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Being Frugal vs Cheap: What’s the Difference?

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What is the Difference Between Frugal vs Cheap?

Growing up in a household where money was always a concern, I knew the value of a dollar. My dad showed us how to be diligent with our money and make sure to get the best deal on things. Our entire family was involved, so we each played our part not to waste anything. From his example I learned the importance of both budgeting and saving. Don’t get me wrong, his lessons have helped me avoid some sticky situations. However, I remember several moments in my childhood when his thriftiness crossed the line of being frugal vs being cheap. I still cringe at some of the memories of watching him sort through discarded items on the curbside or calculating savings, down to the fraction of a cent. So it begs the question: Where is the line between frugal and cheap?

The Definition of Frugal vs Cheap

Although we often use these words interchangeable, the social connotations completely change the meaning of the words. We often use these adjectives to describe someone’s spending habits. Unfortunately, one has a much more negative connotation and stigma attached to it.

For example, the Cambridge dictionary defines frugal as being careful when using money or food.

On the other hand, cheap is used to describe someone who is unwilling to spend money.

In the first meaning, the focus is on spending money wisely. The second emphasizes the person’s inability to spend money, even when necessary. While anyone can comprehend the difference between the two, you can truly understand the difference when someone else’s cheapness negatively impacts you.

The Major Differences Between Being Frugal vs Being Cheap

1. Cheap means the price is always the bottom line.

A cheap person thinks that everything, no matter the actual value of the item, is overpriced. These types will complain about the cost of everything, even slight fluctuations and differences that amount to a few bucks in savings. If you are cheap, then it is fair to say that you would likely go to extremes to save a dime. However, you should also consider how much time you are investing to get the best deal. Cheap people often cannot weigh the value of their time against saving money.

This past summer, I helped my dad with some paint-matching on a vehicle we were repairing. I watched him agonize over his options and drive across the city to compare prices. The worst part of it all was that in the end, he used the original paint he already had in the garage. Although I love spending time with my dad, he could have saved himself days of decision-making if he had just bought the exact item he wanted online. Not to mention, the gas money would have covered a large portion of the supply cost. When looking for the line between frugal vs cheap, ask yourself, “Is it worth my time?”

2. Being frugal means valuing savings, but valuing people more.

A frugal person can certainly appreciate a good deal. When living on a limited budget, eating at restaurants is a luxury. However, we would find ways to indulge now and again. My parents would use gift cards and coupons to get additional entrees or extra sides that the whole family could enjoy. I didn’t even mind sharing dishes if we went out to more expensive eateries.

However, certain family members displayed an entirely new level of cheapness when going to buffets. They would hide sandwich bags in their purse or pockets to take home in order to get another free meal. I was so mortified when this happened, I would run out of the restaurant, ahead of everyone else. I did not want to be seen or associated with them because it was so obvious what they were doing. If your cheapness causes anyone to feel embarrassed or ashamed, it is time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Additionally, here are apps frugal people use to save instead of doing embarrassing things.

AppsFees and MinimumBest For
Digit30-day free trial period. $5 per monthSetting aside automatically
Acorns$1 per monthSpare change investing.
Qapital$3 membershipLetting you set rules to automate savings.

3. Cheap people are willing to go without basic necessities to save money.

There are certain things in life that every human needs in order to survive. There is no way to avoid these expenses, so you must budget for food, clothing, shelter, and health care. A frugal person will find ways to save money on these expenses. However, a cheap person may choose to go entirely without them. If you have kids, this means they are also forced to do without basic necessities. Even worse, they may be afraid to ask for them.

As a child, my mom had severe allergies and would often go without medical treatment. To save money, my grandparents would use specific foods and herbal remedies to combat the symptoms. While some helped with mild ailments, sometimes her symptoms compounded and grew into larger, more expensive problems. Due to my grandfather’s cheapness, my mom had to suffer unnecessarily because he didn’t want to pay for the initial doctor’s visit.

Thankfully, I never wanted for these things as a child. But, I have noticed personal tendencies towards cheapness. In my case, it was stretching my supplies to their absolute limit. For example, I would water down my shampoo and conditioner to get every last drop. However, after the third or fourth dilution, I’m not sure there was any product left in the mixture. I realized I was being cheap, not frugal, by allowing myself to go without things I truly needed.

Valuing Quality Over Price

One last thing to consider when comparing deals comes down to quality. While it is tempting to go with the cheaper options, there are some items you simply can’t skimp on. In fact, investing in quality products will actually save you more money in the long term. Furthermore, this attitude will also save you time you would have to spend repairing or buying replacements down the line.

When it comes down to it, “cheap” is not a positive attribute. Therefore, it is important to know where to draw the line for yourself between being frugal vs cheap. If your cost-cutting ways are negatively affecting those around you, that is not okay. Furthermore, it can take away time from loved ones. How you spend your time reflect what you value most.

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2 Comments

  • Reply T'Pol |

    No new post since February 6? Generic posts as fillers? It may be time to start looking for additional writers because, I have a feeling that Hope, with her new corporate job, her part-time job with old clients and a bunch of teenagers, will have less time to write. Right?

So, what do you think ?