Sometimes the words “frugal” and “cheap” are used interchangeably to describe people who don’t like to spend a lot of money. I have used them interchangeably in the past myself, but since then I’ve learned that frugal and cheap have vastly different meanings.
According to Dictionary.com, frugal is an adjective which means “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.” While cheap, when used an adjective, means “costing very little; relatively low in price; inexpensive.”
On the surface they may still seem to be synonymous, but in practice, being cheap is not frugal and being frugal is not always cheap. Here are two examples to illustrate what I mean.
If you are a frugal person, you will cook your meals at home using ingredients that were on sale at the grocery store that week. You will clip coupons and shop primarily in the outer edges of the store to obtain the healthiest ingredients at the best prices because you know that spending a little more money to eat healthy will save money on health care in the long-run.
However, if you are a cheap person you will eat a lot of highly processed junk food and fast food from dollar menus. Your main focus is to spend as little money on food as possible. You also generally don’t consider the long-term effects of eating this junk food and what it will cost you later in life when you develop diabetes, high cholesterol, or other expensive health problems. You only consider the costs today.
On Household Purchases
A frugal person will shop around to get the best deal before making a large purchases for their household. No matter if it’s furniture that needs replacing, a kitchen appliance, or something smaller, they do adequate research to find high-quality goods for a decent price. They don’t usually settle for the bottom of the barrel equipment, but they don’t necessarily have to have top-of-the-line items either. They often buy used items that are in good condition.
Before they even consider buying something new, a frugal person will seek to maintain and fix the items they already own. Only if it’s not economical to fix something will they even consider buying something new.
Conversely, a cheap person will almost never try to fix anything and they don’t usually treat their belongings with care. They don’t shop around and they don’t plan ahead. They wait until the last minute to purchase something they need and then they buy the first cheap option they come across.
You can probably tell already, there is a pattern here. While a frugal person likes to save money, they also know that spending more money to get higher quality goods will help them over the long-run. They won’t have to replace their belongings as often and the won’t have to worry as much about negative consequences of their money-saving actions because they consider the opportunity costs before making a purchasing decision. Being frugal is usually a positive, while being cheap is usually a negative over the long-run.
Are you frugal or are you cheap? Why do you think so many confuse the two terms? What things are you purposely frugal in so as to have money for other needs?
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