Cheap or Frugal? What’s the Difference Anyhow?

 

So many times when I tell people about my writing I get a strange response. “oh—I don’t like that word-frugality” they say. “I don’t want to be cheap” Or sometimes “I don’t want to live in a poverty consciousness.” It is easy to see where these ideas come from. The shift in our value systems as a culture has given the honorable qualities of frugality and thrift a bad name. At this point for many these words are bundled up with other words such as miserly, stingy, and cheap.

But this was not always the case. The founders of the United States had a very different view—hence all the wonderful sayings about frugal living from the best minds of that era. For example “A penny saved is a penny earned.” and “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” both from Benjamin Franklin. They did have a word for cheapness back then—they would have said miserly, but they knew the difference between miserly and frugal or economical. The question posed in this post would never have arisen back then.

Today is a different story. In an atmosphere where things and experiences (that can be purchased) have taken the place of actual connections with people to large extent and going into debt is the normal way to get our needs met and our wants satisfied it is hard to imagine the value of delayed gratification. It is to the advantage of the market to make us believe that frugal is the same thing as cheap.

It is true that some behaviors are “cheap”. For instance—going out to dinner and ordering the pasta instead of steak is frugal. Not tipping the waitress is cheap. A frugal person would not go to a place where they can’t really afford to be there. The same with going out with friends and “forgetting” your wallet. A frugal person would just suggest a less expensive form of entertainment to begin with. Or they would save up for a big night out and thoroughly enjoy it, knowing that spending their time and money that way was the best use it could have, and without guilt. That is the true meaning of frugal abundance. It is to know what you want, and then going about making proper provisions to get it.

A cheap person only has one way of interacting with money—hoarding it. A frugal person is adaptable and responsive to the environment. They are willing to spend when appropriate while getting the best value for their money. This may mean that they are slower to reach for the wallet. This is not the knee jerk reaction of the miser, but rather the behavior of a self-aware person living with-in their means. In the end, it is the big spender that experiences lack, and his frugal sister who lives in prosperity.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. I learned to be frugal from my grandmother, with whom I spent summers– sewing, gardening, and learning the joy of a simple life. Those lessons have served me well throughout my life and I’m grateful to her for teaching me the real meaning of abundance.

  2. I agree that cheap is very different from frugal and simple. Frugal can be abundant and generous, cheap can’t. Great post! Andrea

  3. This is a great, insightful post! I do feel that nowadays the word frugal and cheap have become synonymous and as you point out, they are not the same. Thanks for the clarification!

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