There's something that needs to be cleared up early on in the Cheapness Studies experiment, and that's the difference between The Cheap and the Fashionably Faux-Poor, otherwise known as hipsters. It can be easy to confuse the two, because both are sets whose spending is or seems in conflict with their wealth or social class. Both can be found rummaging in thrift-store bins, scouring used-book sales, and, alas, cutting their own hair. And the 'it's hip to be frugal' lifestyle pieces that keep popping up further confuse matters - if thrift is in, are The Cheap just one more set of hipsters obeying Hipster Rule #1, which is of course to deny one's own hipsterdom?
Before things get blurrier still, some ways to tell cheapness apart from its evil cousin, faux-poverty:
-Dress: Faux-poverty is always for show, whereas cheapness can be but doesn't have to be - some exercise cheapness discretion from the confines of a cheapness closet, while others shout their cheapness from the rooftops. But an openly cheap person will, for example, buy a designer dress on sale, hoping to use her money as efficiently as possible for an upcoming event that requires such an item. When someone points out in a tsk-tsk tone that the item's designer, the dress's cheap owner will mention, with pride, the steep discount. Whereas the faux-poor do not buy designer clothes, however low in price, and will in fact be willing to spend more than the cheap do on their sale items for clothes whose faux-poor cred is self-evident - 'it's thrifted' or, for the very ironic, 'it's from a Walmart down South', being your key words.
-Financial responsibility: While cheapness is not always about money saved, and can merely be entered into for it's own sake, it is done with the idea, however buried in one's mind, that one must be saving for something. Faux-poverty, meanwhile, is not about savings, but about a perpetual state of being 'so broke.' And sometimes the faux-poor are as broke as they claim, because they can spend huge amounts of well-hidden money on intentionally-'distressed' jeans, gritty-looking lofts, hand-rolled cigarettes, drinks at expensive but 'downtown' bars, and so on. They're not getting blow-outs or manicures, flat-screens or yachts, but they might well be spending, all the same. If someone faux-poor also happens to spend very little - and this has been known to happen - it's just a coincidence.
-Class: Faux-poverty is a statement about authentic membership in (some fantasy version of) the working class. Thus the overalls, flannel, mullets, and tattoos, and the preference for converted industrial spaces and homes 'down by the docks'. For the faux-poor, nothing could be worse than for it to be revealed that you grew up in Greenwich, CT, and attended the finest Northeastern boarding schools, and not on scholarship. (Witness every last Williamsburg resident telling all who'll listen that they don't, unlike everyone else in Williamsburg, get their rent paid by their parents.) Meanwhile, to be faux-poor, by definition, you did not grow up poor.
Whereas there's no requirement, for the cheap, to have any particular family background. While cheapness and economic self-sufficiency go hand in hand, and while poverty does not, of course, allow freely choosing not to buy the new fancy car, that's about where the relationship to class status ends. A person can be cheap because he grew up poor and can't imagine spending freely, or because he grew up rich and watched his parents save to get that way. There's no one route to what amounts to the same result. Cheapness is not about sneering at those who, as luck would have it, were born to wealthy families - if anyone's sneered at by the cheap, it's those who spend thoughtlessly. Who your parents are is sort of besides the point, except insofar as cheapness can be instilled in one's offspring.
-Chic: Cheapness isn't chic. Think of when, on Seinfeld, Jerry says, in reference to George spotting a dime on the floor while without his glasses, "Maybe cheapness is a sense." George Costanza? Not chic. (Referencing Seinfeld in 2009: even less chic.)