Being Frugal vs. Being Cheap

Photo by _J_D_R

Guest post by Stacey from a GOOD and SIMPLE life:

Frugality is a popular buzz word these days. With the recent “economic downturn”, everybody is doing it – or at least trying to do it. But many people are confused about what frugality really is. Many people, including myself at times, are simply being cheap but doing so in frugality’s name. So what is frugality anyway? What is just being cheap?

Frugality is in the center of the money spending spectrum, between cheapness and extravagance. Like most good things, frugality taken to either extreme is not a good thing.

Being frugal is the wise and intentional use of money whether saving or spending. It is being careful, thrifty and prudent with your resources. Frugality, to me, is getting the most bang for your buck, whether that is Five Bucks or Five Hundred Bucks. Frugality helps you stretch your hard-earned dollars as much as possible.

Being cheap, however, is a reluctance to spend money, even on things that are necessary and needed. It is being stingy, miserly, tightfisted. It’s buying things that are lower in quality, just to save a dollar or two. Being cheap is letting others foot the bill or being dishonest in order to save a buck. Cheapness is selfishness and often results from fear; fear of running out of money and not being able to take care of yourself and your family.

So what’s the difference between being cheap and being frugal?

The key to understanding the difference is to understand that cheapness is only concerned with spending the least amount of money possible. Frugality, however, understands that it is necessary to spend money, yet those that are frugal are thoughtful and wise about when and where they choose to spend their money.

Here are a few examples:

  • Being cheap is buying on a whim when something is on sale; considering only that the item can currently be purchased for less. Being frugal is being intentional with purchases, deciding what things are needed, what are wanted, and researching to find the best deal.
  • Being cheap is buying the least expensive food possible without regard to quality and nutrition. Being frugal considers both the cost of the food as well as the positive health benefits of a balanced and proper diet.
  • Being cheap is going out to dinner but not tipping well (or at all!) in order to “save” money. Being frugal is budgeting each month a certain amount for eating out, including tip and tax.
  • Being cheap is being miserable in a cold house all winter in order to save on utility bills. Being frugal considers your own comfort as well as the value of saving money, and finds the right temperature that balances those considerations.
  • Being cheap is lying about your kids’ ages in order to get the least expensive tickets possible for the museum. Being frugal is waiting until there is a discount day at the museum for the whole family to enjoy.


Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Finding the Balance

Money is a good thing – it gives us the ability to provide for things that we need and want. Remember our money spending spectrum? On one end, there is cheapness, which is being afraid of spending your money and never allowing yourself to get any fulfillment out of it. On the other end is extravagance, which is spending everything you get immediately at which point the fulfillment is short-lived.

Frugality is really about balance. It is balancing your needs and wants of today with those needs and wants of tomorrow for optimum fulfillment.

Frugality is not a destination but a journey; it’s a work in progress. There are times when you should spend money, and there are times when you shouldn’t. It’s a constant balancing act to find the “sweet spot” of frugality. And in trying to find that sweet spot, there will be times when you’ll think, “Oh, I wish I would have bought that…” or, “I wish I wouldn’t have bought this… ”.

Each day of frugality is different when deciding what is worth your hard-earned money, and what is not. Having the patience to decide what is truly needed and wanted is difficult, but necessary. It requires understanding how much income you have, and then a lot of thought and planning as to where and how you want to use that income. Making intentional decisions often requires sacrifice in certain areas so you have the means to provide for other areas. Although it is a sacrifice, it leads to greater fulfillment and peace of mind.

I would consider myself a frugal person, yet in my desire to pay off our debts as quickly as possible and start saving for our dreams, I find that sometimes, I’m teetering toward the cheap side of the spectrum. I find myself unwilling and grumpy about spending money on things that we need and things that honestly would add to the richness and joy to our family life.

That’s when I have to remind myself that frugality is more about priorities and less about how much money I spend. I’m learning that through being frugal, I can save for the future while also living in the present.

Stacey blogs at a GOOD and SIMPLE life where she tells of her family’s efforts toward living more frugally, simply and self-sufficiently; in hopes that one day they can ditch the rat race, live in the country and spend more time together as a family.


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Such a great reminder from Stacey about being intentional with how we spend our money, something that I personally needed to read right now too – and now I feel like I should go and turn up my thermostat! :)

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Comments

  1. says

    I always say that I’m cheap, not frugal, LOL!

    That not-tipping thing really bugs me, though. We never go to dinner unless we can afford the meal + a generous tip, and my husband and I both LOVE to use coupons on our meal and then leave a huge tip. I can’t stand when people complain about tipping or talk about only leaving a couple dollars or 10%!

  2. Michelle says

    Sorry, can’t go with the term “cheap” regarding lying about kids ages for cheaper tickets. That is plain and simple stealing and dishonest. And if you can’t afford to leave a decent tip for good service, how bout everyone drinking water with the meal so you have enough money to leave a tip for the service.

  3. says

    Great post Stacey. I try to be frugal…I don’t want to be cheap. I find being cheap often puts money above people – and that is no fun at all!

    I knew of a father who took his family to the movies, then at the last minute decided he would sit in the car while they went in. They told me that it made them feel like they were not worth the money. It made them feel guilty. To me, that was cheap.

    I think you can choose to spend money or not or something and the way it is done can make it cheap or frugal!

    Loved your post. Great thoughts!

  4. says

    i do think the line between the two can be hazy at times. i often find myself on the cheapside when i didn’t intend to be there. :)

    @mandi: i’ve been turning up my thermostat a bit since writing this too! no sense making everyone uncomfortable just to save a few bucks. :)

    @michelle: you are absolutely right! thank you for pointing that out.

    @stacy: you said it best, “being cheap often puts money above people.” that is a good measuring stick for me as to which side i might be teetering. if i’m starting to be more concerned about money, rather than my friends & family, i need to adjust my actions!

    thanks for your comments!

  5. jack says

    In our country, tipping is not a custom. When people do decide to tip, it’s not a tip for the person who served you but to the restaurant. It is usually forbidden to tip an individual. The good thing about this is that all the employees get equal pay, not just those who are better looking, lucky or more charismatic.

    As for your definition of cheapness…that’s hardly a universal one. These definitions are not in concrete – everyone has different ideas about being cheap/frugal. The greatest problem with your definition is how to define “necessary items/services”? For some people a necessity is actually a want, and vice versa.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] THIS article also says it well:  “Being frugalis the wise and intentional use of money whether saving or spending. It is being careful, thrifty and prudent with your resources. Frugality, to me, is getting the most bang for your buck, whether that is Five Bucks or Five Hundred Bucks. Frugality helps you stretch your hard-earned dollars as much as possible.   Being cheap,however, is a reluctance to spend money, even on things that are necessary and needed. It is being stingy, miserly, tightfisted. It’s buying things that are lower in quality, just to save a dollar or two. Being cheap is letting others foot the bill or being dishonest in order to save a buck. Cheapness is selfishness and often results from fear; fear of running out of money and not being able to take care of yourself and your family”. [...]

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