In cheap we trust


Cheap. Cheap suit. Cheap date. Cheap shot. It’s a dirty word, rife with negative associations…or is it?

I sense the winds of change may be blowing in, and cheap may be on its way to morphing into a major virtue.

old woman

Growing up in post-war America when the economy was booming and we were reveling in new opportunities, the word “cheap” bordered on miserly. 

If you were cheap, you shopped discount stores and purchased things made in China…or worse, you were a floozy.  It was an insult, almost any way you looked at it.

I read that at the turn of the last century, American women typically had two dresses – one for everyday and one for Sunday best.  Oh my gosh.  I counted 16 dresses in my “active” closet – six of which I detest, four I can’t get into, two needing a trip to the cleaners.  That leaves four potential candidates and one is my “funeral dress.”

I guess I’m not terribly unlike my great grandmother with her two frocks – except she was frugal while I am merely a poor planner.  Lately, I feel myself converting from extravagance (according to my ex husband) to thrifty – sounds better than cheap.

Journalist Lauren Weber knows a little something about being cheap and she has used her memories to produce a new publication entitled “In cheap we trust.” When she was growing up, her father refused to set the heat above 50 degrees during the winter in New England, but rather than resent those days, she has an appreciation for the restraint and simplicity.

“Cheapness doesn’t necessarily require abstinence and austerity — simply a thoughtfulness and care about how we live, and a skepticism toward the messages peddled by the retail-industrial complex,” she writes.

“It means seeing oneself as an outsider in a world that values instant gratication and promotes the idea that we can understand and express our identities through the products we consume. It means embracing and even cultivating an adversarial relationship with consumer culture. It means rejecting the belief that spending money is the route to feeling good about ourselves or feeling better than, or the same as, or different from other people, that it can help us fulfill our longings or soothe our hearts.”

I heard her in a radio interview while I was cruising around town yesterday and it struck a harmonious chord with me.  I have converted from an extravagant “keep up with the Jones” kind of person who now has a devil may care attitude regarding affluence. (Of course, I WAS a Jones, but not a bonafide one, just a cheap copy.) 

Weber asserts we should reconsider cheapness. She asks why we malign and make fun of people who save money. After all, when we as a nation and as individuals are so dangerously overleveraged, when we’ve watched our global financial system teeter and then tumble “because of greed and ill-considered spending, when all of us could use a little more parsimony in our daily lives, why is it an insult to be called cheap?”

You go girl.

4 thoughts on “In cheap we trust

  1. Since I’ve been on an extremely strict budget these last 3 yrs, which required me to do without, or shop for the best bargain, I’ve come to love resale shops more than ever. My very well to do friends are in constant amazement of the clothes I find (some never worn, still with price tags, designer clothes, purses,shoes),etc. They are even asking me to take them to these shops, especially the 50 cent store – where I buy many of my belongings. The frugality has really made me proud, since I can have my cake and eat it too, but most of all, it is a testament that I am so happy to be a steward of the little money that God has given me the last few years. It makes me so sad to see people throwing away perfectly good things, when there is always a market out there for them. One of my favorite sites is There are freecycle groups all over the country. Google and see what you come up with. You’d be amazed at the things people will give you vs. seeing it go into a landfill. Good luck with your freecycling.

  2. You continue to amaze me with all you have accomplished. What did you do with the Martha I grew up with who was as vapid as myself? Where do you find a 50cent store? Going right now to the freecycle site…thanks.

  3. We used to laugh at my Daddy, whose favorite saying was, “Work hard and save your money!” My goodness, now I’m just like him!

  4. Emily,
    You should feel right at home at that Humble, Tx. site. Our distant cousins founded the place and just about everyone there is related to us! Ha!
    You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Cuz

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