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Is being a cheapskate an insult or a compliment?

Is being a cheapskate an insult or a compliment?

Is being a cheapskate an insult or a compliment?

Is it time to reappropriate the word cheapskate as a badge of pride rather than an insult? That’s only a partially tongue in cheek question (tongue half in cheek). The point is, should we really deem it socially acceptable to make fun of people not wantonly spending?

This was prompted by a post on my Facebook page on Monday morning. I’d written:

The PM was on Daybreak this morning. The best thing I overheard was the illusionists from Britain’s Got Talent walking up to David Cameron and saying, "I voted for you, will you vote for us?"

And one of the early replies was:

He probably doesn’t vote, the cheap skate."

I then had a little banter with the person who posted the comment, suggesting ‘cheapskate’ shouldn’t be used as a term of abuse on the page of a money saving expert. To which she noted, actually she’d never paid to vote either.

But, this moment of fun got me thinking, the use of the terminology "cheap", "tight", "skin flint" or, as was sometimes heard in the playground "jewy" (deeply offensive for its nasty racism as well as the financial element) and the various other iterations, which all prescribe the fact that someone not spending money, or sticking to their resources is a bad or negative thing.

Yet we live in a debt laden society, where people are struggling and actually for many people being restrictive with their spending is the right thing to do.

Of course there are some who are affluent but still skimp in a way that hurts others or themselves, that could rightfully be seen as underspending in a negative way – this is something we explored in the BBC Big Money Test, where one psychological measure of being too miserly is that you hold onto cash for its own sake, rather than seeing it as an enabler to boost your lifestyle.

However, often you still hear the phrase ‘cheapskate’ bandied from those who use money loosely, to others for not following their own profligate manner.

Unfortunately the only counter-phrase I can think of to throw back is the word ‘spendthrift’ and as I’ve written before, many people don’t understand this word (see Spendthrift – do you know what it means?).