NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – If the heading to this column caught your eye, chances are you've sometimes found yourself gnawing on your arm in frustration with someone who does one or more of the following:
* Always pays the least (even after ordering the most) in group situations;
* Seeks out events mostly because they offer free food;
* Has never thrown a party that wasn't potluck;
* Hoards company supplies for personal use;
* Never fights to pay a bill;
* Prefers borrowing something of yours to buying his own;
* Always tips poorly, regardless of service; or
* Takes lightbulbs with him when he moves.
Now, I'm not talking about someone who is truly hard up for cash, or who every once in awhile makes an honest mistake when the check comes.
Nor am I talking about potluck-happy professionals or parents who are the only ones of their friends who make an effort to get people together.
I'm talking about someone who at least three people would agree readily is chronically cheap.
|HE'S SO CHEAP ...
|Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your best cheapskate stories.
Every time you throw in $20, he'll find reason to put in $15 – he claims not to have ordered as much, he's a little short of cash, he doesn't think the waiter deserves such a big tip, he feigns confusion about how you did the math, you name it.
Or worse, he doesn't say anything at all. He just waits for others to make up for his shortfall.
Two possible remedies
So, can anything be done to save your arm?
Maybe. It depends on how bold you're willing to be. But there are no guarantees.
Despite my usual snarkiness, I generally suck it up when I encounter such folks because I find confronting them so uncomfortable. I do, however, make a mental note never to marry them or mix with them again.
But that's not always possible when you're related, you work with them, or they're just part of your social set.
Etiquette maven Letitia Baldrige suggests a no-holds-barred approach when dealing with a repeat offender. "I always believe you have to speak up," she said.
So to the member of the group who comes up short every time, she recommends writing a note pointing out the situation and have it cosigned by other members of the group.
Personally, I can't imagine how this would work well. I suspect the person would feel rejected and ganged up on. On the other hand, if it's gotten to the point where the person is close to being shunned anyway, what's to lose?
Douglas Stone, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and coauthor of "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most," suggests taking a gentler, more psychological approach.
Talking with someone privately one-on-one might be effective, he said. But rather than spelling out the group's gripes – or your complaints as a spouse if you're married to a miser -- he suggests trying to suss out the underlying reasons for the person's behavior.
"People tend to listen if they feel understood first," Stone said. That can be useful if the goal is to get them to see their behavior from your point of view.
Stone's reasoning is that being cheap is usually about more than money. It can result from a deep-seated sense of deprivation or anger. Or it may be that the person has a different set of priorities.
For example, he said, someone may value financial security above all else so as to be able to weather any unexpected event. That person's generosity to family and friends may become evident in times of emergency. (If that's the case, I also think it's fair to gently point out that it's unreasonable to expect others to subsidize one's security over dinner, or to always expect your family or partner to live in a bare-bones, crisis-ready state.)
Once you touch on the reasons for the behavior, then you might come up with a mutually agreeable remedy, which might be picking a less expensive place or agreeing that those who don't drink shouldn't pay as much, etc.
And if those don't work ...
I'm sure Stone's method would work on people who are otherwise thoughtful and self-aware.
But I'm not sure it would be effective on those who scrimp for sport, because somewhere they reason in the most small-hearted of ways that he who ends up with the most wins, even if it means doing so at others' expense.
So if you really can't steer clear of a miser with this predilection, then I'd recommend resorting to a catty but gratifying strategy: joke about them behind their backs. I've enjoyed many laughs over the absurd behavior of perpetual tightwads. And I don't feel bad about it.
After all, I figure, I've already paid for the privilege.
Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 5 p.m. ET. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.