Cheap or frugal: Which are you?

Call me frugal and I’m a happy fox. Call me cheap and I’ll be very upset indeed! These two words seem very similar on the face of things, but boy oh boy you should not get these two confused.

Time for two definitions.

When I use the word frugal I tend to paint it in a positive light. Frugality to me is best defined as follows: “The quality of being economical with food and finances.”. When defined as such, how can it be anything other than positive? The idea that we are anything but frugal utterly confounds me!

When I refer to being cheap I will always say it is a bad thing and should be avoided. I’d say to be cheap is best defined as: “Significantly impairing quality of life in order to preserve resources”.

They sound kind of like the same thing…

This is the main reason people tend to confuse and misuse the two. We should strive for frugality but absolutely push back against cheapness.

Introducing Tamsin:

Let’s take a made up an individual and call her Tamsin. She has a few choices to make over the course of this article and I will point out the frugal and cheap variations she could go with.

Scenario 1:

Tamsin needs to head to the city centre to pick up some bits and pieces and meet a friend. She looks outside and notices it is raining rather heavily and it is forecast to continue doing so. In order to get into town she can walk, which would be a 40 minute journey that costs nothing, or take the bus at a price of £1.50 one way. In this scenario, I would almost always suggest she walks if she had made the time available. However in light of the horrendous weather, I’d argue that walking is the cheap choice! She will potentially cause damage to clothing, stress to footwear and take a mental/physical toll from being out in the cold for an extended period. Taking the bus for the small price is a smart and frugal choice here!

Scenario 2:

Upon arriving in town and meeting her friend Tamsin gets to choose what they should do. They loosely planned ‘coffee’ but that’s about it. The friend suggests the local Costa and upon consulting the menu Tamsin has another frugal or cheap choice to make. The cheapest route here is to get nothing at all. Tamsin herself may be happy to sit down empty handed, but she agreed to meet the friend for coffee in the first instance! Whilst I am happy to break societal norms in order to better myself financially, I think it is actually rude to invite someone to an activity and not participate! If Tamsin wishes to, she can be frugal with the drink choice itself. No need to go large. Don’t pick an extra syrup and for the love of God don’t buy any of the cakes and sandwiches!

This is how I believe the frugal mind should be trained. We should aim to spot these opportunities to live a good, fun and interesting life without missing out and letting life itself pass us by entirely!

Chasing pennies has its merits but take time to stop and ask yourself: am I being frugal? Or am I being cheap?

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4 thoughts on “Cheap or frugal: Which are you?

  1. Frugal has been a favourite word of mine for many years! The frugal choices in life often take into account things other than finances, such as quality of life. This was explained nicely in the article. There is no point being miserable and wealthy, there is a better balance available!

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  2. You are not the only frugal person.
    Scenario 3: I have one winter shoes. Old one, 10 years old, good and expensive brand. I will buy another this summer – but I will buy an expensive one, heavy resistant, on sales. 😀 .
    The cheap version of me might buy something cheap, anything, when the existent one is broken and not fixable.

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