Are You Frugal – Or Just Plain Cheap?

Frugal people and cheap people both love to save money. But there is a difference between being frugal or thrifty, and being cheap and stingy. Frugality makes you a more conscious spender. Being cheap means you try to avoid paying for anything.

Related: 30 signs you grew up in a frugal family

  1. Frugal people have the patience to cash in on simple savings strategies. They plan out their purchases, use a little patience, and buy at the right time. They are astute shoppers and look for deals, compare prices and negotiate for a lower price. Frugal people are not obsessed with brand names. They will buy good running shoes rather than the low cost version, but will pay less for last season’s model when it goes on sale.
  1. Frugal people will not try to save money at the expense of others. Cheap people are inconsiderate to others. A frugal diner will share a large entrée. A cheap diner will stiff the waitress on her tip, or put $10 in the pot to cover her $9.95 dinner, overlooking tax and tip. Cheap people will ask for extra packages of ketchup so they can fill up their bottle at home.
  1. Cheapness uses price as the bottom line. Frugality uses value as the bottom line. For items that have long or frequent use, frugal people will not sacrifice quality to buy something just because it’s less expensive – especially if it will fall apart after a few uses or washings.
  1. Cheap people are driven solely by saving money. They will try to get the lowest price on everything and are willing to forego quality and durability for price. They feel they deserve a special deal or get something for free. Cheap people can be “penny wise and pound foolish,” and will spend hours to save a few bucks. Frugal people also like to save money, but are driven by maximizing total value, including their time.
  1. Those who are cheap are unwilling – and often afraid to – spend money. Cheap people worry a lot about their money and have a fear of losing it or getting “ripped-off.” They never splurge, even when they have the money. Cheap affects quality of life. Frugality is about prioritizing your spending so that you can have more of the things you really care about, maximizing your dollars to fund the bigger picture. Frugal people have financial goals and are thrifty to achieve those goals. They can allocate resources to bigger dreams – travel, going back to school, retirement. They may spend a lot on items they really care about. Frugal people will workout in their basement or jog rather than paying for a pricey gym membership, but may own a more expensive bike.

Final Thoughts

Cheap people care about the cost of something. Frugal people care about the value of something.

There is a fine line between being cheap and being frugal, and the side you are on can make all the difference.

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  1. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet on March 10, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    I would say I am more frugal than cheap; I always try to buy higher quality items because they tend to last longer which means they cost less in the long run. Being cheap and buying lower quality items solely because they are priced lower just doesn’t make sense most of the time

    • Nate on March 10, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      It depends, if there is a tool you rarely need, going for the lower quality one make sense.

      If we take running shoes as an example, if you run indoor, on a mat and rarely; high durability shoes don’t really make sense (at least it shouldn’t for a frugal person).

      The cheap person won’t ask himself that question and buy the lowest costing one.

      However buying an expensive pair, with quality above your needs is pure luxury.

  2. Barry @ Moneywehave on March 10, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    I’m definitely frugal. I don’t mind spending money on things that I enjoy but of course I’ll try my best to save money doing those things. It almost never works out when you buy the cheapest things.

    • Johnny Eff on March 11, 2015 at 6:02 am

      “A cheap diner will stiff the waitress on her tip, or put $10 in the pot to cover her $9.95 dinner, overlooking tax and tip.”

      Memo to cheap people: If you think you are getting away with this, you’re not. Others notice and they talk. Oh yes they do. And they’re all saying “shame”. It can hurt friendships too. You’re not only stiffing the waiter, you’re stiffing your own reputation.

  3. Bet Crooks on March 11, 2015 at 5:58 am

    No matter who is speaking, it’s always someone else who is cheap and the person speaking is always frugal. : )

    I agree though that one should never try to save money in a way that is damaging to someone else. Including, for example, a spouse saying that “we will never eat out” to her/his spouse who gets stuck with either cooking all the time or eating the first spouse’s poor cooking all the time. Each partner should have some say in what makes having money worth it.

    • Boomer on March 11, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      @Bet Crooks: I consider myself frugal (see points above) for the most part, but I’ll admit that I can be cheap – at least my husband thinks so. It’s a fine line to fall over.

  4. KC on March 11, 2015 at 11:43 am

    I’m frugal as well but I will admit that I was cheap when I was struggling for cash as I just needed something to get by for the time being until I came into more money. Even when I had more income coming in, I had a hard time getting out of that cheap phase as it was ingrained in me for a long while.
    It’s definitely a fine line!

  5. DivGuy on March 11, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Not a frugal and not cheap either… but trying to be more minimalist though. Simplifying things and owning less is where I’m aiming to go.

  6. Tawcan on March 11, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Great breakdown. I would say that I’m definitely frugal but maybe on some things I could be considered as cheap. I used to get the cheapest items possible but my view on that has changed significantly. Now I’d definite get higher quality items while keeping an eye on the cost.

  7. Tahnya Kristina on March 14, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    I’m a bit of both. Although I’d like to say I’m frugal in reality very often I’m just cheap, but being cheap isn’t a bad thing in my books. I’m a financial planner so I factor money into everything I do. Trust me I’m not above wearing a gorgeous ring that I bought for $5 at a street vendor in NYC. If that makes me cheap then so be it! Great post Marie!

    • Boomer on March 14, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Tahnya: A gorgeous ring for 5 bucks? That’s not cheap. That’s smart!

  8. Alan on March 16, 2015 at 11:03 am

    As others have pointed out, only other people are cheap! I freely admit I am frugal, but I won’t like who I’ve become if I skimp on the tip or don’t pay my full share of common expenses. I also like to give a lot to charity, and being frugal helps with that as it makes me more intentional and less impulsive about spending.

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