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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : The Mormon Cheap Mentality » The Mormon Cheap Mentality

The Mormon Cheap Mentality

Don - October 23, 2006

Is it just me, or is it true…Mormon’s have a cheap mentality. It seems to me that it might even be part of our Mormon culture to be cheap. Maybe I’m more sensitive about this than others because I’m in business.

Maybe I’m just more aware of the cheapness when it comes to Mormons that we deal with. Here’s what I mean. Our movie theater in Utah has the lowest snack bar sales per ticket sold than any other location in the 7 other states I’ve owned theater in.

Our bridal store has the largest selection of modest wedding gowns in the entire Northwest. Prices range from $250-$600 for these gowns. We couldn’t sell a $1,000 modest gown no matter what. In fact we’ve even had Mormons come in and try on our gowns and tell us to our face they are doing it to get ideas so they can make their gown. (That’s never happened with the regular immodest gown selection).

Our fitness club has had a large number of Mormons who have taken advantage of our one month’s free membership, but so far only one has signed up for a regular membership.

My wife is a bargin maniac. If it’s not on sale…she won’t buy it. Thrift store shopping is common amoung our culture. Our ward even has a 5 week SS class on budgeting, spending and finances.

What causes all this? Since we pay tithing and other offerings does that make us more money conscious and frugal? Do our large families (which aren’t so large anymore) make it so we have to be more careful with our money? Are we all planning on going on missions when we retire, so we are saving like crazy now so we can afford it?

Is it just me?


  1. I see frugality as a good thing. I think all of those things that you mentioned may be part of the reason for this. The “preparing for disaster” attitude among us also plays a big part. I know I don’t want to be caught in a big disaster without having a nice savings. To me that means that I would rather have a slightly less cool shirt if it means that I will have a little more money to keep in the bank.

    The savior was probably pretty frugal don’t you think?

    Comment by Ian Cook — October 23, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  2. The savior was probably pretty frugal don’t you think?

    Unto Caesar, right? I mean, really, how can anyone even speculate on that?

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2006 @ 2:23 pm

  3. One time when complaining about worn-out merchandise in a second hand store in Utah, my wife–while looking at the patches on my jeans–responded that Mormons are as cheap as me.

    Comment by jose — October 23, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

  4. I think there is a big difference in the meanings of the words “cheap” and “frugal”. Being frugal implies good spending habits and understanding the value of money. Being cheap doesn’t. So much money/credit is wasted just in keeping up with the illusion of prosperity that we end up struggling to make payments even for the neccessities of life.

    I’ve found that I can do without most things. The trick is to find what products enhance the quality of my life, and ignore the rest.

    Comment by Chad — October 23, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

  5. The problem is people paying tithing based off the gross income, not the net income! ha!

    Comment by David J — October 23, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

  6. Don,

    I like the way you used your wife as an example of a cheapskate right after ripping on them for the whole post. Hope she’s not reading :)

    Although I am in favor of being frugal, I cringe at some of the examples in the post. I am fine with not buying junk food at the movie theater, but I am not fine with trying on a bunch of gowns at a store when you have no intention of buying one. Same for the free trial membership. I hate it when people take advantage of businesses, just like I hate businesses who take advantage of people (like how fitness clubs only offer 5 year memberships because they know people sign up in January and never go back after February). My wife abuses the return policy at lots of stores, which is a frequent source of conflict.

    Comment by Jacob — October 23, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

  7. Institute a “try on” fee of $10-$20 with credit towards the purchase of a dress.

    Institute a $5-$10 dollar “first month” fee with credit towards the purchase of a membership.

    Lower the prices on your snacks! Who wants to pay $7 for a ticket and another $7 for popcorn and soda?

    Comment by ed42 — October 23, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  8. I see nothing wrong with looking at how frugal Christ may have been. I mean, after all, he fasted 40 days, I wonder how much he saved over that?

    Fine Rusty, maybe there isn’t enough in the scriptures to really speculate on how He spent his money.

    Comment by Ian Cook — October 23, 2006 @ 9:34 pm

  9. I agree with ed42, though I realize that theater owners don’t make much money from the movies that they show, especially early in the movies release, forcing them to raise prices elsewhere. I still refuse to pay a butt load of money for popcorn and a soda.

    As far as wedding dresses, it’s a dress that’s going to be worn once and then put in a closet. I honestly don’t understand why people pay more than $1000 for an article of clothing they plan on wearing once.

    Comment by Ian Cook — October 23, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  10. I bought a book called the Tightwad Gazette – by Amy Dacyczyn a while back. It’s a compilation of newsletters over a 7 year run or so and it outlines everything topic related to saving money. It has some fantastic ideas on saving money and it changed my whole outlook on prosperity. Plus, it’s one of those books that are fun to read while eating cereal in the morning, or if you’re on the can :)

    Comment by Chad — October 23, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

  11. Ed, our theater admission price is $1.00. We even tried having 1/2 price snack bar prices on Wednesday and the mormons still didn’t buy and brought their own food in. We have 50 cent Tuesdays and that doesn’t change how much they spend at the snack bar.

    Our snack bar prices are the cheapest in town. We have a bottomless tub of popcorn for $4.50, that’s a buck and a half cheaper than the big bags of popcorn at the store, and it’s fresh and ALL you and everyone with you can eat.

    Comment by Don — October 23, 2006 @ 11:51 pm

  12. Ian, a wedding dress may be only worn once, but your wedding pictures are for a lifetime. You and your children see that dress in front of the temple….at your reception….with husband and wife and family all posed so nicely. Pictures are the biggest justification of spending the money on a dress.

    Since Mormons get married in the temple, the dress showing off at the ceremony is of no value, so we cheap out, get something that will do and look ok in the pictures. Non members have the actual marriage ceremony to worry about, plus the reception….which usually lasts lots longer than ours do. No wonder they spend the money and we don’t.

    Comment by Don — October 23, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

  13. Since Mormons get married in the temple, the dress showing off at the ceremony is of no value, so we cheap out, get something that will do and look ok in the pictures.

    My wedding dress was not just for the pictures. It seemed to me that since I was going to need a white dress for the wedding and for the temple thereafter, I would just have a wedding dress that could be used as a temple dress.

    So I did. Used it for 20+ years. When my own daughter went to the temple, I decided to get something more mature looking–but it still fits and I expect to be buried in it.

    So on a cost-per-wear basis, it was pretty darn frugal.

    Comment by Naismith — October 24, 2006 @ 4:24 am

  14. I think we are, generally, cheap. We’ve had frugality and thrift drummed into us since we were 3 years old in the Sunbeams.

    And too many of us hold onto that last dollar as if it’s our key to salvation.

    One way out, without busting the budget, is to be generous selectively. Get the lower priced entree at the restaurant, or skip dessert, but give the server a generous tip. (Is $20 going to break your bank? If so, stay home and eat warmed over oatmeal for dinner. But an extra $20 on top of a normal tip will make the server think you’re a decent chap after all.)

    Comment by Mark B. — October 24, 2006 @ 6:16 am

  15. Here in the midwest renting bridal gowns is becoming popular. You don’t keep the dress, of course, but the pictures are just as good or better, because renting lets you get a better dress than you can buy.

    Don, I assume that with a $1.00 theater, you’re showing movies that have just come out on video. Why not sell DVD’s and videos in the theater?

    Do video arcade machines in the lobby generate much revenue? Every theater around here seems to have those.

    Comment by Bookslinger — October 24, 2006 @ 7:54 am

  16. Like others commenting I think there’s a stark difference between being frugal and being cheap. My wife and I live well below our means but that doesn’t make us cheap, it makes us frugal. Whenever I think I might be venturing into the reahlm of cheap I ask myself one simple question– “Would this be something George Costanza might do?” If the answer to that question is “yes” then I change course right quickly. Bringing your own food to the movie theater is something George would (and did) do. Trying on wedding dresses just to get ideas is something he’d have his fiance do. Buying kids toys or clothing at a thrift store or garage sale is something he’d never do. That’s the key– don’t ask WWJD, ask WWGCD.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — October 24, 2006 @ 7:55 am

  17. I like that WWGCD thing.

    I’m pretty cheap. I love sales, thrift stores, and factory outlets. We have found amazingly good stuff in other people’s trash (in Japan where they throw out perfectly good stuff like stereo systems and such). Our cars are from the 80′s. My wedding dress cost $40. I hate tipping.

    But I don’t take food into movie theaters.

    Comment by meems — October 24, 2006 @ 8:15 am

  18. It is hard to say anyone living in this country with its incredible standard of living could really be cheap as opposed to frugal. I think the injunction against fine twined linens in the BOM is part of the issue. The rest undoubtedly goes back to Utah pioneer culture with maxims like, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

    Certainly, there exists a point where one could get pharasaical about such rules but with most the world living in complete squalor, I think we are infinitely more likely to confuse wants for needs rather than vice versa. I really do like Mark B.s suggestion to become selectively generous, I’m all about big tipping, especially in light of our lack of alcohol consumption that runs up the tips of the gentile world.

    Comment by Doc — October 24, 2006 @ 8:20 am

  19. Endless,
    Brilliant! I LOVE it!

    I hate tipping.
    Meems, while I understand the sentiment there’s something inside me that is saying, “then don’t go somewhere with servers!” Of course, I was a server.

    That’s interesting about the big tipping to compensate for lack of alcohol…as if you owed the establishment a certain sized bill. I’m not saying you’re wrong for doing so, I just think it’s an interesting idea.

    Comment by Rusty — October 24, 2006 @ 9:23 am

  20. Hey, I’ll bet most Mormons “order” water to drink when they go out to dinner…is that cheap or frugal?

    Comment by Don Clifton — October 24, 2006 @ 10:36 am

  21. Don,

    Beyond cheap or frugal, its healthier. It is perhaps fairer to the server to tip in excess to make up for it however.

    Comment by Doc — October 24, 2006 @ 11:35 am

  22. I know a member who is a millionaire several times over. When his daughter got married, her reception was held at the ward, with paper plates, the cheapest food you’ve ever seen, and at 9 p.m. he started hustling everyone so he could go home.

    Comment by Zack — October 24, 2006 @ 11:37 am

  23. Don – Water is healthy!

    Frugal is water. Cheap is water with lemons and then raiding the sugar bowl to make lemonade.

    Frugal is eating out at the nice restaurants at lunch. Frugal is using the coupons. Cheap is waving the coupons around, cheap is tipping on the post coupon price.

    If you have a restaurant you like, tipping well is the best way to ensure you have a good time. My wife and I love a medium priced BBQ restaurant. we don’t usually order the big rib combos, and don’t get the $100 bar bill, but to compensate we tip around 25% or more. Thus we get prompt service and a little extra attention which makes the experience much more enjoyable. and that is really the point of eating out. If you just want the calories, there are cheaper ways to do it. As far as tipping goes, on a basic inexpensive meal out the difference between a good tip and a bad one can be the difference of a dollar or two.

    Don, the $4.50 popcorn makes me wish I was back in UV again. Here a night at the movies costs around $40 for my wife and I.

    Endless – I love the WWGCD rule! I’ll have to share that with my family. They are constantly on that fine line between frugal and cheap.

    Comment by Jay S — October 24, 2006 @ 11:53 am

  24. When I operated a law practice in a community with many LDS, I could always tell whether a potential client on the telephone was LDS or not.

    Non-LDS caller:
    “I have a problem…..How can you help me solve this?”

    LDS caller:
    “How much would it cost for you to get me out of this problem?”

    Then there was the ward member who loudy accosted me across the grocery store (yes, he was several aisles away), claiming that the bishop had told him I would provide free services for his drug-dealing son. Of course the bishop had said nothing of the kind.

    Comment by Nick Literski — October 24, 2006 @ 12:17 pm

  25. Cheap is my MIL. Example: When I first married, they asked us to come on their family ski trip. They had a cabin they got for free from the company (score right?), they took everyone (we are from phx so, no snow gear) to walmart to get coats/hats/gloves/long underwear etc to ski in. They bought gear for about 7 people and it only came to 300 bucks. I thought that was amazingly cheap and was all impressed…until my MIL started throwing a fit to the cashier about the price adn started going through every last item trying to understand why it cost so much. Created a major scene. The culprit? The gloves I picked out where the more expensive option (they were a whopping 4.50 instead of 3.50) and so she threw them out, then they decided it would be ‘cheaper but just as fun’ to play in the snow by the cabin then actually get lift tickets (we were only going to go for one half day as it was) (so much for the ski trip-these people can totally afford it to, so that wasn’t the issue). (She also keeps the popcorn bags from the movies and brings them the next time for a ‘free refill’) When my husband was on his mission, he wrote home that he was pretty cold and needed some sweaters to wear under his coat. She sent him a sweater she found in the attic that was his from fifth grade and was full of holes. They are quite wealthy…she could have gotten him a sweater (shoot…a trip to the thrift store would have been a step up).

    Now, to me, THAT is cheap. The thing is…it has totally made my husband like pyscho about money. He grew up with a cheap mom constantly telling him they couldn’t afford things (even basic things) when he knew they could. He had such a hangup about it that now he is like mr. waste money, and when I say we can’t afford something (and we really really can’t)…he doesn’t believe me.

    I also think that alot of these wealthy mormons who are cheap this way are doing it to not ‘look’ rich, because thats unrighteous (I know said inlaws constantly gossip about their rich friends and how they waste money and ‘dont live the standards’). But, its not like they are using all that saved money on Fast offerings…far from it. They are hoarding it for that rainy day in the future and its not benefiting anyone…not their family, not the poor, not the church. I’m all for living simple – but, it often turns into a scrooge-type hoarding of money. They have just become stingy.

    Oh ps – I got an $800 wedding dress and have never regretted it. It is the only dress i have ever cared about (and, I wore it in the temple too…) Serious craftmanship went into that dress and I don’t think it wouldve been fair to pay much less than that. Plus, its something I may only wear once, but I will keep forever.

    Comment by Veritas — October 24, 2006 @ 12:38 pm

  26. Actually, my wife’s wedding dress cost $88, and she actually plans on cutting it up to make into a quilt. That way she can display it without looking weird. My MIL and her friends made the dress.

    Comment by Ian Cook — October 24, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  27. Re: 12, if the value of a wedding dress is in the pictures, a bride could forgo the expense and just photoshop in Princess Di’s dress into the picture. Re: 22 and 25 Cheap isn’t how little people spend on you for a gift, it is complaining how little others spend on gifts for you.

    Comment by jose — October 24, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

  28. Meems, while I understand the sentiment there’s something inside me that is saying, “then don’t go somewhere with servers!”

    Ha! I didn’t say that I don’t tip… I do! I have manners and live up to cultural expectations like everyone else –I just HATE it. The other option is to move to just about any other country in the entire world and either have the tip built into the price of the bill or have it entirely eliminated. I absolutely don’t see the logic in it. As a teacher, I make a very modest salary, but I don’t expect parents and students to come running up to me handing me tips when I give a particularly good lesson. (Or still feel obligated to tip me when I prepare a very mediocre or crappy lesson). And I feel I am serving my clients. I serve about 90 kids a day. I prepare things for them, I give them feedback, I answer questions, and I even take their complaints. Why tip a waiter and not me? Why not build the tip into the food price, service charge or salaries of the servers? I just don’t “get” tips. If it says it’s $20 to get my nails done, then let me pay $20! Don’t expect me to pay $20 plus $5 tip. If that’s what you want, just put $25 on the gosh darn sign and be up front about it! And I know I’ve just offended about a jillion people reading this right now. Sorry. Sorry Rusty!

    Comment by meems — October 24, 2006 @ 11:01 pm

  29. Meems,
    No offense at all, in fact, you could be right about building it into the price. In a perfect world the server would work hard for her tip and be grateful for anything she gets. Of course it’s usually the opposite. The one that I don’t understand are the people that do your hair. You’re already paying them for their service (cutting, styling your hair) why am I paying them a tip in addition to that? At least at the restaurant I feel like the meal cost goes to the hosts, cooks, bussers, dishwashers AND THE FOOD ITSELF!!

    Comment by Rusty — October 25, 2006 @ 6:43 am

  30. There’s only one problem, Meems, with that last post, and that is that the rest of the world is, in fits and starts, catching up with the U.S. on tipping. Which leaves a traveler completely unsure of what to do.

    But, why get upset about it. Will $5.00 break your bank? Be generous–those waiters aren’t getting paid minimum wage, and it’s not easy work.

    And, as Rusty said, if you don’t want to tip, go to McDonalds. (I know he didn’t say exactly that.)

    Comment by Mark B. — October 25, 2006 @ 7:28 am

  31. In his Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell reported that during the Spanish Civil War, the Barcelona barbers were all anarchists. The barbers abolished tipping because being tipped represented a subservience to the ones tipping them, and they didn’t want to continue that order of things. Don’t worry about it though: Franco won.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 25, 2006 @ 7:55 am

  32. Okay okay. I concede. I don’t want to be banished to McDonald’s or some other yucky place. But for the last 15 years I’ve been living in 4 different countries and none of them have the custom of tipping, so every time I go home and visit my fave restaurants or take a taxi, it’s like a knife in my heart. That, and the 8.5% sales tax. Ouch. ;-)

    Comment by meems — October 25, 2006 @ 7:56 am

  33. I always knew I’d make a good fascist.

    Comment by meems — October 25, 2006 @ 7:57 am

  34. One reason we don’t tip teachers is the supposed equality we have. If we allow parents to tip, then aren’t we saying that the parents who tip will get a superior education for their kids? I’m not ok with that. But don’t teachers get tipped anyway? I know at the school I went to as a kid, the teachers routinely got several hundred dollars at christmas and the end of the year.

    I am ok with me getting better service than the guy sitting next to me.

    I like it when I valet, that if I slip the guy a bill when I leave my car he parks it close and I don’t have to wait with the socks and sandals crowd. I like it when the Maitr’d seats me in early and calls me Mr. I don’t mind paying a little extra for that.

    Comment by jay s — October 25, 2006 @ 8:16 am

  35. Hey, Jay! I’ve already conceded. You are all right, and I am wrong. I am wrong wrong wrong.

    However, you missed my point about tipping teachers. You’ve made a faulty assumption when you said “If we allow parents to tip, then aren’t we saying that the parents who tip will get a superior education for their kids?” The way things are now, in case you haven’t noticed, tipping is not optional. Why would it be optional for parents to tip teachers? It’s not optional for me to tip the hairdresser; it’s expected. (And why should we have to bribe anyone to do their job properly? Shouldn’t a valet or maitre d’ treat everyone with courtesy?)
    (And no, teachers don’t get tipped anyway! I don’t know anyone who pulls in that kind of booty. Maybe a plant or some bubble bath….)

    Yeah, mandatory tipping for each lesson I provide. That’s the ticket! :-)

    Comment by meems — October 25, 2006 @ 9:07 am

  36. “Valet” isn’t a verb, and you can’t pay me a big enough tip to change my mind.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 25, 2006 @ 9:45 am

  37. I used to run an LDS e-commerce site with a friend. We used to receive regular emails from people complaining our prices were too high and how can we live with ourselves knowing we were changing for than the Distribution Center. It didn’t make a difference when we explained that the Distribution Center is a wholesaler and we were a retailer.

    Comment by Kim Siever — October 25, 2006 @ 9:49 am

  38. Meems, I wasn’t trying to beat you over the head. The point of tipping is not to get someone to do their job properly, It is to get someone to do their job exceptionally well, for you! For a waiter, we tip 10% because they brought your food, which maybe should be built in. The rest you tip because you got, or would like to get next time, extra service (the quick drink refills, the kind suggestions away from an entree, the side of lemons etc)

    For schools, teachers routinely do go the extra mile. But our base expectation is that each child will get an education It would be inseemly for one parent to bribe a teacher for differential treatment. Not only is there the meritocracy referred to earlier, but teachers have enormous sway over the future our children have. The kids get all A’s, Harvard here we come, B’s and C’s, not so much. This starts early on. In my school, you were either in track one, (the smart kids), track two (average) or track 3 (remedial). This started in first grade, and not many kids changed out of it. While no one is arguing that money can’t buy a better education, it is uncouth to be so obvious about it.

    I am sorry that you don’t get better “tips” at your school. Though i think some of what i experienced has gone by the wayside, as it is considered a bribe to give such lavish gifts.

    But getting back on track. one approach is that Our attitude towards others differentiates between cheap and frugal. Cheap towards others is cheap, cheap to ourselves is frugal. Another approach is that it comes down to values. If you approve of the category being scrimped on it is frugal, if not, it is cheap.

    Comment by jay s — October 25, 2006 @ 9:52 am

  39. Jay, I like your definitions of cheap and frugal, it fits for me.

    Comment by Don Clifton — October 25, 2006 @ 10:10 am

  40. I agree, that is an excellent definition.

    Comment by Doc — October 25, 2006 @ 11:28 am

  41. Interesting discussion, but no one has answered the real question: Are you supposed to tip at Sonic?

    Comment by Bradley Ross — October 25, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  42. I think the Mormons are like the Chinese who save 50% of their incomes. This is becasue they are in fact more wise and less narcissitic. No need to show off since they define themselves as part of a family rather then as an individual. I am doing an aritcle on this so i am looking for feedback on this point. Thank you

    Comment by tom ferraro phd — November 13, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

  43. tom,

    I’m glad I clicked on your comment because that is a fascinating point of view:) I like it a lot. It goes along with our goal (and many other societies, of course) of reaching a Zionistic society. (i.e.–Of one heart and one mind. See Moses 7:18)

    Comment by Bret — November 14, 2006 @ 3:43 am

  44. So true!!! mormons are so cheap and frugal… All the wedding receptions are just about the same, I’m tired of the same stuff at wedding receptions, I will have a wedding reception that will make their jaws drop, just to prove a point.

    Comment by ROSS — November 30, 2006 @ 6:27 pm

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