precious Moments figurine/Serenity Prayer shadowbox.
    However, the leftovers thing is disgusting, and she should be called out on that. As in: "Yeah, no, this has fork marks in it - see, if you can't wait to eat what you're going to bring, then feel free to bring a bag of chips that we know hasn't been opened next time. But I can't put this out for general consumption."

    Posted by heartseek July 23, 09 11:51 AM
  1. Three words: Up Front Contract.

    I'm hoping this person isn't TOTALLY clueless and if you bring up one of her cheap habits she might catch on and at least try to be more of a contributor to your social gatherings.

    Here's what I suggest:

    Whichever one of you amongst your friends normally sets up your social dining gatherings, send a group email to everyone so this person is not felt to be singled out. In this email/ invitation spell out the time and place of the gathering, then specify what will happen when the check comes. Suggest dividing the check (total, tip included as agreed upon by the group- suggest 20% up front unless the service is not worth it) evenly by the number of folks present. If one person drinks more then the rest of the group, this might be easier said then done. Not knowing your details of everyone’s habits, perhaps suggest a separate check for alcohol to be divided by the drinkers if this is an issue. A separate tab for booze is a common request, given many companies don’t pay for alcohol, and much easier for the waitstaff to provide then 6 different tabs showing what each individual consumed.

    Hopefully this will be an eye opener for this person regarding their cheap behavior, and might cause them to be more of a contributor. One can hope this might cause her to examine her habits in other social aspects as well.

    If not, the most egregious thing I see here is the bringing of leftovers to a party. In this case it would be up to a host/ess to smile and say “Thanks so much for bringing the cheese dip, Marge. I appreciate it but like to present our guests with something made freshly for the occasion. Why don’t I just put this in the fridge for you and you can take it home with you when you leave?”. A small moment of discomfort for the person who delivers this message will do you all good in the long run.

    You have my sympathy on this as I have been surrounded by cheapskates in social and business situations. After making up for their shortfalls more than once, I have decided to stick up for my own wallet and suggest you do the same.

    Hope this helps. I wish you luck.

    Posted by Larry July 23, 09 11:53 AM
  1. I once had a friend who can top this - 4 of us split a hotel in NYC for the weekend. She "hookedup" with someone on the first night - so when we went to pay for the bill she asked / told us (the other 3) that since she wasn't using the room for the first night she isn't going to pay for it.

    Posted by ann smith July 23, 09 12:26 PM
  1. "her and her husband" *shudder*

    Posted by Missy July 23, 09 12:31 PM
  1. The $3 thing is weird. Next time something like that happens, lead by example. Say, "I really don't care if we have an extra dollar or two in the tip." What could she possibly accuse you of?

    The leftovers problem has a simple solution. Next time you're hosting, and she brings leftovers, just say something like heartseek and Larry have suggested, like, "Hey, thanks for bringing this, but I really can't serve my guests leftovers. I'll put it in the fridge for you to take home later." If she makes a fuss, point out the things that other people have provided, things that are not leftovers. Worst case scenario? She'll be upset, maybe leave. But she'll probably be embarrassed, make some excuse, and bring something non-leftover next time.

    As for the gift thing, I don't think there's much you can do about it. If she keeps doing it to you ... then take her off your gift list for Christmas shopping.

    Posted by sabend July 23, 09 12:51 PM
  1. If you want to remain friends with her, talk to her in a calm non-confrontational way. Although, honestly, when I have been in situations like this, my friends and I get a lot of enjoyment out of re-telling the ridiculous stories about someone. The leftover food is gross and no one should be bringing bacteria bombs for general consumption.

    Posted by JB July 23, 09 12:53 PM
  1. Cat,
    Robin follows up with her response at a later date, after commenters have weighed in.

    Posted by fram July 23, 09 12:56 PM
  1. I would like to add that being frugal and being cheap to the point of discomfort of others are two totally separate things. I'm frugal, I'm wearing nearly 100% hand-me-down maternity clothes, I shop at Marshalls at the clearance rack, I negotiate my cable TV rate, I drive so I get 36mph out of my car, etc,etc, etc. However, if I agree to go to dinner - I have enough money for my meal and a reasonable tip. Should I be the one counting the money and there's extra and everyone is happy with the amount, we leave it, unless it's like $30 then I ask if anyone needs change and if the answer to that is no, I ask if everyone is comfortable with giving the server a 40% (or whatever) tip and if the answer to that question is yes, then we leave it. I am also careful to make sure that no one person, having contributed $30 doesn’t go and take all of that back. I will contribute something to a party that I have made previously – for example, I currently have a 100% homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie in my freezer that I would have no problem bringing somewhere – but it is also 100% intact, I happened to be making pie and thought, “Hey, I’ll make 2.” I would not bring last night’s potato salad as a contribution or a ½ eaten pie or a ½ eaten lasagna – although the potato salad would be the easiest to disguise. I certainly wouldn’t bring LAST WEEK’S potato salad, gross! And, if you admire something I have, I may give it as a gift. My mother recently wrapped up a set of stainless steel bowls that she had in her kitchen and was not using because I said I wanted some. Totally acceptable. On the other hand, my mother simply scrounging around to find something in her house she doesn’t use to pawn off on me? Not so cool.
    And to Veronica – your friend knew that dinner would put a strain on finances and made it clear that he was opting out but would love to join you for a portion of the evening – that is not at all the same thing. In fact, that’s totally cool and very ,very smart of said friend. From what I’ve gathered this person is more into showing up for the dinner, ordering food, eating it and then quibbling over the price and, not only that, trying to make everyone else adhere to her cheapness by insisting that the rest of the party take back their over generous tip – all very not cool. If you want to overtip, I might question it – did you mean to put in 40% more than you owe? But if you did, bully to you. And that means that it stays in, it also means that I do not get to decrease my fair contribution because you want to be generous. If each of us owes $10 and you put in $20, I still owe $10. Unless you make it clear that you’re treating me.
    And, I want to reiterate my original point, which is, seriously, why bother? Also, I don’t think a giant group intervention is the answer, someone speaking one on one with the cheap person is fine, but don’t all gang up on her and don’t go all snarky passive/aggressive either by asking rude questions. I do think it’s fine to reject the obvious leftovers in a nice manner, however. But not to say, in front of everyone, “Oohh, marge thought it would be nice to share her leftover entrée with us.” That’s rude and uncomfortable in itself and while there’s a chance that Marge does not realize she’s being rude, the commenter does and therein lies the difference.

    Posted by Alyson July 23, 09 12:56 PM
  1. Have one person hold the check and announce how much everyone owes with tax and tip included (preferably that you're splitting it evenly). Then have everyone quickly follow suit with announcing and paying their amount. (OK ALL, HERE'S MY $32.)

    Posted by VG July 23, 09 12:57 PM
  1. I assume this woman has some redeeming qualities or you wouldn't be friends with her. The behavior you describe is outside the range of normal. It sounds like some kind of mental illness rather than a character flaw.

    I would try not to take what she is doing as anything personal. She isn't making a judgement about your worth when she re-gifts or brings leftovers. She's trying to control the things in her world she feels are under her control.

    If I had a friend who was anxious about a certain thing, I would avoid activities with her that centered on that issue. potlucks. No "chipping in" for dinner. No exchange of gifts...spend time with each other instead.

    I'm sure her life is harder because she feels this anxiety about money and the value of things. Take whatever is good about the relationship and try to ignore the rest.

    Posted by Alice July 23, 09 12:58 PM
  1. I agree with Veronica - and think most of the other posts are pretty disturbing. The degradation of our culture, to where the only way people know how to socialize involves spending money in restaurants is probably at the root of an amazing amount of financial distress. And if she brings leftovers to gatherings - why do you care - don't you want to see friends for the good conversation and fellowship? The poster who wanted to initiate a rehearsed snarky confrontation in the middle of a restaurant gathering is really brutal! By the way, I tend to overtip. But I have a dear dear friend who does not,,- so what?!

    Posted by Barbara July 23, 09 12:59 PM
  1. Ugh, god.... I so hate being with cheap people. I have asked politely. I have played dumb and tried to work it that way. I have berrated my former friends for this before and told them that I don't feel comfortable dining with them for this reason. If you don't have the money to properly tip - you don't have money to eat out.

    If it still doesn't work - I just don't go out with them anymore. Sooooooo very embarrassing and uncomfortable. You need to get to the point where you feel comfortable taking about such things with the people in your life. If you communicate your thoughts and that their cheapness makes you feel uncomfortable - and they still act selfishly and callously in public , then they are as much doing it to you as they are to the waitstaff. Ditch them and move on!

    Posted by Ryan July 23, 09 01:06 PM
  1. Man, and I thought a former roommate of mine was a tightwad. But she never pulled anything like arguing over $3 for a tip. That I would have had to address. Personally, I like Larry's suggestions to minimize the awkward contacts.

    Posted by bluemoose July 23, 09 01:06 PM
  1. I have neighbors across the street who are SO CHEAP it hurts. Both work good first jobs and they each work second jobs - he as an aerobics instructor and she as a waitress. They live in a crappy little house that they bought in 1996 when housing prices were low. They have 2 kids who have NEVER been on vacation in their lives due to the parents cheapness. For "vacation" the kids play in their driveway. The father is a trash picker and half of their toys comes from the trash. They NEVER go out to eat. Christmas is a joke - they rely on the grandparents to buy presents and they drive about 50 miles to get a "deal" on a Christmas tree. Every conversation you have with them always involves the term - " we don't have the money for that." We would LOVE to know what they spend their money on. Last year at a neighborhood child birthday party they gave the birthday girl - a pad of paper and 8 crayons! I almost cried! They are SO maddening that we have all stopped talking to them. We wave hello and that is it! Others feel the same way and stopped socializing for the same reason. Bottom line = if you want to be cheap = look to be alone because people do not want to associate with you.

    Posted by Trash pickers neighbor July 23, 09 01:06 PM
  1. I skimmed over the other responses and have to agree with most of the posters. The only thing I can think to add is that, if you truly value this friendship and would rather continue it than let it fizzle, one option may be to limit your outings with the cheap friend to free activities or those that are both inexpensive and completely free of opportunities to exercise cheap behavior. Of course, the options are limited, but if this person is driving you nuts, fewer get-togethers and/or less variety may be a small price to pay. Some examples that come to mind are neighborhood or Esplanade walks, afternoons in the park (perhaps with a picnic option in which you each bring your own food so only she is subject to her leftovers), coffee dates (in a take-out setting w/o waitstaff to eliminate tipping disputes) and Free Friday Flicks by the Hatch Shell.

    Posted by Bishky July 23, 09 01:06 PM
  1. As an added thought, what defines leftovers? To me leftovers are the uneaten portions of a meal, the chicken breasts that are still in the bakeware after the meal ends, the half tray of lasagna that was never served, etc. I mean, we have leftover night at our house. There's nothing WRONG with leftovers. They haven't been touched by people, usually it's caused by a miscalculation of food, or by someone not coming home for dinner as planned. Now if this friend is scraping food from her plate to be served elsewhere, then that's icky. But I see nothing wrong with serving last night's meal that wasn't eaten.

    Posted by Veronica July 23, 09 01:11 PM
  1. As a child who was fed peanut butter (no jelly) sandwiches ad nauseam (just one small step above Ramen noodles, really) while living on the brink of homelessness until I graduated from high school and got out of town, I can only agree wholeheartedly with Linda (commenter #10). Instead of taking a hard-line, superficial, perhaps even materialistic approach to your friend's "cheapness", why not show some compassion and have a kind-spirited heart-to-heart? Maybe your friend is behaving the only way she knows how, pinching pennies to be sure she never has to eat peanut butter sandwiches for lack of choice in the matter. Perhaps it is SHE who deserves kinder, more understanding and more frugal friends - is life really all about money?

    Posted by FrugalByNature July 23, 09 01:14 PM
  1. State at the beginning of each meal how you will split the bill. Then she knows what is expected of her. I have a family member like that and to her its almost a game to see how cheap she can be with gifts, etc. Its a horror show when she gets caught, ie a gift tag to another person in your gift. Yes we all recycle but be cautious. If someone is that cheap, she may be very poor or perhaps ill in some way. End the friendship if its more grief than joy.

    Posted by nv July 23, 09 01:18 PM
  1. I guess most of us encounter people like that in our lives and sometimes they are our friends. It happened to me as well and gradually it became evident that things you can do with these people are very limited. They don't want to spend any money, they are cheap in giving gifts although they expect gifts from you. I invited a couple to our wedding and they came empty handed, later told us they gave us nothing because we did not have a gift registry. A couple of months later, they got married and did not forget to send us their gift registry. They invited people over for dinner and later asked everyone to pay back $4-5 each. If you want to keep the friendship, you have to limit yourself on what to do with them. Otherwise it becomes very uncomfortable for everyone. You can either be like them, or just find other friends to hang out with.


    Posted by Boston02116 July 23, 09 01:20 PM
  1. I have friends like her and there is an easy solution. When taking the order make sure you tell the waitress or waiter to create a separate check for her. If she questions that just say to her now you can leave any tip you like and smile.
    That will take her of her problem as she will be exposed and not able to hide behind the groups tips

    Posted by paul July 23, 09 01:27 PM
  1. Heh, I'm married to one of those types. He recycles unwanted (NOT used) gifts - but wraps them really pretty - because he'd rather they don't end up in a landfill. He brings home leftovers all the time, and yeah, has been known to bring them to get-togethers (but he pretties up the presentation and puts it on a clean plate, so nobody would be the wiser) - because he can't stand to see perfectly good food go to waste. I see no problems with these behaviors - not in this economy and with the state of the world as it is. We all need to waste less.

    BUT - my husband will ALWAYS pay at least 20% on a tip. Because he's been a server and he knows what it entails. He can't stand people who are stingy on the tip. He is the one who, if out with friends who insist on paying only 15% or worse, will make an excuse to run back in and discretely give the server a wad of extra bills. Then we never go out with those cheapskates again.

    I really don't understand why anyone would be insulted by leftover food. What is so insulting? Is it half-eaten or spoiled, that is a problem and I would understand that. But what if it's perfectly good and presented nicely? Why waste?

    As for the gifts, is it something you would like? If it's not, that's one thing. But a gift is never about the price. It's about the thought. I'm more annoyed by people who buy me stuff that has nothing to do with my taste, and which will just clutter up my house or force me to make a trip to good will. I'd rather get no gift. Their company is gift enough!

    Posted by bah humbug July 23, 09 01:28 PM
  1. I can not stand such people and would not continue being friends with them. They always ruin any social event. The people who pull out a calculator to make sure that no more than 15% is left...when 20% is appropriate for good service. The people who who never bring anything to a pot luck but come eat anyway. The ones who forgo wedding gifts, but still attend.
    Those people should not be anyone's friends but each other's.

    Posted by n.h. July 23, 09 01:37 PM
  1. I don't think being cheap and being selfish are necessarily the same thing. This degree of money pinching sounds more like a social disorder where it takes a lot of effort to control the behavior. If this person is that concerned about splitting $3 than there is some greater need to control cash than just being selfish towards wait staff or friends.
    It seems like the best way to handle this is have a straight forward conversation. Tell your friend these specific behaviors make you uncomfortable and give a concrete expectation. And also be clear that you are uncomfortable enough that you don't want to go out with them anymore. Give it another shot post conversation and if nothing changes decide if you can accept them as they are or if you need to end the friendship.

    Posted by Abby July 23, 09 01:44 PM
  1. You could very well be talking about my friend "shelby." A kind-hearted woman (really) who cannot seem to help being the cheapest person I ever met. I've known her for years and unsuccessfuly tried to integrate her into my circle of friends. they all soon tired of her cheapness. Shelby gives the most god-awful gifts. One year, she lamented to me about his stupid, useless gift she got in the office grab and was considering suggesting the office christmas gift thing be eliminated. what was she supposed to do with this thing? Guess what she gave me for Christmas! anyway, shelby's behavior has caused me a lot of stress and i've found times I've had to keep my distance. Once, when i 'had had it" i was going to have a talk with her. but when I got to her house she was soaked with tears. another 'friend' had just let her have it. My heart went out to her, so i just hung out with her and we watched a movie.

    Shelby is cheap. she is also a kind, well-meaning person. i don't know her income/debt-ratio but do know she takes european vacations, bikes on the vineyard, shops ann taylor, etc. i cannot explain her behavior but I value her as a person. I've decided to only meet with her for a walk in the state forest or a visit to each other's houses. I cannot even suggest meeting at starbucks. spending money obviously makes her uncomfortable so we don't do anything when money is involved.

    Posted by Hansel's hottie July 23, 09 02:18 PM
  1. This person needs to wait tables for a while to understand the crazy dynamics of a restaurant and the frequency of getting shafted by customers who didn't understand the cook just flipped out and left the building, etc.. I have a boyfriend who was a little tight with the tips. After telling a few horror stories to him and a group while out at dinner, I noticed an increase in his tips. And they say people can't change.

    Posted by mk July 23, 09 02:18 PM
  1. Unless there is a lot more to this letter than what was printed i don't understand what the problem is. There was nothing in this letter that indicated that this person was pleasant in any way. Why is it a delicate situation? Did she lose her job? Did her husband lose his job? Are they living on the street? If the answer is no than this is not a delicate situation. You just need to say "Hey, Look, there is absolutely no reason for you to be such a self absorbed, cheapskate, penny pinching B!tch, and if you continue to act this way that please don't show up for anymore of these functions and we won't bother inviting you anymore" Yep. it might just end the friendship but will you really miss eating the leftovers or getting the "used gifts" or being shunned at the local restaurants because your are labeled as cheapskates?

    Posted by confused July 23, 09 02:29 PM
  1. Personally, I think restaurants should be paying their servers enough that the customers don't have to pay for the meal and then pay more to have it served to you. It's the same when staying at a hotel. We pay a ridiculous price for a hotel room and then are expected to tip the maid for cleaning up the room. Shouldn't this be covered in the cost of the hotel?

    Posted by Sharon July 23, 09 02:42 PM
  1. Next time just straighten her out. She has to have some indication from her social environment (that's you) that her behavior is wrong.
    If she says the waiter already got his 15%, say, "no way! (or even better, "WTF!!??) That would be cheap. He gets the $3.00. Exaggerate your reaction so she gets the clue because she obviously is clueless on this and needs help.

    That's that.

    Posted by steve in W MA July 23, 09 02:43 PM
  1. Dear Confused #42, Yea, that's a sure way to solve the problem.

    Posted by Not so confused July 23, 09 02:44 PM
  1. To all the people who are saying they wouldn't be friends with her - don't you have friends and family members with certain quirks that you have to learn to deal with? What about spouses of friends, people you have known for many many years or neighborhood groups where it would be rude to leave a single person out? I had a roommate who was incredibly cheap, a friend who likes to discuss people's salaries, a relative who always interrupts and another who always licks food off her fingers. The roommate had other qualities that made him worth being around, the friend was from way back in high school (and I tell her I'm not comfortable discussing money) and relatives are relatives. Learn to accept the way this person is and cultivate a sense of humor about it. If the leftovers are unacceptable, "forget" to put them out on the table. Say thank you for the regift and give it to charity. When asked to skimp on the tip tell her straight out that you disagree that the amount was sufficient and you want to leave the three dollars. Ask around the table to make sure everyone else agrees and overrule her. You probably have behaviors that drive others crazy and they learn to overlook it because they generally like being around you.

    Posted by Cordelia July 23, 09 02:50 PM
  1. I have a pretty good one, too. I was out to lunch in Portland visiting a was just me, my husband, and my friend. When the bill came, she asked the waiter for a separate bill. By being so cheap she totally kicked her own self in the a$$ because my husband and I were going to buy her lunch, but after that we were so insulted that we just let her pay her own way.

    Posted by A July 23, 09 02:54 PM
  1. I have a friend like this, and I don't feel his issue is parsimony. He has strong OCD; he is a constant worrier. He makes more money than all of us put together (srsly), is able to retire today on full pension, but counts his pennies like the most stereotyped miser. He is afraid of being poor.

    Maybe this friend suffers the same disorder. Pathological fear of being poor. To her, those quarters add up. That said, we no longer invite this friend out to eat, although he is welcome at our homes, even as he brings "recycled" food (we've tried to come to view this as an endearing trait).

    Posted by reindeergirl July 23, 09 02:55 PM
  1. 15% is a fine tip... if the service is sub-par and the waiter makes an hourly wage! However, in MA and RI we make less than $3 and hour, and many of us are required to give 25% (or even more!) of our tips away to support staff, such as bartenders, food runners and bus boys. Then once you figure in the fact that we spend 9 hours on our feet, a lot of which we aren't paid for, polishing and making everything perfect, setting up and closing down, trying to make every experience memorable ... to me 20% is average. Don't get me wrong, I like my job and love socializing and making people happy. That considered, to receive 15% is an all out insult, since maybe 10% of that makes it to our pocket, and my bills don't get paid on 10%. Don't be surprised if the server asks if something was wrong, because eventually? We will.

    Posted by Don't Eat Out if you can't Afford to Tip! July 23, 09 02:58 PM
  1. She sounds like a complete and total idiot. Stop complaining, ditch her, and move on. That was easy.

    Posted by Mansfield Dude July 23, 09 03:20 PM
  1. I also have a cheap, cheap friend who (in my opinion) undertips. So when we go out to dinner, after the check is settled to her liking, I always drop a few more singles on the table. Situation solved (unless it's *you* who wants everything to work out even-stephen.

    Posted by Ferial July 23, 09 03:22 PM
  1. At this point, I really see only two options. Conditioning yourself to just let it go (easier said than done!) or only socializing in settings that minimize the effects of this person's cheapness. From the described behavior, this is an ingrained part of their personality and no amount of subtle hints, kind words or staged interventions is going to make them change. At least not permanently.

    So, I would stop inviting them to potlucks and restaurants but continue to invite them to parties and dinners where the majority of the food and libations are provided by the hosts.

    Posted by Hope July 23, 09 03:31 PM
  1. If there's something in this friendship to salvage, a good heart to heart is warranted. If that seems too serious, then perhaps this isn't a friendship worth saving and you should let it die a natural death.

    A comment on the leftovers debate: I had a dinner party in January where everyone brought something. These things ranged from bottles of wine (new) to food prepared or bought specifically for the dinner. Except for one person, who used the opportunity to clean out her fridge. It was slightly noticeable at the time we were putting the food out--carrots were dry and old looking, things in opened bags and jars, etc. But after everyone left, I saw that everything was really old (expiration date on salad dresing alreay passed months ago) or it was pilfered from a Christmas gift basket and had no place in our dinner scheme (a jar of random mustard, random olives, etc). The old food then became my responsibility to throw away, clean out the jars, recycle, etc. It was embarrassing for me to see this. I would have preferred she bring nothing but her beautiful self instead of filling us up with strange or old stuff. My friendship with this person is very strong and if she did it again I would have no problem gently explaining she didn't need to impress me or whatever it is she's doing. But I can see if the friendship is very casual, such a serious talk would maybe be overkill and perhaps best to let the relationship peter out.

    No need to be snarky...ever. That's just trying to win or show the other person you're right or better, none of which has a place in a true friendship.

    Posted by BananaSeatBike July 23, 09 03:33 PM
  1. I think Boston is a city of pathologically cheap people. The more they've been catered to in life, the more likely they are to nickel and dime their friends, stiff waiters and waitresses, and steal goods and services that they fell entitled to.

    Posted by Action Jackson July 23, 09 03:37 PM
  1. Until I read all the posts in defense of serving dinner guests two-day-old, half-eaten fridge debris, I had no idea Massachusetts was still such an agricultural area. The state must have a great number of barns indeed, to have so many people raised in them.

    Posted by Marcus July 23, 09 03:44 PM
  1. Alyson- ditto everything you said!

    Missy- that was mean. Its a message board (on proper manners, no less!), not an English class. I believe Ms Abrahams once covered the topic of correcting someone's grammar without being asked to do so.

    Posted by sandra July 23, 09 03:51 PM
  1. Wow, this sure did bring out hostile responses! Interesting how everyone leapt from her cheap behavior to "she's a horrible person you shouldn't be friends with." How can we know that? This is troubling, inconsiderate, and yes probably pathological behavior - it's not baby-killing. Presumably Letter Writer does wish to continue the relationship or she wouldn't have asked for advice on how to do so. So given that premise, let's try to help her solve her actual problem, instead of refusing to grapple with it.

    The behavior described is pretty awful. I don’t see why LW and her friends are pussy-footing around it and refusing to address it. I think there is some ground between kicking her to the curb and putting up with this. And in fact, Miss Conduct has an excellent blog post on exactly how one might handle her at her other blog. Allow me to direct your attention to “Dealing With Difficult People,” In particular, point 2:
    “Reinforce the behaviors you want and ignore the ones you don’t. Giving in to whining, flattery, bullying, etc. is tempting, but makes it more likely that the person will continue in their bad behavior.” Sometimes you just have to confront the behavior head on if you want it to change.

    Posted by MelissaJane July 23, 09 04:39 PM
  1. I grew up relatively poor, as did my husband. All our parents are from poor-ish backgrounds, including rural poor, urban poor, and born-in-a-developing-country poor. All four of our parents taught their children never to be cheap with other people. I truly believe cheapness towards others (friends, family) is a trait that is not connected to a person's financial state. There are well off people who are cheap, and there are generous people who are poor. I cannot see any defense of this behavior. As others have noted, leftovers are fine in your own home. But I highly doubt people who are cheap and possibly mentally ill are rigidly correct in following safe food handling practices, including noting how long food has been "out of temperature" before refrigerating it. There is a potential to sicken your guests when you transport food that has been out of temperature on multiple occasions. Besides the scientific objections I have with it, the practice hits a nerve because it is sickening on a social level. There is no defense. I've traveled in extremely poor countries, and I've been offered a small amount of freshly cooked food that was clearly intended as a large family's dinner. "Just take it, we have more," they said, when it wasn't true. Generosity comes back to you, people, don't you get that?! Anyone in your social group, I don't care who it is, can afford an unopened, unexpired package of something. Money is never about money. It's about how you treat other people.

    Posted by local July 23, 09 05:42 PM
  1. I have a friend who is only cheap about certain things. She refused to split a bill, saying she wasn't drinking. Good point, but if the alcohol consumption isn't over the top, just do it. On the other hand if someone is buying big ticket drink items, no I agree with her. Her tips left a bit to be desired for sure, especially since she grilled the waiter about every ingredient. She felt if she met us for a drink that she didn't have to pay ANYTHING because she was only drinking water. I made a scene one time and said you're paying for service, free nibbles and the ambience. Pony up.
    She ALWAYS says she's broke yet she lived in the Charlestown Navy Yard for years. I couldn't even afford it and I was making good money.

    Posted by Rosemary July 23, 09 05:45 PM
  1. Perhaps her economic situation has changed in a substantial way thus making frugal voluntary behavior frugal necessary behavior. My husband and I are preparing to buy a house and for the last year we have cut our budget to the bone and eliminated every bit of non-essential spending. It has been socially painful but we feel that the larger goal makes up for the deprivation.

    Posted by jen July 23, 09 05:57 PM
  1. It will help if you stop taking her cheapness personally. Yeah, she's got a problem - but she acts that way toward everyone, so don't get upset when she brings leftovers to a potluck. She's not saying to you specifically, "you're not worth it;" in her book, nobody's worth it. You might as well get upset over someone refusing to dance with you just because they happen to be in a wheelchair. Try only inviting her to situations where her problem won't get in the way - say, a movie & pizza, where the pizza money is calculated and collected before the delivery arrives.

    Posted by Columbine July 23, 09 07:20 PM
  1. I had dinner with a group of people that included a miser trying to cut down the tip after the meal.
    I made sure he saw me throwing an extra $20 bill on top of the 15% percent tip he had so carefully arranged.

    Posted by Larry Thiel July 23, 09 07:20 PM
  1. #30 my parents were those parents. And you know what? It was the BEST thing in the end. It caused me a little passing heartache as a kid, but I learned to not be materialistic and I will never have to pay a cent to take care of my parents. They buy me things now as an adult, that mean much, much more than a My Little Pony for Christmas ever could have meant to me at 10, Driving 50 miles for a good Christmas tree was an adventure. I'm just saying it might not be the worst thing ever for those kids. I would hesitate to judge the love inside a house by the purchases you see from the outside.

    Money spent does not equal love.

    I am super cheap about material things I get for myself. I have to be. I dress pretty darn well for a Goodwill shopper, and I refuse to buy new what can be found used (which is darn near everything). I {heart} not filling landfills. But when it comes to people - paying artists for the work, paying waiters for their time, going the extra mile for a gift for a dear friend..that's where the money is important to spend.

    Posted by verena July 23, 09 08:11 PM
  1. Jen(#60), if things are that tight, by circumstance or by choice, then the "friend" in question should NOT be going on social dinners with the group and should also speak up and say she'd rather not exchange gifts, rather than put everyone else in an uncomfortable position. The "friend" sounds like a chronic penny pincher who would be happier at home re-using tea bags and cutting off the ends of her toothpaste tube...seriously, getting vehement about dividing THREE DOLLARS amongst the group and all huffy about overtipping a waiter? If you can't afford to go out to eat (or think it's too expensive) then don't go...

    Posted by urkiddinme July 23, 09 08:30 PM
  1. The key to this discussion is the word "pathological." if so, then nothing anyone says is going to make any difference in this person's behavior. My father would become physically ill when he had to write a check for some household item. His answer was to sign the check and let my mother fill it the amount. If he didn't know what an item cost, then and only then could he enjoy it.. All deteriorating household items were sent to "the camps" for reuse before going to the dump, and by then they needed their final resting place.. My father used this penultimate destination so that he could work out this pathologic need to be frugal as a form of therapy. It worked out quite well for everyone. If this person is ordinarily parsimonious, then she needs to be talked to, but if she is ill, then she probably needs professional counseling if she wants to help herself.

    Posted by M. Smith July 23, 09 09:15 PM
  1. I am a child of depression children. My parents were raised in rural Maine during the great depression. I was raised hearing their stories, of how the town chipped in one winter and my grandfather (who one of the few trucks) drove to Boston to buy salt fish. My great uncles then drove to northern Maine to buy potatoes. And that was what the town lived on for the winter of 1930. With that upbringing my parents taught me the value of money and spending it wisely. But I was also taught to be generous. Frugality and generosity are not mutually exclusive terms. You friend lacks generosity and to my mind is not frugal, or 'cheap' as you say, but selfish.
    The thing about selfish people is that they can never ever truly be your friend. because because friendship requires a giving, something that is pathologically impossible for the selfish.

    Posted by Hank July 23, 09 11:19 PM
  1. May I point out that calling people who live by "reuse, recycle" principles "patholological" is totally backwards. We live in a world where's it's OK to throw out *millions* of plastic bags every day after one THAT'S pathological on a huge level.

    Real pathological problems with hoarding and such do exist, and some people are clinically incapable of selecting an appropriate gift, and I stand by the idea that spending money for people is good (don't quibble over tips, I mean). But frugality is not by definition pathological, no, not even if you find it icky and weird and uncomfortable. I feel wildly uncomfortable around gratuitous shoppers, myself. Of which I don't know many, thank goodness.

    Posted by verena July 24, 09 07:20 AM
  1. Of course Verena and Hank are BOTH right. I'm a resale shop shopper for me and my own children. I believe in delayed gratification. But I'm generous with OTHERS. Generous people are not necessarily gratuitious shoppers. It's a spirit that, as I've said before, is unconnected to financial state. Is it more acceptable in the majority culture (white, middle class) to be cheap with others (tips, food brought at gatherings) than in so called "ethnic" communities (of which I'm part)? In minority communities, where more people may have struggled at some point, it's seen as correct and appropriate to share what you have (not to bring recycled gifts or old food to a gathering, for example, announcing that YOU are saving for a house, and complaining that "everyone else is materialistic" who doesn't see it your way). You can be ecofriendly, frugal, AND generous. Or you can be selfish in deed and spirit.

    Posted by local July 24, 09 09:35 AM
  1. To each his own. Stop criticizing and putting other people down because of your perceptions. One day we may all be digging around in the dirt for a scrap of food. This is all social posturing and fragile egos on parade. Who cares if someone is a cheapskate? As long as you are not then don't worry about it and put your energy into doing good for the world instead of criticizing someone's fricking pot luck offerings. Jesus this navel gazing is unreal.

    Posted by Togi August 7, 09 02:02 AM
  1. I personally cannot remain friends with cheap people because I find myself to be a generous individual with my money towards my friends.It becomes too much of a hassle and ruins my day and life is too short for that.

    Posted by LALA August 30, 09 01:54 AM
About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

Need Advice?

Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email

Ask us a question


Browse this blog

by category