Frugal vs. Cheap

Many people are confused with the difference between frugal and cheap. Being frugal means making smart spending choices or getting the most for your money. Cheap while on the other hand, is looked more upon as selfish and stingy. When I looked up the synonyms for frugal, I got thrifty, chary, provident, careful and economical. Synonyms for cheap resulted in stingy, shoddiness, inferiority, showy imitation, complete unworthiness.

Living well for less money is frugality. Leeching off of people to get by is cheap.

For example, I want to get a book for my brother for his birthday. Say I saw a nice book in new condition at a garage sale and I only spend $1.00 opposed to the $24.99 price at Barnes and Noble. Some people would see this as being cheap, only spending a dollar for a gift, however if this is something that my brother would like, it doesn’t really matter how much I spend. There is no point in spending more for the gift if I could get something the person would like just as much for a lot less. Now this kind of giving is just good money management, it’s not being cheap.

Some more example of frugal vs cheap:

  • Frugal - Going to a buffet and eating enough to get full and satisfied.
  • Cheap - Getting full and satisfied, then filling your pockets and bags before leaving
  • Frugal - In a group, a person with 10 dollars would order at a restaurant taking in consideration of tip and tax.
  • Cheap - In a group, a person with 10 dollars would order 10 dollars worth of food and intentionally leave the tip and tax for others to pay.
  • Frugal - Satisfied with only spending a dollar on a kids meal for your child.
  • Cheap - Ordering an extra kids meal for your self to avoid the regular price.
  • Frugal - Deciding not to go out to eat because you don’t have enough for the food + tips, instead you go to buy something to make at home.
  • Cheap - Intentionally going out to eat when knowing you don’t have enough to tip.

Important note: frugality is not just for those who are on low income. Take Warren Buffet for example. Big Warren, with a net worth of more than 42 billion dollars still live in the house he bought more than 40 years ago at $31,500. He also prefers a burger and a coke over an expensive lunch at his desk.

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  1. Festival Of Frugality #71: Definitions Of Frugality Edition - pingback on April 24, 2007 at 2:24 am
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  3. Andy, you said a mouthful. A frugal person is able to get much pleasure/satisfaction from simple things, in my opinion, and isn’t seeking to take more than his or her share. I think as I’ve aged I’m tending to be satisfied with less and less and am getting more out of it in the bargain and enjoy little “rewards” to myself here and there. I no longer aggressively seek some deal if I truly don’t need it. It’s being mature enough to think a thing through, do I really, really need it, whatever the it is – most times, the answer will be no and I’m content with the answer. There is so much to be had for free or nearly free in this country. I’ve come to the conclusion in terms of contentmen in this life, the best thing to do with your time is be so busy doing things for others most of the time that you fall into bed at night and sleep like a baby. It works well for me but it took me years to reach this plane, ha-ha.

  4. huh? you mean i’m not supposed to do this:

    Cheap – Getting full and satisfied, then filling your pockets and bags before leaving
    :) :) oops! my bad

    love your blog!!!

  5. Thank you for reminding folx about tipping! I’ve waited tables, and the number of people who will tell me they just don’t have the money for a tip but “Gee, we sure enjoyed your service!” used to tick me off to no end! I’m glad you had a good time, but that doesn’t help me pay my bills, and the rent can’t be made up with smiley faces.

  6. Great post. But I disagree with one of your examples. If a kids meal is all you need to be full and satisfied, it’s being frugal not cheap to order it. Especially where the regular meal is over-portioned, in which case ordering it may be wasteful.

  7. I agree with you, Nequam, although admittedly I’m Australian, not American, so the price of our meals makes no difference to tipping (which is nice, but by no means expected). I imagine that is the main issue people have with adults ordering children’s meals?

  8. » Blog Archive - pingback on September 6, 2007 at 4:35 am
  9. My wife and I were just discussing this tonight. She said “I don’t like the word cheap, it sounds…” she couldn’t think what word would describe cheap. So I said “sounds… Cheap?”. heheh. Lack of Quality has a lot to do with cheap, and good price for quality is frugal

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