April 27, 2010

Frugal vs. Cheap

I recently had an experience that left me determined not to be cheap, with myself or anyone else. And it got me thinking about the difference between being frugal and being just plain cheap. Sometimes there's a fine line...

I would consider myself mostly frugal, thrifty, and resourceful, and I consider those to be positive qualities in others. However, what is decidedly NOT a nice quality is cheapness. I want to be generous in life, with myself, my time, and my money. Living on a budget is no reason to be stingy with others.

Here are a few examples of being frugal versus being cheap:

1. A frugal person doesn't go out to dinner when they can't afford it, and pays their fair share when they do. A cheap person doesn't leave enough money to cover their portion of the bill, thereby causing the rest of the group to pay for them.

2. A frugal person borrows DVDs from the library. A cheap person makes illegal copies of the DVDs for their own personal library.

3. A frugal person has a grocery budget and cooks healthy meals from scratch. A cheap person eats Top Ramen every night even though they can afford much better food.

4. A frugal person doesn't spend every penny they earn, and leaves an inheritance. A cheap person eats cat food for dinner and lives in squalor while they have a million dollars in the bank.

Those are just a few examples, you get the idea.

It's possible to be cheap with others, and with ourselves. Not taking care of our own health and well-being could be considered being cheap with oneself.

I want to be both frugal and generous, and I don't think they're mutually exclusive.

What are some other examples of when frugal goes too far and enters the land of the cheap? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.


Melissa said...

While your points are good. My idea of frugal vs cheap is a bit different...

frugal is watching store fliers, stalking Craigslist, putting the feelers out for that big ticket item you know you need.
Cheap is someone who rushes out and buys the cheapest thing that they can find, only to have it break on after the useless warranty is up.

I have learned that by spending a little bit more when you can, means saving a lot more down the road.

This was a good post. I think it is a great point to make. I think I especially liked the dinner with friends point.

Anonymous said...

I think a little along the same lines as you do but I definitely agree with what Melissa said.

Cheap to me is the "have to have it now even if it is poorly made etc." mentality rather than wait, save and buy quality when you can afford to.

I also like your supper example. Cheap is also paying just for your meal and not leaving a tip.

Laura said...

I so agree that frugal is very different from cheap! I had to deal with cheap last month, and wrote this to get it off my chest: "

Frugal is “thrifty,” “careful,” economical” and “a good steward of one’s finances.” Cheap is “penny-wise and pound foolish,” “miserly” and “stingy.” Frugal means spending money wisely to get the best quality for a good price. Cheap often means skimping on quality and lasting value for short-term financial gain. Frugal means having a variety of choices in how to best use resources. Cheap limits one’s choices. Frugal is never at the expense of others or their choices, and accepts the choices of others as theirs to make and live with. Cheap can mean taking advantage of others or forcing them to go along with your choices. Frugal is the passive act of saving and conserving money and resources, and being a lightweight consumer of resources. Cheap is an aggressive and active pursuit of increasing one’s finances or financial status and can have little or nothing to do with consuming less. Frugal leaves behind a light footprint. Cheap usually leaves behind an unpleasant feeling, or a bad taste in the mouth."

Non Consumer Girl said...

I'm glad you wrote about the distinction between frugal and cheap.

Cheap has a sense of meanness about it.

Frugal has a sense of getting value while living within your means.

I like Laura's comments above.

Anonymous said...

Cheap...makes me think of the little old lady at my Woman's Club meeting last week that said, "Oh these paper plates are so pretty. I could just wipe them off and use them for my family dinner next Sunday."

Needless to say, her family's name is all over town and she drives a brand new Cadillac!

Marie-Josée said...

I agree with your analysis Angela as well as the comments of the other posters. I recently read the comments of the author of the book "In Cheap we Trust" and am totally in disagreement with that motto. Cheap products and produce come at a huge human and environmental cost. Good paying, unionized jobs are being lost all over North America to the benefit of cheap labour facilites in emerging countries. Our produce is picked by people who are inhumanely treated and poorly paid. I understand purchasing cheap food or necessities due to financial hardship, but not when people can afford sustainable, more expensive options.

Marie-Josée said...

Oups! I'm sorry, I quoted the wrong book! Here is the book and author I was refering to:

The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less by Jeff Yeager
Jeff Yeager (Author)

Unknown said...

I hope I am frugal and thrifty rather than cheap and miserly! "Cheap" is taking advantage of someone to gain for yourself; it is acts that humiliate yourself and your family and friends to save a dime.

cm said...

I don't think that it is appropriate to pass judgment on others. To me, that is a "cheap" shot. I think that each person should make their own determination, and live accordingly.

Marie-Josée said...

cm, I don't pass judgment on people when they buy cheap foods or produce, but I do have an opinion about it with respect to sustainability (remember, we all share the same planet, so your choices, or those of others, affect me too) and I have an opinion about the fact that cheap produce and products are available because someone, somewhere has worked in conditions we would never accept to make that stuff available to us. Not so long ago, racism and discrimination were rampant, employers abused their workers, and companies dumped their toxic waste in waterways and on the land without any second thoughts, right here in North America. We had to create laws, and legislate behaviour, because people's own determination was what was creating these issues to begin with.

Many people I know frequent the dollar store, Walmart and other big box stores in order to pay the lowest price possible for their stuff in order to economize for luxuries, such as a bigger t.v. set or a trip to the Carribean during our long, cold Canadian winters. They don't give a second thought about how or why these products are so cheap, and if I discuss sustainability, health or human rights with them, they just don't care.

I accept that we live in democratic societies and that everyone has the right to buy what they want. But I am certainly looking forward to the day that we will collectively decide that sustainable, humane produce and products are the only ones that will be available in our stores and markets.

Angela said...

Thanks for all your comments and opinions! Lots to think about...

And in some cases, I don't think "cheap" is a bad thing, just semantics. But I do think you can gyp yourself and others, and also cheap is a negative when it's applied to poorly made goods and merchandise like so many of you pointed out...

Katy Wolk-Stanley said...


Why do you have to be such a hater of us cat food gourmands? ;-)


Parag said...

Frugal – going to coffee shops and restaurants on Sunday mornings and taking the coupon inserts that people left on the tables because they didn’t want them.

CHEAP – Buying ONE paper from a newspaper dispenser, and then STEALING the coupons out of ALL the other papers in there. I buy newspapers out of the dispenser at my apartment, and the last couple of times, ALL the newspapers inserts had been gone. I thought maybe it was just a careless carrier, forgetting to put them in the newspapers, but when I called the newspaper offices, I found out it’s been happening all over town.
Frugal vs cheap

Frugal vs cheap