Many people do not know there is a difference between the words frugal and cheap. Many times, the words are used hand in hand by those who do not understand the difference.
But there is a difference between frugal vs. cheap…
Dictionary.com defines cheap as “of little account; of small value; mean; shoddy.”
Frugal is defined as “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.”
You can see just from the difference in these definitions that cheap and frugal do not mean the same thing.
What Does it Mean to Be Cheap?
When something is called “cheap,” it typically means it is of low value. Which also usually (but not always) means it cost less as well.
I used to be called cheap by people who knew me. And they were right. I would always buy the cheapest (least expensive) thing I could find at the store, with no regard to quality.
In my mind I was saving money buying the lowest price item. But I wasn’t. Because when you buy something that is not good quality, it breaks.
And then you go back and buy another, and another, and another, and the cycle continues. Finding the cheapest thing can easily become an unhealthy obsession as well. I speak from experience.
You are not really saving any money when you are being cheap. In the long run, it typically costs you more money to be cheap than if you were frugal.
And it’s not only just things you buy for yourself. It gifts for others (who wants to get cheap crap for a gift?), or even how you treat others.
If you’re stingy with your stuff, you can also be seen as being cheap. I’m not saying you should give everything away, but a little generosity goes a long way.
What Does it Mean to be Frugal?
Now, being frugal is a whole different ballgame. When you’re frugal, you are STILL looking for a great deal. You still want to save money.
But it’s not at the expense of quality. As someone who has moved from camp cheap to camp frugal, let me tell you, it’s way better over here.
Sometimes you have to spend a little more on something you need to get a quality item. That lasts longer and brings you more joy.
I have this beautiful black Prada dress that I got secondhand (why buy new – it’s a waste of money). It still cost more than a cheap dress I could have gotten at Ross (I think it was around $100), but it’s very high quality and I’ve been wearing it to little black dress events for years.
That’s worth the “extra” expense. And I put extra in quotes because in the long run you’ll likely actually end up spending less. I don’t buy a new LBD for every occasion.
Frugal also means saving money in some areas so you can spend money on the areas you like. For instance, I save mercilessly on clothes, food and cars so I can afford first class airfare because that is very important to me.
So important that I go out of my way to make extra money so I can afford that airfare. I’m not spoiled, just have a huge fear of flying and flying first class helps.
In your life, I’m sure there are things that are very important, and things that are less important. Saving on the things that don’t matter so you can spend on the things that do is how you can be frugal without sacrificing your happiness.
And by the way, money can’t buy happiness anyway.
Why Being Cheap Costs You More in the Long Run
Like I said earlier, when you buy cheap crap, it won’t last very long. You’ll end up buying it again. Which costs you more in the long run.
On that same note, I’m going to bring up a touchy subject between myself and my mom. We’ll see if she is reading this LOL!
Just because you’re in the store and you see something on sale for a couple dollars, does NOT mean you should buy it. Yes, the item is cheap, but do you need it?
If your goal is saving money, buying something you don’t need because it’s cheap is not the way to do it.
One of the differences between being cheap and frugal is not being wasteful. Buying cheap things just because they’re cheap, or because it’s the cheapest thing on the shelf and you are “saving” money ends up being wasteful.
You probably won’t use that cheap item you bought on sale because it wasn’t something you needed. Sorry mom, but I’ve seen the piles of jars of sauces and crap in your pantry that have been there for years because they were only $1!
Buying more than what you need is wasteful. Period. Unless you know 100% you are going to use it in the next week or so.
And the cheap crap you buy just ends up in a landfill after you have to go out and buy another one (or your daughter forces you to clean out your pantry). That’s wasteful as well.
So in the long run, being cheap will likely cost you more money (and maybe even some relationships) than being frugal.
Being Frugal Without Being Cheap
It can be a difficult balance to be frugal without being cheap. Because frugality is based on finding good deals that bring value to your life.
When buying a big ticket item, let’s say a TV, you’ll want to do research. Yes, being frugal requires some extra work from time to time.
Research the best rated TVs close to your budget (you should also have a budget for this TV…learn how to create a budget). Remember, we’re looking for value here, not the cheapest!
Now, choose 1-2 models you like and start looking at different stores to see the price as well as any upcoming sales. This is what will allow you to find the best VALUE for your money.
So you’re not buying the cheapest TV you can find. You’re buying a great rated TV for a discounted price. That’s what being frugal means.
You’ll also want to check out these 25+ frugal living tips for a whole plethora of ideas!
Why it’s Important to Be Frugal
Obviously this blog is geared around financial freedom so that is my number 1 reason for being frugal. If you want to save money and become financially free faster, being frugal is a must.
And as we already discussed, being cheap doesn’t actually save you more money in the long run. So to save money, frugality is the key.
On top of gaining financial freedom faster, you are also generating less waste. Which is incredibly important.
For instance, when you buy your clothes second hand, you are practicing sustainability. There is no reason you need to buy clothes brand new unless you can’t find what you need (check out sites like Thredup).
Tips for Being Frugal
Now with all this talk about being frugal, you must be wondering how to get started. Well, first off, I do highly recommend heading over and reading 25+ frugal living tips.
That said, here are some amazing tips to help you live a more frugal lifestyle (without sacrificing your happiness):
Cut the Cable
Honestly, if you haven’t done this yet, you’re behind the curve. My cable bill used to be way over $100/month and that was many, many years ago (they are probably even more today).
We cut that out and pay for Netflix ($13.99/month) and HBO ($14.99/month). I have never missed cable. For less than a third of the price of cable, we watch all the TV we want.
Using a streaming device like a Roku (that’s what we use) also allows you to purchase certain stations or packages for those shows that you just can’t miss (ahem…this is for you sports fanatics).
And I mean seriously, how much TV should be be watching in a day? The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV a day. That’s almost 9 years of your life.
Think of what you can do with an extra 4 hours…or even just an extra 2!
Save on Groceries
You know those flyers you get in the mail that you’re always throwing away (recycling I hope)? Now is the time to actually open them up and read them.
Reading these grocery store flyers allows you to see what’s on sale and where you can get some good deals. It’s a great idea to use this to help create your weekly meal plans.
When you shop intentionally, with a list made based on what you need to make your meals for the week, you can save money on your groceries.
You’re no longer randomly buying what looks good. You’ve scoured the sales, made a meal plan, and created a list based on that.
Stick to that list and you’re golden!
Like I mentioned a couple times already, buying used is an amazing way to be frugal. You can buy so many things used including clothes, furniture, cookware, etc.
I love to buy my clothes at a luxury consignment shop. I can get great quality clothes for a small fraction of the original price.
I’ve also found great pieces at places liking Goodwill and other secondhand stores. It’s an amazing way to save money on items that you need!
In addition to saving money, buying used promotes sustainability.
Find Cheap or Free Hobbies
There are so many hobbies out there that are free or cost a minimal amount of money:
- Check out free books at the library and spend some time reading
- Take a walk on the beach/lake/etc.
- Go hiking at a park near you – bring a picnic to make it an event
- Start writing
- Visit free museums or find times when they have reduced entry fees
- Join a sports team
There are also a ton of cheap date ideas so you and your partner can go enjoy a night out on the town without spending a fortune. Because what really matters is the quality time you spend together.
Stop Eating Out
Eating out is a huge budget killer. This can be hard for the boyfriend and I as we are foodies and eating out is what we do for fun.
BUT…if you’re eating out for convenience, you’ve got to cut it back to save your budget. Learn how to meal plan so you have easy, convenient meals for the week.
This can help keep you from going through that drive through after a long day.
If you can’t completely cut it out, try to reduce it by 70-80%. Save eating out for special/fun occasions!
These are just a few ways you can get started living a more frugal, intentional lifestyle.
Here are some other articles to read about saving money and living more frugally:
- 15 Creative Ways to Save Money
- How to Save Money in Your Daily Life
- How to Live Cheap and Save Money
- How to Stop Spending Money
- 10+ Money Saving Challenges to Try
There is a difference in being frugal vs. cheap. Being cheap means finding the thing with the lowest price and buying it. It’s a focus on getting what you need at the cheapest price possible.
And that typically comes at the expensive of quality, as well as your well-being.
On the other hand, being frugal means finding the best value and learning to live your life with a little more intention. Being frugal can be done without sacrificing your happiness.
Having you been focusing on being cheap or being frugal in your life? How has it impacted you? Leave your answer in the comments below!