The Great Frugal vs Cheap Debate: Which Side Are You On?

Steve Cummings

Frugal or cheap

Have you ever been called cheap or a cheapskate? Does hearing the words cheap make you feel bad? Cheap as a word can have a negative connotation. As a frugal individual, I think people get confused about what is frugal and what is cheap. The argument over frugal vs cheap gets started, and I show that frugal living is not the same as cheap living.

Why do people argue over being frugal vs cheap? Is there a difference? Are you frugal or cheap?

Yes, I love saving money, but does that make me cheap? No, there is a difference between being frugal and being cheap.

What’s the Difference Between Frugal and Cheap?

Let’s get down to what these two words mean:

Cheap: Low in price, little worth

Frugal: sparing or economical as regards money or food. Simple plain and costing little. 

Taking these words out of the dictionary, you have some brief differences. One is about lower in price, while the other is about being economical towards aspects in life. 

Cheap is about the price of items and the money. Frugal is about being intentional with your money. 

As we think about these terms, you can see that cheap is about just not wanting to spend. Everything is about price. You will buy quantity over quality.

As a frugal man, I enjoy hiking and going backpacking. When getting gear or buying hiking gifts for people, I have many different things to consider. I need to consider the price, the quality, and if the item is necessary. When looking at the price and quality, I always want to find the best quality item at a reasonable price. I am not buying the Walmart branded tent because it is cheap. The brand and quality need to be able to last a long time, withstand different elements in nature, and be the best bang for the buck. 

Living a frugal lifestyle, you need to look at the value of the item. I do not want to have things that break on me easily because they are cheaply made and had a cheap price. Value is what I want, and if I can get it at a reasonable price, then that is the best thing.  

Frugal people often are seen as cheap. There is a big difference between looking frugal vs cheap.

Cheap is about the Price

The price matters to cheap people. If I had a choice between buying a good quality cell phone vs a cheap one, I would buy the excellent quality. A cheap person would find the one with the lowest price possible. 

When you value price over quality, you may cost yourself more money in the long run. 

My one cell phone stopped working at one point, but I didn’t have the money to find a good quality phone. So I had to be cheap. The phone barely lasted two years. It had a massive amount of problems, and it was just cheap. I had a bad experience with it and wanted something that was more quality at a reasonable price.

Frugal is about the Value

Being frugal is choosing value over price. Value is everything. It is about what things bring value to your life. Once you know what brings value into your life, you can stop spending money on things that don’t get you value. 

My wife and I enjoy traveling, and that is something that brings value to our lives. We would rather spend money on traveling than spending money on a prominent place to live. There is value in a home, but we do not need the most extensive or most expensive so we save on accommodation and spend our money on things that bring us joy and value. 

A cheap person would sacrifice value for the price. It is all about putting the accumulation of money above all else. 

It is what people say “ you get what you pay for.” Paying for something cheap will give you a cheap experience. Making sure the item brings value will provide you with a better experience.

4 Ways on How to be Frugal Without Looking Cheap

Frugality is a much important quality to demonstrate. Being cheap gives off a bad vibe to your friends and the people around you. It is better to live a more frugal life of intentionality than to sacrifice for the sake of price and money.

1. Frugality is all about Being Intentional

Intentionality is critical when being frugal. Frugality is not about not spending money but finding where you want to spend your money. 

If someone invites you over for dinner, you can bring something to share. Do not turn things down because it is all about price. You need to realize that life is not about money but about being intentional with your money. 

This goes along with the value. What is it that you value? With this mindset, you can be very intentional about what you spend money on. You can cut on costs that do not bring value, and you can spend on things that do not. 

As frugal people, you do not just pay the price on certain items; instead, you find the best price. If I am looking for a new computer, I know the best quality one I would like is a MacBook Air. I do not blindly pay the $1000 it costs to purchase it. Instead, I look for a good deal. If I find a deal that seems too good to be true, it is time to pull the trigger. 

You have to be intentional with the way you spend money. The money you spend has a purpose, and it is not about just spending but making sure each dollar is used for a reason and for something that brings value to your life.

2. Eat and Drink at Home

Using your time and money to create beautiful meals at home is one of my favorite frugal tips. Going to the grocery store and buying food can save you lots of money. Plus, this food can be whole foods that are good for your body. After you make food at home, you may have leftovers, saving you money on buying more groceries. 

Eating out all the time can be eating away at your budget. One $13 restaurant meal is about 325% more expensive than a $4 meal you prepare yourself. If you want to be more frugal, you can cook meals at home. 

Instead of going to bars for drinks, you can have drinks at your house. Friends want to go out, well they can come on over for food and bring drinks to your home. This can be significant savings and more fun as well.

3. Don’t Worry about the Brands

People often worry about the brands they are using when buying things. I understand the quality of certain items. If I go and buy food, there is not much difference in the generic brand of crackers or pasta compared to the more recognized brand. It is the same food but at a lower price. 

The same can go for medicine as well. You can buy Tylenol, or you can buy the generic version at Walgreens or CVS. 

As a backpacker, people see brands like Patagonia and will pay top dollar for it. Here is the thing: plenty of items out there are better and cheaper than Patagonia. These are the ones I like to buy. It is about the value instead of the price.

4. Buy Experiences Instead of Items

Experiences are something that lasts a lot longer than items. People buy things for either need, wants, or even desires. Experiences are bought for the need to see and experience something in life. 

Travel is a great experience. You can learn about other cultures, eat different foods and see many incredible things. This adventure and experience can last in your memory for a long time. The endorphins and dopamine you may get from the experiences will always warm you up with happiness as you think about it. 

As you think about buying things, you need to be intentional in what you purchase. Should I purchase beer this weekend, or should I save my money for a weekend traveling experience? A cheap person would look at the price tag. The beer this weekend costs much less than the weekend experience. One will bring me joy right now, while the other will continually bring me joy as I remember the fun I enjoyed. 

Which one would you choose?

Can Frugality Make You Rich?

Since we talk a lot about money, will being frugal save you more money than being cheap?

If you are very intentional with your money, then you have financial goals in place. If an item you would like to buy is not on sale, you will wait to buy it because the quality is much better than buy a cheap version. Cheap versions end up costing more in the long run because you need to keep fixing, purchasing new ones, and they don’t last long. 

When you are practicing frugality, you make sure that your things last a long time. That is the items you purchase, the friendships you create, and the money you earn. It is all about lasting a long time. 

The friendships we create are not cheap; they are relationships with people we plan to spend money or invest in. If we were invited to go out with some friends the choice is either to stay at home and not go or to find a good economically valued place to enjoy a night with friends. Which one would you choose?

For me, friendships are essential so I would choose to go out to eat. If it is an expensive place, I will try to find a more economical place for us to all enjoy. These friendships can build networks. Networking can help build a more prosperous future for your life. Relationships are also more important than money. Money isn't everything.

You will also need to think about retirement as well. I have met many cheapskates in my time, and they are excellent at not spending money, but they also need to make sure that they are also investing money for the future. It is a much better future to be able to know that your money is growing for you than to rely on being cheap.

Does frugality make you rich? I say “yes”. It enhances your relationships, allows you to spend less, and creates great memories.

Final Thoughts:

Being frugal vs cheap is a choice for you. I see it is as a choice between being intentional and placing value on things in life. It is our money mindsets that help us make a choice. 

I place value on experiences and relationships. These things are significant to me. Being international on having quality over quantity on these things is paramount. It is not about the price. Yes, I like a good sale or a better price on items made of good quality, but you understand that you cannot settle for a cheaper version. The quality is not the same. 

I have a question for you; after reading this, do you consider yourself a frugal or cheap person? Is price the most important to you, or is value?

1 thought on “The Great Frugal vs Cheap Debate: Which Side Are You On?”

  1. Thanks, I love the comparison. I live a very nice life, big vacations, 34 foot motorhome, nice house, yet I consider myself frugal. I always seek the options with the best value and things I really want. I spent my surgical career living on only half our income. We did some nice things with the other half we saved. Those who look at my life don’t necessarily think I’m frugal. I’m adding this to my Fawcett’s Favorites next Monday.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Financial Success MD


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