I was telling a group once how cheap I am, joking that I breastfed all three of my children because the milk was free.

After my speech, a woman came up to me and said, “Dear, you really shouldn’t tell people you are cheap. Say you’re frugal.”

She meant well. She didn’t want people to get the wrong impression about my efforts to spend as little money as possible to save as much as possible.

The truth is I don’t mind if people call me cheap. Cheap, frugal, it’s all the same to me. It defines my money state of mind. I’m always conscience of how much stuff costs.

But even I’ll admit you can take frugality too far.

Maryalene LaPonsie writing for the personal finance site NerdWallet says there are seven signs that you’ve taken your penny-pinching to the extreme.
Here are two signs:

You live to save money. You know who you are. You are obsessed with penny-pinching and spend more than a normal amount of hours thinking about how to save a dollar.

You do dishonest things to save money. No, the salt and pepper shakers on the restaurant table aren’t there for the taking.
Mattress Discounters made a commercial some time ago in which a father and son were standing in line to see a movie. The dad sees that the price for an adult ticket is $10 and $8 for children 8 and under. He turns to his clearly teenage son (the boy practically had a mustache) and says, “If anyone asks, you’re 8 years old.”

Watch that your frugality doesn’t send a bad message to your children.

Read to see if you’re an extreme penny pincher: 7 Signs You’ve Gone From Frugal to Cheap

And read this is you’re tired of suffering from thriftiness torment: Penny-pinchers unite: Let the angst go.

Color of Money Question of the Week
I’ve love to hear your best penny-pinching story or strategy. Or maybe you have a relative that has taken frugality to an outrageous level. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line put “Frugal vs. Cheap.” Please include your name, city and state.

Yahoo. Target. Equifax: All category 5-type data breaches. Is your information safe anymore?
Last week I asked: Have you ever had your information used for identity theft, and if so, what was it like clearing up the mess?

Lily Aguilar of Issaquah, Washington knows the frustration of identity fraud.

“Someone used my name, date of birth, and Social Security number to open a Dish Network account,” she wrote. “After racking up about $1,500 in charges, the person failed to pay. The account eventually went to collections, and I found out by simultaneously getting a credit-monitoring alert and seeing my credit score fall from the 800s to the low 600s. I contacted the collection agency that appeared on my credit report – all I could see at this point was the agency name with no details on what account they were referencing or what company it was tied to. I was in a panic.”

Even though Aguilar had identity theft protection, it still took a lot of time to clear her good name.

“In order to clear this from my credit report, I had to complete an affidavit, file and obtain a copy of a police report, and fax those items along with a copy of my driver’s license to TransUnion.” she said. “Simultaneously, I was also dealing with the collection agency so they knew that the credit agency was working this as a fraud case due to identify theft. It took me about eight hours of phone calls and visits to the police station to get everything pulled together and closed out over a three week period. Finally, the charges were deemed fraud, and the collection account was removed from my record. Additionally, the credit inquiry from Dish Network last year was removed —  I’d mistaken the hard inquiry for a soft one and had I paid attention, I could have nipped this situation in the bud when that inquiry was first reported (lesson learned!).”

She also wrote, “I am now looking at freezing my credit. I worry this may happen again.”

Aguilar most definitely should freeze her credit files at all three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — as well at the fourth, smaller bureau, Innovis. She should also put a security freeze on at consumer agency ChexSystems, which is the bureau financial institutions use to verify folks have a good history of managing bank accounts.

All the hyperlinks will take you directly to the security freeze pages for the consumer bureaus. But be aware all three major credit bureaus have been experiencing delays because lots of folks are looking to freeze their files in the aftermath of the Equifax data breach.

Jan McCarthy of Keswick, Virginia had an experience with identity theft that shows why it’s a good idea to get to know folks in your local bank branch.

“A few years back, a ring of criminals came to the Washington, D.C., area from Southern California,” she wrote. “One day, our bank called us to tell us someone was trying to cash a large counterfeit check in my husband’s name, and was presenting a driver’s license with a photo, address, etc., that was almost perfect (everything was correct except for ‘Fairfax’ County) and a Discover credit card imprinted with his name. The only thing that saved us was that we knew the bank manager personally; so while the guy was there, the manager called us at home, then he called the FBI. It was pretty scary. We were advised to close all of our credit accounts and not to re-open the small retail or gasoline cards, check our credit reports and freeze our credit, the FBI came to our house to show us the evidence, and my husband had to take time off from work to go to court three times to testify. It was a nightmare. But we were lucky because of the diligence of the bank manager, and the FBI was right on it.”

Richard Andrews of Springfield, Vermont wrote: “One aspect of the Equifax hack that has not been covered is the question: If a significant fraction of the hacked information actually is used successfully by criminals, won’t that destroy the credibility and usefulness of all three credit rating companies? It could quickly get to the point that so many credit ratings are erroneous that no credit rating will be reliable, and the companies won’t have a useful product to sell.”

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Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

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