Frugal vs. Cheap

In the personal finance world, the words ‘frugal’ and ‘cheap’ are thrown around often and sometimes used interchangeably.  While similar, I think the words are inherently different and connote entirely different meanings.

To me, frugal is a way of conscious spending– realizing the best-case scenario of a spending/saving situation. Being cheap, on the other hand is a way of minimizing spending at the expense (!) of genuine experiences, personal relationships or social interactions.

I’ve been on both sides of the equation and have met my fair share of people exhibiting tendencies towards frugality/cheapness.  Sometimes the difference can be a very fine line.

I am not proud for example, when I was a grad student at NYU, that I went to ALL the social club mixers that offered free food and refreshments.

Art department? Of course, I love art!

Business? Well, I could learn a thing or two.

LGBTQ? Well, I am straight, but I’m an ally!

It was pretty hilarious and pathetic how far I would go for some free wine. In my head, I was saving money on entertainment, booze and sometimes, even dinner. In reality, it was a pretty lame ploy and I always felt bad for never returning or taking a vested interest in their clubs.

Before my current relationship, I briefly (and you will find out why) dated a man who wanted to take me out to a nice dinner date…with a gift card.

Um, ok?

I guess I can handle that. It got really bad when he stipulated that we not get appetizers, drinks or dessert because he insisted on using the gift card again, for another meal that didn’t include me! I was speechless.  The utterly brazen cheapskate really thought this was romance….suffice it to say, it didn’t last much longer.

I think the main difference between frugality and being cheap is this:

Frugality is a lifestyle, while being cheap is an attitude.

Frugal people know when to splurge and when to save.  Frugal people naturally consciously spend and save, while cheap people cut corners and don’t care how it affects others. Frugal people know the value of money, but also know that money is not the only valued currency in life. Cheap people are rigid, by-the-numbers folk divorcing themselves from life experience in favor of numerical values.

Have you ever been too cheap? Where do you draw the line between frugal and cheap?


10 responses to “Frugal vs. Cheap

  1. That is pretty hilarious about the guy and the gift card! I’ve been on dates where guys use coupons or prefer happy hour since the prices are cheaper, which I think is smart/frugal. I agree there’s a difference between the two in terms of quality, whether it be tangible items or non-tangible experiences. Now I just need to get into the habit of practicing frugality!

  2. The gift card is funny! Wish I’d been more like that in the past, unfortunately it was the other way around and now I’m paying for it. Mind you, it did get me some very pretty female friends 🙂

    BTW, do you have a twitter handle??

    • I’m not on twitter yet! I will move to self-hosted soon enough and get a twitter for this blog 🙂 Thanks for reading! We all have our debts and regrets to pay, it just comes in different forms and different times! Nice blog you have as well.

      • Thanks. I found you originally in a comment on someone else’s post, (sorry I forget which, I’ve read about 30 today!), but I usually find interesting blogs via twitter and then sign up, but that’s just me.

    • Haha I agree! Frugal can be fun! It’s hard to downgrade lifestyles, I know, but you find pleasure in other things….and once we are debt free we can start enjoying more things!

  3. Like this post! I wrote a Frugal vs. Cheap post way back when, but for me it all came down to semantics. I’m obsessed with the words people use. They affect our thinking and behavior patterns. But I like your idea of lifestyle and attitude. I could see it that way, except I don’t mind a cheap attitude every now and then, especially if it means you can shake off other people’s expectations of what you “should” be spending!

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