Frugal Versus Cheap – What’s the Difference?

Frugal - vs- Cheap - What's the Difference?

Frugal - vs- Cheap - What's the Difference?

Have you ever noticed how we, as consumers, often interchange the words frugal and cheap for one another? While the line between being cheap versus being frugal can be thin, the thought occurred to us that there’s a world of difference between these two savings strategies. Continue reading as we highlight what makes them so different.

What the words “frugal” and “cheap” have in common is that they both represent ways that you can save money. However, this is where the similarities end. The reason is that they both represent two entirely different outlooks on life.

The Difference Between Cheap and Frugal

Being Cheap

A good way to define cheap would be that cheap is when we make buying decisions solely based upon price. Another way you can say it is it’s when we refuse to consider any factor beyond price in our buying decisions. In essence, being cheap is the same as sacrificing high quality to pay a lower price without taking other things into consideration.

Taken to the extreme being cheap can mean going without something you need, just so you can save money.  Or it could mean doing anything you can to get something for free. Over the long term, being cheap can sometimes cost you far more than you save. For instance, if you need a new air conditioning unit, a cheap unit may not be the right answer for you.  You may spend more in electrical bills, future repairs and even have to get a new unit sooner than you would for a more high quality model that costs a little bit more.

Yet, there are some times when it makes sense to be cheap.  For example, if you’re considering buying a tablet device to watch movies and play games, is it really necessary that you purchase the latest model?  Every time a brand new model comes out the older ones are discounted, so it may make more sense to get the prior model.  Even if you bought the newest tablet that cost $129 more than the one it just replaced, less than a year from now an even newer one will come out replacing today’s model.

Being Frugal

Just as being cheap is about saving money, so too is being frugal. However, when you’re frugal you don’t just want to get any product for less but you want a quality product for less. This often involves the use of timing, coupons, rebates, sales and specials as well as looking for quality refurbished or second market items.

As you can see, there is more time and planning that goes into being frugal as opposed to the time that you’d have to invest to be cheap. However, there is an upside to being frugal; you’re still getting the things that you need or want but just at a reduced price.

For example, let’s go back to the same example from above where you’re in the market for a tablet device. Let’s say you need your tablet to run the latest productivity apps and high definition video without freezing.  So instead of buying the older model that has less features, you locate the manufacturer’s official Ebay store and buy a refurbished model for a hundred dollars less than you’d get a brand new model at a big box retailer.

At the end of the day each way of saving money has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.  The important thing for you to do when figuring out which way to go is to ask yourself if the route that you’re planning on taking will cost you money or save you money – over the  long run.

What do you think?  Drop us a comment and let us know, thanks!


Filed under budget, Frugal, Saving Money Now Series, savings

9 responses to “Frugal Versus Cheap – What’s the Difference?

  1. I think being cheap is often being mean with money, unwilling to spend to help yourself, but frugal is spending wisely, buying as much as you need and staying within your means.

    • Hi LC! Wow, that’s an interesting perspective. Never looked at it that way before but it certainly does make a lot of sense. As a matter of fact, the of first thing that came to mind when you said that is the character that Charles Dickens created called Ebenezer Scrooge.

      He is probably the perfect picture of what you just described. On the other hand, do you think there are some times when being cheap is actually warranted?

  2. Absolutely. I’m cheap when I find ways to “farmer” a fix for something that is broken, instead of replacing it. My heater in my car only starts if I open the hood and give it the old Fonzie swat. But it works perfectly as long as I do that. So I haven’t replaced it yet. That is cheap. But its not hurting anyone.

    • Well said, that’s so insightful. So to sum it up – we could say that as long as our cheapness isn’t hurting anyone that it’s ok.

      But if, on the other hand, our cost cutting efforts cause pain and suffering then we’ve crossed the line, right?

      Very good, LC! Thanks for sharing that with us!

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  7. I’ve been wanting to make a post about something like this; lately i’ve come to realise I’m cheap, not frugal. I think it’s more than just money, though. I myself am cheap more out of guilt, I think. I’m a student and I don’t work: most of my money is from my parents. My parents constantly tell me “just have fun, this is your time to enjoy.” However, most of my friends are on loans, etc. So, I feel guilty that I don’t have to take out student loans. In turn, I’ve become so cheap to the point where people don’t like to hang out with me. I’ll turn down invitations to go out to eat based on price; I’ll only buy store brand, super cheap stuff.

    I think being frugal is being smart, but being friendly and understanding. You wouldn’t turn down a dinner with friends, but you might resist buying yourself something expensive to eat when you’re alone. So, I think when you’re with other people whether you’re frugal or cheap really shines through. When you’re alone in your room, you don’t need to turn the air conditioner on (for example); but when a friend is over, you should consider them and turn the air conditioner on (if they’re hot). When you’re alone, you can drink crappy beer. When you’re with a friend, offer to buy some better beer. Walk to the grocery store to save gas, but when a friend needs you to drive him/her to the airport, don’t hesitate. These are my biggest problems that I’ve been trying to overcome, to make the transition from cheap to frugal.

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