The terms Frugal and Cheap are often used interchangeably. Though they have similar denotations, they carry different attributes.
A frugal person and a cheap person both aim to save money. The key differences lie in how they achieve their savings.
I’ve been called both, usually in jest and not as a compliment. I don’t let it bother me. My frugality has been a much-loved part of me for years. There are days that I can be a little cheap, though my frugality remains a constant. So, what separates the two?
A money mindset drives your financial beliefs and actions. It guides your interests and thoughts as it pertains to earning, saving, and spending.
Frugal habits indicate your money mindset is defined by long-term thinking. You might choose to pass up a good deal now to patiently wait for the best deal later. You sacrifice in the present for the big picture in the future. With long-term thinking, you resist instant gratification for a more intentional goal of long-term financial wellness. Frugal habits encourage you to consider the worthiness of a purchase rather than allowing the latest trend or short-term fulfillment to influence you.
A cheap money mindset, on the other hand, is characterized by short-term thinking. For instance, instead of actively remedying a current maintenance issue, you may decide to forgo paying for it to save money now. Sometimes, this kind of situation can turn into a larger and more expensive problem down the road. Short-term thinking focuses on the immediate goal rather than future consequences.
Frugal and cheap habits both intend to save money. The intention behind saving, however, is different between the two. Frugal living is associated with value-focused intentions, which means that the overall price is weighed against the amount of worth or value the purchase provides. It is a conscious approach in both spending and saving for an economical and resourceful goal. Frugal-based intentions guide you to use money for the things that are most valuable to you without being restricted by cost.
Alternatively, cheap habits are affiliated with price-focused intentions. A cheap purchase is one that is purely based on the lowest expense over any other factor. This purchase has limited consideration for future replacement, quality, or overall value. Oftentimes, being cheap can mean obtaining the lowest price by extreme measures. In the past, I have refrained from turning on the heat until the temperature in my home reached below 55°F. I also chose not to run the air unless the temperature was over 80°F. Needless to say, Brian wasn’t a huge fan of my overly conservative (er…cheap) habits!
In contrast to cheapness, frugality is often not forced upon others. Being cheap can be damaging to relationships. Many times, the intense focus and interest in spending as little as possible can be isolating. Cheap habits are commonly exercised at the inconvenience or expense of others. If you chose not to ever spend a dime socializing, celebrating, or dining out with others, it can be difficult to maintain a deep friendship. On the other hand, this certainly doesn’t mean you can’t balance a relationship with an affordable range of activities and experiences.
Can you imagine if I purposefully chose to maintain the temperatures in my home? Turning on the heat or air conditioning wasn’t going to break my wallet or spirit, but remaining cheap and not considering Brian would have certainly affected him and our relationship. A frugal outlook understands and enjoys spending the time and money to connect with others. Frugal habits create the opportunity to cultivate relationships that offer value and meaning to your life.
I used to love buying Wet Seal T-Shirts in the early aughts. They ran these great sales that offered 3 for $10 (though you HAD to buy 3 for the $10 price). I would buy multiples of them so I would be able to wear different colors based on my mood. So frivolous, I know! Since then, I’ve adopted a much more minimalist wardrobe and have substantially reduced my Wet Seal tee collection. Believe it or not, I still actively wear a couple of their tees, which remain some of my favorites.
In any case, a cheap person typically isn’t so much concerned with quantity as long as he or she believes they are getting a great deal. Of course, now that I look back on my tee shirt purchases, I realized I’ve spent a good chunk of change on unnecessary items. Did I really need 6 different colors of the same basic tee? At least the two I’ve kept are of great quality and have held up for more than 20 years…
Instead of making several purchases, a frugal person would think about the quality and value of buying a single purchase.
Research and Consideration
Generally, a cheap approach to finances largely ignores comprehensive research and consideration of alternative options. Cheap people want to buy the lowest priced item, even if this means that they will have to make the same purchase in a year or two because of poor quality.
A frugal person appreciates and utilizes research in their financial decisions. He or she will take the time to consider and weigh the options that offer the most value to them. In these cases, they are happy to pay more upfront for better value and quality rather than wasting money for unnecessary repairs and replacements in the future.
What’s Your Approach?
Saving money matters, but so does your approach. If you’re happy with how you’re saving, whether it’s through cheap habits or frugal habits, then own it. People will have their opinions either way. Labels give others comfort; they allow people to compartmentalize other people, things, and circumstances according to their own lens of perception. What matters is that you are comfortable with who you are, how you are, and what you do. Manage money the way you want to get what you want out of life. Just don’t expect people to bail you out or stick around if you do something others aren’t okay with…like making them unnecessarily melt in 80°F.