Feeling “Cheap” or “Poor”

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Anyone who strives to live frugally eventually comes across an experience that makes their frugality seem “cheap.”

They’ll serve a homemade meal that someone turns their nose up at because it’s not a prime cut. They’ll bring a thoughtful gift to a party only to find that everyone else paid out the nose for their shiny gifts. You’ll show up to an event and feel seriously under-dressed.

This actually happened to me recently. I was at a community dinner that accepted a freewill offering for a charity. There was a bucket at the start of the meal line. Since I wasn’t eating much, I felt perfectly fine putting in just a few dollars (most of the food was meat-oriented and I’m vegetarian). As I kept chatting with the person behind me, though, I noticed that he threw in a $20 bill, as did the person behind him… and the person behind him.

I felt cheap. In fact, I felt so bad about it that after the meal, I went and tossed another $10 in the freewill bucket.

Later on, though, I got rather upset with myself over feeling “cheap” and responding emotionally by throwing money at the problem. Going back and putting $10 more in the bucket was only necessary if I felt that helping that charity was a really worthwhile cause – and, honestly, I was more or less indifferent to the charity. I put in my initial $5 out of politeness.

Not too long ago, I felt cheap when we showed up to a potluck event and just brought a pretty ordinary salad. Other people brought amazing finger foods and other dishes, making our rather inexpensive side salad seem pretty ordinary. I felt bad about it during the event.

You know what? On the way home, I didn’t feel nearly as bad. Why? The host gave me back the bowl at the end of the event… and it was empty.

Whenever a social situation makes you feel “cheap” or “poor,” here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, the aspect that you’re fretting about is usually something that others don’t even notice – or, if they do, they don’t really care. Looking back on it, I don’t think anyone cared in the least how much I put into that charity bucket. I don’t think anyone at the party thought I was “cheap” or “poor” because of the dish we brought. What mattered in both cases is that I gave something and was actively participating.

If you think someone judges you as “poor” or “cheap” because of the dish you brought or the clothes you’re wearing or the car you’re driving, you’re putting your own thoughts into their heads. Almost always, those thoughts don’t even exist, and even if they do, they have relatively little impact on most of the people who would think them. Your stress is tied to a hypothetical bully that rarely shows his or her face.

Second, the reaction others have to what you consider to be a blunder might be positive. Our “cheap” salad was loved by the crowd, for example. Every bite of it vanished over the course of the evening.

Another example: I showed up to an event not too long ago woefully underdressed. Another person walked over to me not a minute after I arrived and said, “Whew, I wish I had worn something more like that. This suit is hot.” He then took off his jacket and held it over his arm, making us appear similarly dressed. Now, he might have simply been putting me at ease, but the situation did directly downplay my sense of having made a “cheap” social mistake.

Third, it doesn’t really matter what a random person on the street thinks of you. Does it matter what some guy on the street thinks of your old car? No. Does it matter what some bitter person thinks about the shirt you’re wearing? No.

The opinions that matter are the ones that are built out of things beyond dollars and cents. They’re built out of the person you are and the acts that you do, not the clothes you wear or the cars you buy or the salad you bring to a party.

Finally, it doesn’t take much extra effort to make inexpensive things seem quite classy. An ordinary salad looks amazing if presented well and made with fresh ingredients. An ordinary shirt works great in most situations if it fits you well and is ironed. An old car looks perfectly fine if it’s clean and well kept.

Respect the things that you have and those around you will respect them, too.

A sense of being “poor” or being “cheap” is just a state of mind. It comes from being self-conscious and worrying too much about what others think of you. Focus on doing good deeds and being friendly and any sense of being “cheap” fades quickly into the background.

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