We know there’s fine line between being frugal and being cheap. At this website, and many other other money-conscious websites, being frugal is something to be celebrated. There’s nothing wrong with trying to stretch a dollar. However, some times people take it too far, to the point of being cheap. That’s typically not something that is celebrated, save for a few people on TLC’s Extreme Cheapskates show.
Today, I’ve got something that I feel walks that fine line between frugal and cheap. I may have mentioned it a couple of times (especially in a SodaStream article), but I’m a big fan of True Orange. It’s a product that I don’t think a lot of people know about. Essentially it’s crystallized orange in a sugar packet-sized foil wrap. Add it to water (or carbonated water via a SodaStream) and you’ve got a lightly orange-flavored calorie-free drink. You avoid all the artificial sweeteners found in soda and the sugar in lemonade or juice. Nit-pickers may point out that soy (a controversial ingredient) and cane juice appear in the ingredients, but I believe it to be in too small a quantity to be significant. The same company makes True Lemon and True Lime, but their Orange is my favorite.
A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea that I could save myself a couple of dollars at restaurants by ordering water and add a packet of True Orange. The idea actually came to more for the health reasons mentioned above than the money saving reasons. I decided to put a packet in my thin wallet for future use. Last week, we were at the Olive Garden for lunch and it occurred to me this would be a good time to put my money saving plan into effect.
I had told my wife before and made sure that she wouldn’t be too embarrassed by my experiment. Her opinion was that you shouldn’t do in front of the waitress or with important company. Of course, I wouldn’t do that. I got to wondering whether it was “wrong” in the first place. I remember getting the following comment in my article about saving money at restaurants:
Drink water is fine. Request lemon is fine. But do NOT make pauper’s lemonade in a restaurant.
1. It is tacky
2. Water with lemon is a cost to the restaurant and a courtesy to the customer, don’t abuse it.
3. Your waiter will see you as a cheap-ass and presume you’ll also be skimping on the gratuity. Your service will be lousy.
4. Your waiter counts on you paying for drinks to up the bill as most people tip based on a percentage of the bill. It is the same amount of work for them to get your makings for lemonade, but they see no bump to the bill (and tip).
So: Drink water, even with lemon. Don’t make your own lemonade as it is rude, tacky and cheap. Don’t cheap out on the gratuity, unless you never plan to visit that restaurant again.
I don’t know if this is tacky or not. However, at least it is not a cost to the restaurant (other than water, which would be like charging to use the restroom). If the waiter doesn’t see me put a packet of True Orange in (my wife didn’t see it even when I forewarned her), he/she can’t see me as cheap and presume a lower tip. I think the commenter is wrong that the waiter should count on people to pay for drinks to up the bill. It’s probably fair the waiter to be disappointed in having a small bill table, but I don’t feel obligated to give the restaurant more money just so that they can expect a higher tip.
The other thing that I thought might be wrong is bringing in “outside food” to a restaurant. That’s tacky, right? But does a packet of calorie-free True Orange count as outside food? It’s not much different than a free lemon wedge right (except that it packs more flavor)? No restaurant, that I’ve been to, has giving me the option to purchase True Orange. It’s not like I’m taking away the sale of a product. I haven’t been to a restaurant that offers a similar calorie-free, no artificial sweetener alternative that I can buy (actually maybe unsweetened ice tea counts? I’m not a big ice tea fan).
At 5 cents a packet, True Orange can save some money. If you go to a restaurant once a week, you can spend anywhere between $100 and $150 in soda. The same amount of True Orange comes out to around $2.60. Is it the world’s best money saving tip? Nope. However if I do something that is healthier and keep $100 in my pocket, that’s a good thing, right?
So what’s your call? Does using True Orange in water in lieu of ordering a drink count as cheap or just great frugal thinking?