Drawing the Line Between Being Frugal and Being Cheap


Let’s start by saying that there is nothing wrong with being frugal. A dollar saved here and there can certainly add up to a lot of dollars over time, and that’s a good thing. We all love a frugal person who does what needs doing to save money and make life more enjoyable and financial secure for his or her family, but there is such thing as being too cheap. Frugal is good; cheap is bad. Frugal people aren’t looking to hate life and hoard their money. They’re looking to make smarter financial decisions while still enjoying life. The frugal gal finds a coupon code for admission to the zoo so she can spend a fun day with her family. A cheap gal says no to the zoo because she thinks that spending money is a waste, and the memories made and experiences had are not worth it to her. Some frugal people, however, are pretty close to being cheap, and there is a very fine line there. We’re going to help you figure out where to draw the line so that you can make sure you don’t become your own worse nightmare.

What does it Mean to be Frugal?

Before we discuss the differences and the line between the two, we should make sure we are all on the same page as far as the definition of being frugal vs. being cheap. To me, being frugal means you look for a way to save money whenever possible. This might mean looking for the biggest sales, checking the price at several different stores online before making a final decision as to wear to purchase this, that or the other, and even waiting to shop when there is a sale.

What is Cheap?

Cheap, on the other hand, is not something anyone admires. Cheap is petty. It is defined as a person who is so petty with every single penny that he or she will not spend money unless it is absolutely necessary and absolutely unavoidable, which is no fun and pretty awful. Of course, some people have no choice but to be downright cheap, but you know what we mean. We’re talking about the people who choose to be cheap.

The line between being cheap and frugal is difficult to see. Sometimes you think that you’re being frugal but you’re not; you’re being cheap. Sometimes you can justify your decisions in your mind about things by saying, “This is me being frugal,” when it’s really you being cheap and removing happiness from your own life. For example, if you have the money to tip your waiter but choose not to, that’s not being frugal. That’s being cheap.

How can you Tell if You’re Being Cheap vs. Frugal?

There is a very simple way to tell whether or not you are being cheap vs. frugal. Ask yourself why you are making the financial decision you want to make. For example, let’s pretend you are at your local Publix and you want to have a sub from the sub shop (where we all know they are so amazing and the absolute best). The sub-maker asks you if you’d like to have Publix meat and cheese or Boar’s Head, and you know that Boar’s Head is superior by far and makes a huge difference. But you say that you’d rather have Publix because it’s $1 cheaper. That’s cheap; if you have the dollar and you’re not willing to spend it on something you like because the desire to save is that much more important than your desire to actually have what you want even though the actual price is very minimal, you are cheap.

On the other hand, if you decide you’d rather use Luvs diapers than Pampers because they are $8 a box less expensive, you are probably being frugal. How do I know this? Because while I’m a diaper snob (four kids will do that to you), I get that they’re expensive, and I also know they’re made by the same company so the decision to use one over the other is highly personal.

Here is another really great way to figure out whether you are being cheap or frugal. If you have plenty of money and you make the decision to go out to eat one night, you probably want to eat what you want. However, if you have money in the bank, no financial worries and you find yourself asking for a glass of water to go along with your cocktail and meal, but then find yourself asking whether or not the water is free or if you have to pay for it – you are cheap.

Cheap people tend to be a bit more selfish in their reasoning. For example, their thought process is that this is their money and they’re not spending it on something this ridiculous (even if it’s something they love). Frugal people would love to spend their money on something they love, but they think to themselves that this is a luxury and they’d be better of saving their money for something else – such as an emergency fund or a rainy day. The thought process is much different between cheap people and frugal people – though it can be hard to tell the difference between the two at times.

If you really want to know if you are cheap or frugal, consider how you feel when you go to someone’s house. You know you don’t show up empty-handed to someone else’s home, but you do it anyway and pretend that it doesn’t matter. This is being cheap. If you’re frugal, you will likely carefully select a small bouquet of flowers or an inexpensive, but nice, bottle of wine and present it to your hosts when you arrive. Frugal makes the right decision, cheap makes the selfish decision. And now you know whether or not you have crossed the line from frugality into cheapness – and you can see if you can find a way to get back over that line and onto the frugal side.

Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images


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