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When frugal goes waaay too far: TLC’s ‘Extreme Cheapskates’

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Extreme cheapskates takes frugality to a scary placeI hope you’re lucky enough to have never had to endure an episode of the TLC show “Extreme Cheapskates,” but if you have, you’ll know it’s chockfull of sad people doing disgusting and/or risky things that very often save them little money, but do make for great shock value.

From serving cat food to unsuspecting guests disguised as tuna salad, to sharing each piece of dental floss with their partner, these people have found some truly repugnant ways to save $5 a month. Others pride themselves in being “human lab rats” who participate in any clinical trial they can find, up to and including invasive surgery, without appearing to consider the health risks and potentially expensive long-term health problems they could cause.

You could dismiss the show’s stars as attention-grubbing lunatics and change the channel, but I think they’re doing harm that extends beyond the humiliation they heap on their friends and loved ones. Here are three reasons I don’t like the show and sincerely hope it bombs.

1. It makes noncrazy frugal people look bad. In a society as materialistic as ours, being frugal already carries with it a certain social stigma at it is. Taking a pass on a lunch out with work friends, biking to work instead of driving and clipping lots of coupons are all likely to get you strange looks. Having a show that portrays frugal people as insane shut-ins who eat food out of Dumpsters to save a few pennies and use an old water bottle instead of toilet paper isn’t going to help things.

2. Mooching off others does not equal frugality. Real frugality isn’t about shifting your costs to others. It’s not OK to wear clothes several times and then take them back to the store afteward. It’s not OK to grab as much bottled water as you can whenever you’re a guest in people’s homes so you can use it to wash your car and cut your water bill. It’s not OK to go to a buffet restaurant with five people and only pay for three plates. Real frugality is about living a simpler life and developing good habits that save you money over time, not taking advantage of others to put more money in your pocket. You are the reason they put the ketchup behind the counter at McDonald’s. Just stop.

3. A lot of their methods for saving money are really dumb. Unless your time is virtually worthless, it makes no sense to spend it doing things like hitting a ceiling fan with a stick to get it going instead of turning on a switch, or digging through Dumpsters to find a bag full of old rice, or trying to wash all your clothes in the shower. Even at minimum wage, your time is worth $7.25 an hour, so spending hours each month to save $6 on your water bill isn’t giving you good value.

Look, if you’re living in real poverty and are barely getting by, I can understand resorting to some of these methods, and we here at Bargaineering are not above trying some unconventional methods to save money. But if you have other options, I can’t imagine spending your life living the way many of these people do.

Fun fact: TLC was founded by NASA and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and I bet they’re very, very proud of what they created (to be fair, it didn’t get Honey-Boo-Boo-ized until long after it was privatized in 1980).

What do you think? Would you watch the show? Are there any methods to save money you think go too far?

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14 Responses to “When frugal goes waaay too far: TLC’s ‘Extreme Cheapskates’”

  1. Meagan says:

    I’m sure I will watch the show, as I have terrible taste in reality tv (Sister Wives & all the various Kardashian shows) but that is nasty! And it’s downright mean to serve people cat food!

  2. “It’s not OK to grab as much bottled water as you can whenever you’re a guest in people’s homes so you can use it to wash your car and cut your water bill”

    Surely that’s a joke? Nobody can actually think that’s a good idea, can they? The effort involved + the gas price of transporting the extra weight easily outweighs any potential monetary water saving.

  3. Claes Bell says:

    Meagan: Totally agree
    William: Yes … it’s like the most inefficient thing you could do.

  4. rick says:

    I saw a few episodes hoping to glean some good methods, but was put off as well. Especially ridiculous and loathsome was the guy who picked up rice kernels after weddings, served his wife dumpster roses on their anniversary and didn’t even bother to peel off the ugly petals and went around taking people’s leftovers. Also didn’t like the lady using towels as toilet paper, then washing and re-using them. You could still see the brown stains!

  5. Dauphine says:

    Psychopathy as demonstrated on TLCs “Extreme Cheapskate” left me gobsmacked. Blithely feeding cat food to one’s guests was beyond the pale. TLC should consider replacing the “L” from learning to “let down”.

  6. Jerry Mandel says:

    After reading all the news about sickness from “fresh” foods, the cat food probably meets higher cleanliness and purity standards. Is it really any cheaper than canned tuna?

  7. Krystal says:

    I did laugh at the cat food though. I thought I was crazy but these people on this show have me beat!

  8. JoeTaxpayer says:

    There’s a line between frugal and cheap. When you visit my house, you might think it quirky that some items are stocked up in cabinets. But you’ll find Cottonelle TP in my bathroom, not some brand that feels like sandpaper. Maxwell House Coffee gotten at Costco on sale 10-15 pounds at a time every six months or so.
    My daughter has a friend whose family shops in a way that screams “cheap,” not frugal. My purchases are higher quality, and yet, less expensive. I pick and choose, and don’t shove my frugality in anyone’s face.

  9. As most reality television shows, the majority of the show is contrived and exaggerated. Truly frugal people don’t steal ketchup packets and bottled water, just like you said. It’s all about making smarter choices and weighing those choices against the alternatives.

    Unfortunately, most of what makes me a frugal miser is too boring for television. That’s why they had to stretch the truth on this show – to get a reaction from people.

  10. Valerie Rind says:

    @Rick – I rarely watch any TV, but I saw the episode about That Guy. He sauntered around restaurants, asking strangers if he could have the rest of their meal and then scooping it up. Ewwwww, on so many levels.

  11. Allison says:

    I have seen the show and it’s shocking. The show tends to focus on special events like a 25 year or 10 year anniversary. It’s outrageous to dig in the dumpster and find half rotten roses and give it to your wife as a 25 year anniversary!! Or pick rice by city hall from weddings that occurred earlier in the day. I don’t know if there are any compensation to be on the show, but there must be .

  12. Michelle says:

    There are a few people on that show who exhibit obvious mental illness. I’m all about saving money and I don’t mind being creative but the sheer amount of time that some of these people spend on saving money makes them forget about the cost of “life.” They spend so much energy trying to save money that they end up in the red.

  13. Kim says:

    I agree with you 100%. Many ideas don’t seem very frugal when you look at the big picture. Lots of the frugal way seem to take advantage of other people.

    By the way, dairy product are good past the date by the way. That is NOT an expiration date. That is a sell by date so the store can’t sell you 8 month old sour cream. Milk is usually good for a week after the date.

  14. Jesse says:

    I do have one major point of contention with your take on this train wreck of a show: you seem to be arguing with the point of a show called “EXTREME Cheapskates” showing extreme examples of cheap people.
    Anyone over the age of 25 knows the difference between being frugal and conscientious, and being cheap or a bit crazy. The show, however, isn’t called “Frugality” or “Reasonable Methods of Saving Money”, it’s “Extreme Cheapskates”. I don’t know if they could’ve put more emphasis on that if they tried.
    For a lot of Americans who are really caught up in materialism, such as myself, watching the show did more good than harm: I was endlessly entertained by the shock value, but using my reasoning abilities also thought of a few ways based on these people that I could save money without dumpster diving. My mother and sister are both very frugal people, and I respect that, but anyone with a brain can tell there’s a vast difference between using cloth diapers for your child so you can wash them, and having a whole family share bathwater every night.
    Gross.


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