Monday, December 26, 2011

Being on a Tight Budget vs. Being a Tightwad

If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip.
Photo by worradmu

Remember this post?  It sparked several discussions, and I enjoyed following them.  One of the questions raised was:  “If you can afford special services, shouldn’t you be tipping those people?”

Of course you should.  My post was primarily aimed at people who can’t afford special services and who worry about trying to find extra money in the budget to tip people who are normally a part of life, like teachers and mail carriers and trash collectors.  If you’ve got enough extra money to consider hiring a house cleaner, you should think of the tip as part of the wages you can expect to pay, and budget for it accordingly.

I can’t afford a house cleaner.  I can, occasionally, afford to eat dinner out, on special occasions.  Actually, it’s probably arguable if I can afford to eat dinner out, but sometimes we do, so let’s not quibble about it, okay?  On those rare occasions when I eat out at a place where I am expected to tip, I do so, and I consider it part of the bill.  I would never not tip with the intention of saving money.  That is where you cross the line into tightwad. 

I’m on the mailing list of several “get your money under control” type people.  One of those people is Mary Hunt.  I don’t know if you are familiar with her or not.  She has a pretty decent method for getting out of debt and usually gives fairly good advice about handling your finances.  However, earlier this year, she posted a piece about tipping in restaurants.  I can’t link to it, because you have to pay a fee to get access to her blog (paying a fee to read a blog about saving money?  Sheesh) and I refuse to pay money, when so much advice is available for free.  She posts the blogs on Facebook, and they are accessible for about a week for free. 

Anyway… in this post, she was griping because the restaurant where she liked to eat lunch had raised its prices.  She wasn’t griping about the price increase, though; she was griping because she didn’t like that, based on the 15 – 20 percent tipping rule, the servers “got a raise” because of the price increase. She didn’t think that was fair.  She decided that she was going to tip based on the previous prices.

You should have seen the feedback she got on that one.  If people had had access, she probably would have been run out of town on a rail.  Talk about a tightwad.  I was one of the ones who gave her a good reaming.  Here were my primary arguments:

  1. Prices are going up everywhere.  Those servers probably have to pay more for their own groceries, health care, rent, gasoline, etc. etc.  Prices increase at restaurants because the business has to pay more for the ingredients.  They can’t afford to eat the difference.  You can bet the extra isn’t going into your server’s pockets. 
  2. In many parts of the country, servers quite literally live off their tips.  They are exempted from minimum wage laws because it’s expected that they will make up the difference in tips.  Trust me when I say that no server is getting rich because tipping 15 percent requires you to leave an extra quarter. 
  3. If you can’t afford to tip the proper amount, you can’t afford to eat out.  Period.  

Her attitude throughout this post was appalling.  She sounded so smug and seemed quite convinced that she was above these lowly servers.  I was glad so many people called her out.  

At one point in her life, she was like us.  Struggling and trying to get by.  Through her book sales, speaking engagements and website subscriptions, she’s become quite a wealthy woman.  I think she’s forgotten how it is to depend on others’ generosity. No matter how much or how little money you have, don’t be like that.  Tight budget is okay.  Tightwad is not.


  1. A'mee, what a good person you are! Having been a waitperson for many years, I can verify that waitpeople work for tips. Their "paychecks" usually amount to zero, because all the taxes, including those paid upon tips, are deducted from your wages. If you are stiffed, you still pay income tax on a percentage of the check! So, if you do not receive a tip, the customer will actually cost you money to serve. As a rule, the people with the least are compassionate, and will tip to the best of their ability. Most people are so nice to deal with, but you never forget the truly arrogant, difficult, picky and demanding people. I'm certain they would be surprised to find their behavior is abnormal! If you patronize a restaurant, where people literally work mostly for tips, don't go if you cannot or will not, or object to, leaving a fair tip. If you are unable to tip your hairdresser, or your nail technician, they would rather have you patronize them than lose a tip, because the bulk of their money comes from commission. A'mee, I'm so glad you posted this, and I also find the woman whom you described as being very mean spirited. There are MANY ways to be frugal, but being frugal and stretching your dollars can be, and should be done without shorting others.

  2. My sister delivered pizza for a few years. I remember her once telling me that they would actually argue and fight over who got to go to the "poor" neighborhoods and who had to go to the "rich" neighborhoods. Why? Because the people in the poor neighborhoods tipped better, while the people in the rich neighborhoods were more likely to stiff you. Pretty sad, huh? That's actually really good information though, I had no idea that servers were still expected to pay tax based on the "expected" tip. That makes her "theory" about servers getting "unearned raises" even more ridiculous and cruel. I promise to NEVER be like that, even when I'm a super billionaire writer (lol!).