A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Etiquette Tips for Dealing With a Cheap Friend

Updated: Feb. 15, 2023

Need help dealing with a friend who’s tight with their cash? Take these tips from Jodi RR Smith, nationally recognized etiquette consultant, speaker, and author of ‘From Clueless to Class Act.’


First: Understand the difference between thrifty and cheap

It’s important to first make the differentiation between someone who’s frugal or thrifty versus someone who’s cheap. Ultimately, it comes down to thought process. Someone who is frugal or thrifty is careful with their money, but they’re willing to spend it if it’s on something appropriate. Someone who’s cheap is constantly guarding their wallet—especially when it comes to others. A thrifty person might crosscheck prices online before buying a friend’s gift at a trendy boutique, but a cheap person will just rifle through their closet, pull out a sweater from the donation pile, and re-gift.


Turn pricey occasions into gifts

Dying to see the latest play on Broadway with your show tune-loving friend, but know she’ll be too cheap to go Dutch with the tickets? Gift her a ticket for her birthday. If you want to do something costly with a friend who’s unwilling to loosen their purse strings, make it your treat. You’ll enjoy spending time with them and build a shared memory. Just know that they’re likely not going to give you a Broadway show for your birthday, and that whatever they give you in return is fine. Here are other little things you can do to be a true friend.


Look for affordable alternatives

If you don’t want to shell out big bucks and take on the cost of a cheap friend, look for opportunities to spend time together without having to spend money. Go to a museum, hike a trail, have a picnic in the park, or attend a free lecture. These days, you don’t have to look far—there are ample opportunities to do activities outside of your house without spending tons of money.


Travel in larger groups

Traveling with more people can make things easier, especially when money’s concerned. Gathering a group of friends with different price points can help to accommodate everyone—for example, some people can pay for a fancier hotel while others book moderate or inexpensive hotels a few blocks away. Activities can also be divided among interests and price points (think gambling, fancy dinners, or a trip to Circ du Soleil), as long as everyone gets together for a few hours each day to catch up and go for a walk or head to the pool, activities that don’t really cost anything.

iStock/Marcio Silva

Consider the small stuff

There’s always going to be incidentals—getting a coffee in the morning, tipping the taxi driver, or feeding the meter. When planning an outing and talking about your budget ahead of time, consider unexpected costs. And remember, go into the talk without judgment.

iStock/Martin Dimitrov

Complete friendship audits

Once a year—whether on your birthday or New Year’s Eve, say—you should evaluate your friendships and do a bit of a self-audit. Ask yourself “Who do I spend my time and emotional energy with? When I spend time with them, do I feel happy afterward? And are these people supporting me in becoming my best self?” If your cheap friends pass the test, they’re definitely worth keeping around; just readjust how you spend time together. When it comes down to it, you should be able to have the same amount of fun with a friend whether you’re staying at a suite in a five-star hotel or sipping coffee at a roadside McDonald’s. If you can only enjoy someone’s company when you’re spending a lot of money, then you really need to question that friendship. Here are almost effortless ways for anyone to become more frugal.


Realize friendships aren’t quid pro quo

Friendships aren’t about being 50/50. They’re very much about being 90/10. It just has to go back-and-forth between who is giving more at any particular point. If you give your cheap friend a Hermes scarf on their birthday, you shouldn’t expect them to spend the same dollar amount on you. What you should expect is something equally thoughtful in return. Remember that the thought is just as important as the price point. If your friend knows you love incredibly thin butter cookies, and she spends her entire Saturday shopping for ingredients and slaving over a hot oven to make them for your birthday—but only spends $10 in the process—she’s exactly equivalent. Her thought, time, and energy speak louder than any price could.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest