frugal vs. cheap

Frugal vs. Cheap


Are you wondering where you fall in the whole frugal vs. cheap debacle?

I always joke that I’m cheap.  “I’m frugal” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “I’m cheap”.

But in reality, I’m a heck of a lot more frugal.

So what’s the difference?

I grew up in a very frugal household. But a few of the ways my dad saved money were beyond cheap. For example, he used to refill the shampoo bottles with dishwashing detergent. My sisters and I always wondered why our hair was so frizzy!

It probably saved him a few pennies, but it cost him the time it took him to lock himself away in the bathroom (refills had to be made in secret or there would have been mutiny!) and refill the bottles. But the biggest cost was to our hair and our confidence. It’s hard to be a confident little girl when you can’t drag a comb through the rat’s nest on your head.

Food was another way he was cheap. When your primary concern is the price of the groceries, things that should you concern you, like well-balanced nutrition, fall by the wayside.

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Even though I joke that he’s an extreme cheapskate, in most ways he was frugal.

There seems to be a very fine line between frugal vs. cheap, however, and I think I’ve got it figured out.

Frugality is a completely different mindset than cheapness. Being frugal means researching purchases, learning financial skills, and making good decisions. It demonstrates a mature financial mindset. It means not buying cheap things that you don’t need so that you’ll have money for the valuable things you do need.

Being frugal is being resourceful and wise about how you spend your money, while being cheap is cutting corners to your own detriment just so you don’t have to spend money.

Being cheap cuts your upfront costs. But it often costs you more money in the long run.

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Take a look at some of these frugal vs cheap examples, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



Here are 10 helpful examples of frugal vs. cheap:


1. Cheap people are price conscious while frugal people are value conscious.

We recently remodeled our entire house, top to bottom. Right from the start, I knew I needed to purchase the best quality of everything. My kiddos tend to be hard on things, partly because they’re kids, and partly because we have eight of them.

The cabinets at Home Depot were really pretty, and much less expensive than custom hardwood cabinets. But they were made of laminated particle board, which I knew would never stand up to wear and tear from our large family.

I could have paid around $15k for a kitchen with laminate cabinets, laminate countertops and laminate flooring. It would have been pretty for about a year, and then a decrepit eyesore for the next ten years until I finally saved up to replace it yet again.

Instead, I paid double that for solid oak (painted white) cabinets, granite countertops and hardwood flooring that will endure and look great for twice as long. I did most of the work myself so I could afford the most durable materials. I’m betting that this kitchen will hold up until I’m sick and tired of looking at it. Or longer.

Frugal people do research to determine which purchase is the smartest long-term investment. When you purchase high-quality items that lost longer, even if they initially cost more, you end up spending less over the long run.

Cheap people only look at the price.


2. Frugal people will never save money at the expense of others.

We don’t eat out much as a family because it restaurants charge over ten times the cost of making the meal at home from scratch. Plus, my kiddos have large appetites, which are much easier to satisfy at home.

When we do eat out, though, I usually insist that we all drink water, and we only order entrees — no dessert. As a family of ten, beverages cost a hefty amount, and water helps to keep the bill down. But regardless of the sacrifices we make to keep the bill low, I’d never skimp on the tip for our server.

Similarly, I work really hard to make sure my kiddos have all the opportunities they need. I pay a small fortune every month for violin, cello, harp, bagpipe, flute, guitar, voice, piano and dance lessons, plus constant instrument upgrades, restringing, tuning, reeds and bow rehairs.

I once added up how much money we had spent on lessons for just our oldest daughter. That was a big mistake, because then I realized exactly how much I could have contributed to our savings. But what is money compared to lifelong enjoyment of a talent that we helped our children to develop?


3. Cheap people are afraid to spend money, while frugal people understand how to spend wisely. 

Cheap people are often afraid to spend money, even on valuable products and enjoyable experiences. They forgo family vacations, seeing them as an expense instead of an opportunity to build relationships.

Frugal people are wise about their spending, choosing to only spend on things that really matter, so that they can reach their ultimate goals. A frugal person doesn’t mind paying more a higher quality appliance that will work better and last longer. But he’ll also look for the best price on that appliance, along with coupons and rebates.


4. Cheap people don’t buy necessities.

As a kid, my Dad got really sick with Rheumatic Fever. His dad refused to take him to the doctor or pay for necessary medicine, so he was sick for a long time. As a result, he developed a dangerous heart condition that has plagued him ever since.

Nourishing food, health care, adequate insurance, and a college education are all examples of expenses that a frugal person is happy to pay because he understands that the benefits far outweigh the costs. But a cheap person might ignore the benefits and avoid them because of the cost.

frugal vs. cheap

5. Cheap people are more prone to do things that are dishonest or unethical to save a few bucks.

A cheap person might tell herself that she’s not really hurting anyone buy purchasing clothing, wearing it, then returning it to the store for a full refund. Even if it’s not illegal, that is definitely unethical.
A frugal person would instead purchase someone else’s slightly used designer clothing for a mere fraction of the original price at a consignment shop and then thoroughly enjoy it.

A cheap person might convince himself that he is entitled to the office supplies at the office because his boss doesn’t pay him enough. Or he might excuse himself for filling his pockets with condiments at the deli, or complain at restaurants to get his meal comped, or piggyback off of his neighbor’s wi-fi.

This kind of petty theft hurts businesses, which pass along losses to their employees and customers. So, by extension, everyone suffers because of the selfishness of cheap people who do this.

Anything that’s destined for the trash otherwise, like scrap paper, is fair game. Always ask yourself whether you are taking something that belongs to someone else. This area of frugal vs. cheap is not always black and white.


6. Frugal people understand that paying more doesn’t always equate to better value.

The hubs and I frequently disagree over this. He won’t admit that he wants a certain brand of sneaker or vehicle because he’s willing to pay a premium for something he sees as a status symbol. He always claims that, “you get what you pay for” when I try to convince him to purchase a different item that is a better value.

He’s pretty much the opposite of both frugal and cheap, but luckily he admits to not being good with money and he usually lets me take care of our finances.

It’s the truth, though. I’ve even read articles about certain canned goods being produced and canned at the same facility, and then just being labeled and priced differently. With my own eyes, I’ve seen different sneaker brands produced in the exact same factory in China.


7. Cheap people alienate their friends.

Several years ago we went out to dinner with the hubs’ work friends. I was meeting one of his friends, newly out of college and brand new to the engineering group, for the first time.

Imagine my surprise when, halfway through the meal, during a lull in the conversation, he asked if he could finish my food. I guess to him it looked like I was finished eating, but I hadn’t.

He didn’t seem at all discouraged by my refusal, and immediately turned to his date (it was her first and only date with him) and asked her if he could finish her food.

An ex-friend of my sisters would habitually send her food back to the kitchen and complain until her meal was comped. Another friend of mine would always order extravagantly, including multiple alcoholic beverages, and then insist loudly and vehemently that we split the bill equally, rather than according to what we had each ordered.

Can you blame us for not going out with those people anymore?

I just have to share this funny story. As a young adult, my brother was leaving home to serve a 2-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It’s customary in our church to host a farewell party for the missionary.

My mom worked all week to put together a nice buffet for the party. My dad was in charge of paper goods. He was happy to have found what he needed at a discount store. Most of the neighbors and the members of our congregation arrived and the party was going well, until someone started laughing. Then everyone started laughing.

I finally realized everyone was laughing about the paper cups, which were covered by a large ED (erectile dysfunction) advertisement that none of us had noticed while setting up the buffet table. The attendees found it hilarious, and so did my dad, but my mom was mortified. She alienated my dad for awhile!

frugal vs. cheap


8. Cheap people are consumed with money and stuff.

Do you find it so loathsome to throw anything away (hey! You might need it some day!) that your home could be featured on the hoarders show? A cheap person ignores the cost of storing all the ‘stuff’ in favor of possible savings down the road.

Add up the storage costs, maintenance costs, cost of depreciation and the clutter cost, which is actually the heaviest burden of them all to bear, if you ask me. Is it worth it?

And further, how much of your precious time do you devote to saving money? Do you spend hours every week at the kitchen table, clipping coupons? Do you spend all day grocery shopping in order to take advantage of the loss leaders at five different stores? Do you have trouble falling asleep at night because you’re racked with guilt about having purchased new underwear?

When so many of your precious resources are allocated to many and stuff, they become an obsession. And when saving money becomes an obsession, it’s time to make some changes.


9. Frugal people are happier with less

Frugal people understand the negative impact of clutter on their lives and their wallets. Organizing and decluttering are so freeing that once you start, you get hooked. And your hard work at accomplishing organization makes you think twice about bringing anything else into your space.

It also has to do with the fact that frugal people are very conscientious about their spending, which allows them to achieve goals that bring them happiness. They identify what does and doesn’t make them happy, and make choices based on those decisions.

It’s not hard for frugal people to reach the conclusion that they are actually happier and more free with less stuff.


10. Frugal People are Generous

That’s not to say that cheap people aren’t generous. I’ve known a lot of cheap people who would give anyone the shirt off their back.

Frugal people are wise about spending, and they know that one of the best uses for money is to better the lives of the downtrodden. My dad is as frugal as they come, but I watched him help out neighbor after neighbor growing up. He donated money and labor exhaustively to anyone in need.

In addition to consistently paying tithing, he would donate extra funds to build a meetinghouse and to help the poor. I’ve seen the same quality in most frugal people. They are so wise about finances that they understand that money is secondary to people and relationships.






Frugal vs. Cheap: Which am I?

Of course, none of us is 100% one or the other — frugal vs. cheap. As our financial circumstances change, we’ve all probably been a bit of both. But those of us who concern ourselves at all with finances typically tend to one mindset or the other.

If you’re wondering which you are, just ask yourself whether you’re forcing someone else to pay your share, or whether your choices will make trouble for someone (you included) down the road. If you continually show up to potluck meals empty handed, someone else is picking up your slack. If you find yourself frequently having to replace clothing, shoes and appliances, you should probably learn to recognize and appreciate value.

That’s the thing, though — no habit is ever set in stone. You can always make better financial choices if you feel like you need to.






The frugal vs. cheap Bottom Line

Saving money doesn’t mean you have to be stingy or alienate your friends. I’m sure you’d prefer to be known for being smart and generous with your finances than for being miserly.

You can be frugal, save plenty of money, and still enjoy your life, share meals with friends and help those in need.




Pin these helpful frugal vs. cheap examples for later!






What do you think of frugal vs cheap? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, along with all your funny stories. I love funny stories!






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  1. Hrǣdiȝbrǣcc The Gruelmaker says:

    Due to a massive drop in our monthly income I have spent quite a bit of time this Xmas period researching blogs and online articles regarding thrift and frugality. Having been brought up in the “grey-cardigan,” lower middle class poverty of Britain in the 70s and having lived off welfare and disability benefits for the last 20 years (I care fulltime for my disabled wife) I felt I had a good grounding in living well on the poverty line. . for example I could afford to run a car , smoke 60 a day, take foreign holidays and pretty much eat what we want….and *still * manage to save £50 a week! However a change in our benefits , what you might call ‘welfare’ I think, means we now have to make some serious economies .

    All of which is my roundabout way of saying ‘thank you’ for this and other articles (especially the one about your Dad’s cheapskateyness ). Not only have they amused and ‘spoken’ to me; helped me to clarify my own thoughts but also -and most importantly-taught me something. Again , thank you and may the Lord ( ithink you said you were LDS?) bless and keep you and yours in the New Year.

  2. happy to say i am frugal and not cheap lol! this is great. thank you for sharing.

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Good for you, Karen! Frugal (not cheap) is the best way to be! 🙂

  3. What a great post, I love all the examples and personal stories you wove throughout. The ED cups…:D I’m definitely a frugal person though I struggle to overcome some of the cheapness engrained in my life as a kid. I could totally relate to your remodel story, large families just use everything so much more!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      I’m sure you can — your family is even larger than my own! I once made the mistake, while remodeling a bathroom, of using a laminate cabinet from Home Depot. It was beautiful, and not actually cheap. Inside two weeks, my children had accidentally ripped off a drawer front. Since it wasn’t real wood, it ripped out a chunk of the pressed-wood and I couldn’t just put in new screws. I had to create an entirely new drawer front and match the routing around the edges and the stain and everything. I wanted to murder my wild two-year-old from something that was an accident. And I don’t like feeling that way! I didn’t even feel like I was being cheap at the time, but I still learned an important lesson. Always buy the very best quality possible, so I don’t want to murder my children, lol!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Back when we lived off of less than $10k a year, I was cheap of necessity, ha, ha! I never had two dimes to rub together. But I try to be frugal now, and when I am cheap I usually regret it. 🙂

  4. After reading this we are both frugal people. We do buy items of course but top of the line so they will last but don’t need a ton of stuff.

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      That’s the best way to be!

  5. Your explanation of frugal vs. cheap is perfect! I am definitely frugal, and was raised to be so. I try to catch sales on healthy foods and necessities, and never pay more than I have to. Also love the mention of “rats” in your hair – that totally brought back some childhood memories!! 🤣

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Way to be frugal, Tiff! 🙂

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