I’m not cheap, I’m frugal. Many people don’t think there is a difference between the two, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are in fact a lot of major differences between being cheap vs frugal. While they might not be obvious to those not living the frugal lifestyle, they are very clear to those of us who are, so let’s start breaking down the differences.
What it Means to be Cheap
When you think of someone being cheap, the most important aspect of any purchase is simply the price tag. With most purchases, there are so many other factors to consider, but not when you’re being cheap. I guess in a way it does make the decision making process much simpler, but that by no means makes it better. Using price as the most important factor and always going with the lowest cost in your purchasing will more than likely lead to poor quality of life.
Price is Actually Everything
If you really think about it, being cheap makes price the only factor and is the bottom line. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying clothes, booking a hotel, or getting groceries, the price tag is the only thing a cheap person will see. With each of those purchases, there should be a lot more to consider, but not when being cheap, they are just pinching pennies and counting cents. Most of the time, you’ll get exactly what you paid for.
Being Cheap Can Cost You More
A big reason being cheap is not a good idea is because it can actually end up costing you more in the long run. Poor quality products tend to break, which you’ll then need to replace. Maybe the product you bought is cheap, but you have to use twice as much to perform the same task as a better brand, now you’ll be running out much quicker and buying more. Maybe you cheaped out on a home renovation and it wasn’t done right, now you have to hire someone else to redo part of the work.
Being a cheapskate won’t just cost you extra money, but it can cost you a lot of time as well. Maybe you’ll spend your whole day finding the cheapest item or have to constantly run to the store to buy more of a cheap product. Maybe you booked a hotel far from your destination to save a few bucks, now instead of a 10 minute walk, you’re a half hour train ride away. Time is valuable, but when you’re cheap, you might waste a lot of time.
Don’t Spend Money at All
On top of using price as the only factor, a cheap person will typically not spend any money at all. I’m not saying we should all be out there spending our money wildly, but what’s the point of having all this money if you aren’t going to use it? Many times cheap people are worth millions of dollars but didn’t experience the lifestyle of a millionaire. Instead, they held onto their money and didn’t live much of a life at all.
What is Frugal
Being frugal is vastly different from being cheap. As I’ve gone over, cheap is all about price and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, being frugal, price is a factor and a big one, but there is a lot more that goes into it than that.
Value is Most Important
When thinking about frugality, value becomes the most important factor. Yes, I want to save as much money as I can, but as mentioned above, using the lowest price tag usual gets you a low quality product. Instead of buying the cheapest product, frugal people will look for the best value for their money. Buying a product that is slightly or even a lot more, but will last longer or work better or save them time will all provide extra value to them. This is where frugality truly shines.
Prioritize Spending on What Makes Us Happy
On the opposite side of frugal and cheap, there are many people that will spend their money to look wealthy or successful. Luxury cars, big houses, fancy vacations all fall into this category, but do those things really make you happy or really matter? Not to frugal people. A big part of being frugal is letting go of the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality and spending our money on what will actually bring joy and happiness to our lives instead of trying to impress others.
Save Money without Sacrificing Lifestyle
With that said, another part of being frugal means being able to save money without sacrificing our lifestyle. As previously mentioned, we don’t need to shop at high end stores, have the luxury car, the biggest house on the street, or the latest cell phone models, but it doesn’t mean we don’t like nice things. This again goes back to being able to find good value for our money. We don’t own top of the line products, but of the time you don’t need that. We’ll buy a product that fits our needs and nothing more, therefore not paying for anything we don’t need.
Frugal People are Resourceful
Being frugal doesn’t mean we’ll simply find products we like and accept the price, we are all about finding ways to save money. With all the tools available today, frugal people will typically have an arsenal at their disposal to get the best value. Coupons, apps, sales, and cash back rewards, are just a few of the tools a frugal person might use to get an item they want at the best price. Before making any purchase, most frugal people will do their research on a product making sure it’s right for what they need.
Part of being resourceful is the fact that frugal people are always on the lookout for money saving tips too. There are countless articles and resources with titles like “how to save money” or “100 money saving tips” or “easy ways to save money” and trust me, we read them all. If it helps you save money, we’ll look into it.
Frugal People are Patient
If nothing else frugal living is about being patient. While a cheap person will see the low price and make a purchase a frugal person will wait and rarely buy on impulse. Frugal people might be patient for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ll wait for a sale, or to save up enough money to make a bigger purchase. A frugal person might wait for a new model of a product they want to come out to get the current one at a discount. Whatever the reason, a frugal person is willing to wait to get the product they want at a bargain and not pay full price, saving a lot of money in the process..
Save Money, but Not at the Expense of Others
This might be one of the most important differences between being cheap vs. frugal. Most cheap people regardless of who they are buying for are still only looking at the price tag. Most frugal people will skimp out when buying for themselves with their spending habits, but won’t sacrifice quality when buying for others either. If the purchase really only effect them, maybe they go a bit cheaper, but more often than not, when buying for others they’ll splurge and pay a few extra bucks.
How to Tell if Someone is Frugal
If you haven’t figured it out yet, here are a few other ways to tell if someone is being frugal:
- They don’t like eating out much and tend to cook at home
- They like to save on anything and like to share their knowledge to save you money too
- They are financially responsible and have extra cash left over every month
- They spend less money than you
- They have an emergency fund and financial goals
- They aren’t living paycheck to paycheck
- If they see an opportunity to save money, they take it
- They have good saving habits and\or are always saving up money for a big purchase
- They are always looking for new saving strategies, ways of savings, and any other saving advice
- They have an excellent credit score and no credit card debt
- They love life hacks
- They don’t spend a lot of money on anything that’s unnecessary
- They are looking forward to early retirement and financial freedom
- They have money to invest
Is It Okay to be Frugal?
While many people will associate being frugal with being cheap, spending less money while being frugal is by no means a bad thing. Maybe you’ll be a bit misunderstood and be thought of by cheap by some people, but that’s okay. When it really comes down to it, being frugal is simply being savvy enough to find the value in spending money and living a simple lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that to me.
Should you be Frugal?
Of course, I think you should live frugally. In fact, I see living frugally as the happy medium between being cheap and wild spending. It basically means having good money habits, not spending too much or too little. Learning how to let go of the luxury mindset and being able to stop spending money on unnecessary items a wonderful thing. Saving money, budgeting, simple living will make you happier in so many ways. There are varying degrees to frugalness and you can certainly find a sweet spot for yourself too. How much money you save is up to you, it’s all about your mindset.
How to Live Frugally and Frugal Tips
There are countless ways to be frugal and save a lot of money. The first step to being frugal is really going through your finances and cutting out any unnecessary spending in order to spend less. Really take a look at what essential living costs you have. That’s food, shelter, and transportation mostly. Anything else is really extra. Even within those categories, you can save tons of money. Don’t spend all your money buying name brand products only (many are worth the price tag, but most are not), don’t drive a luxury car, don’t even buy a new car (used cars are very good and much cheaper). I could go on and on, but the main idea is if you are going to spend money, spend it to get the best value for your money. Most of the time, the cheapest or the most expensive items are not what will get you there. Once you start living frugally, continue to track your spending habits to find other ways money can be saved.
Being cheap vs frugal are two very different things. While a cheap person may only look at a price tag, frugal people will take many other factors into consideration. Frugal people simply value their time and money and want to be able to maximize both in their lives. Other people may confuse the term, but if you’re not already living the frugal lifestyle, come join us, it’s pretty great. Start learning the frugal ways now!
Other thoughts on being cheap or frugal, maybe some frugal living tips? Leave them in the comments section!
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Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he’s not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, playing video games, or just playing around with his kids.