How To Be Frugal Without Being Cheap

Are you confused about the differences between frugal vs cheap?

Do you get frustrated by what other people around you think being frugal is when you are trying your best to stretch your money and make ends meet?

As a frugal person I deeply dislike people thinking I am cheap.

The problem is I do have some sympathy for those wanting to know the difference between frugal and thrifty and cheap.

Because for a long time I didn’t understand either.

My Cheap And Frugal History

I started my adult life being on welfare benefits as a teenage single mum. I couldn’t afford to be choosy, indeed I couldn’t afford much full stop.

I had to find ways to save money but I wasn’t very good at it.

Result being my 18 month daughter only had 3 sets of day clothes until I got my first credit card and maxed it immediately on clothes for both of us.

I didn’t consider the frugal vs cheap question for many years as I was just focused on living paycheck to paycheck and trying not to go into more debt.

I’m going to be honest, for a long time I probably took on some of the qualities of a cheap person. There I admit it – I was cheap!

Not deliberately, not because deep down I have a cheap personality.

No, more because I was so focused on saving money that I lost sight of the line that is drawn between frugal and cheap.

I was trying to save as much money as possible, just because.

My sole focus became on saving every penny and I ignored the impact it might have around me. I had no long term goal for that money.

And one day I realized I had stepped over the frugal vs cheap line and was firmly in the cheap personality camp.

That was not a good day.

How To Be Frugal Without Being Cheap

  1. Be really clear about your goals
  2. Understand what you are doing and why
  3. Be aware of how your decisions could impact others
  4. Take steps to minimize your impact on others by tweaking frugal decisions
  5. Save for the right reason
  6. Don’t penny pinch for pinching’s sake
  7. Save for your goals
  8. Aim for your goals and achieve them, frugally
  9. Don’t be frugal at the expense of others

What Are The Traits Of A Frugal Person?

A frugal person almost always has purpose for their frugal ways. Their purpose might be just to make it through the month without relying on their credit card.

Alternatively their purpose may well be more long term. They may want to live on one income and have a stay at home parent for their children.

They may be drawn to the idea of old fashioned living and it’s more traditional way of life.

They may want to tread lightly on our planet and use natures’ resources sparingly.

Or perhaps they are saving hard for their future, so they have choices about where they live, work and play.

Frugal people develop a frugal mindset that helps them stay the course.

They know that living below their means is the way to achieve their goals.

I am proud to be frugal now. Frugal living has been instrumental in enabling me to save enough money to retire early.

There are of course different levels of frugality from just a little bit of saving to extreme frugal living.

What I love is the way being frugal changes and improves your life.

If you want to learn more ways to be frugal then why not check out my popular post on 200+ best frugal living tips?

What Are The Traits Of A Cheap Personality?

Whilst frugal people have an erstwhile purpose to their lifestyle. The quality of a cheap person are not so much like that.

I’ll be honest, I still have cheap personality tendencies and have to work at keeping them at bay.

I love a bargain, almost any bargain, even if I don’t need that item.

I like the idea of saving money above all else and that can tip you into the realms of being cheap if you are not careful.

Being cheap means you will look to save money even at the expense of others.

You might not be deliberately trying to get one over on someone else but that is what can end up happening when you are being cheap.

Being cheap you would:

  • Deliberately avoid your turn at buying the drinks on a night out
  • Order the most expensive options when out with friends and insist on splitting the bill equally – knowing you have spent more
  • Not leave a good service tip in a restaurant to save a few pennies
  • Taking a handful of condiment sachets from a fast food restaurant to use at home
  • Having a shower at your local gym, without using the gym
  • Borrowing an item from a friend and not giving it back or returning the favor
coloured eggs and white tulips - frugal vs cheap

Cheap Confession

I fell into the cheap trap by buying bargains to the point that not only could I not use them, I was throwing them away.

Yet if I had left some of those bargains for others they would have gained from them.

I also took condiment sachets from fast food restaurants.

Why I was in fast food restaurants in the first place was more about not being able to manage my finances very well (as in not at all).

And of course I have fallen into the trap of buy cheap, buy twice.

I can sometimes still struggle with the idea of paying more for an item but deep down I know that cheapest is not always best.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes cheap is just as good but not always. Cheap tools are a good example.

Mr2p doesn’t allow me to be involved in the buying of DIY or gardening tools. He refuses to buy the cheapest just because it might save money.

He does the research and will find the right tool for the job at the best price.

small girl putting money in piggy bank

Frugal vs Stingy vs Thrifty – The Differences

And then we come on to the other common alternatives to describe being frugal or cheap.

Stingy is one from my childhood and always used to describe someone in a negative way.

Thrifty is another, perhaps less common term and follows on from being frugal.

The differences are that a thrifty person will go that much further in their quest to save money.

Still without stepping over the line into being cheap or stingy.

Thrifty smacks of doing it yourself, making your own, whether that is clothes, energy, furniture or something else.

It’s about doing it for yourself to see if you can.

Stingy is being cheap and up another level.

Not only are you trying to save money at the expense of others, you are trying to save money at the expense of yourself and just because.

Being stingy you don’t want to tip someone, indeed you don’t want to go out for a meal with friends because you don’t want to spend any money.

You would rather sit at home eating beans on toast and not have to share any of your money with your friends or anyone else.

Frugal vs stingy?

There is no contest, they are worlds apart. It’s not bad to be frugal, it’s a very good thing in my opinion.

It’s bad to be stingy and it’s bad to be cheap. Don’t go there.

Frugal vs Cheap, The Answer

Remember, others may not choose to live as frugally or expansively as you and that’s okay.

We are all different and must choose our own frugal, or not so frugal, path.

The aim of the game is to do the right thing for you, your family and your future.

The answer to the frugal vs cheap question is clear. Don’t be cheap – be frugal!

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Last Updated on 3rd March 2021 by Emma

About Emma

I'm here to help you become confident in making the best money decisions for you and your family. Frugal living has changed my life, let me help you change yours.

4 thoughts on “How To Be Frugal Without Being Cheap”

  1. Love the honesty.

    I don’t spend much money because I work 75 ish hours per work, so there is little free time to spend.

    My biggest spend is probably alcohol. I’m no lush but I do drink every day – it’s cheaper than cocaine so I’m told.

    Frugal is good so long as you’re saving money then investing it for eventual wealth. Being frugal to spend the money on something else, is still consuming.

    • Hi Perry! Working 75 hours a week – I can see why you have little spare time! You’re so right about frugal to save. It’s why I will be able to retire 17 years early as I eventually worked out what my goals for saving money for were. Never looked back once those were crystalised. Confession – I hear you on the alcohol – I don’t do every day but definitely a couple or so times a week. Very weak drinks though 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by.

  2. Hi Emma, you hit it right every time, I was brought up during WWII so you had no choice but frugal BUT in someways people were happier although life was hard, people spoke to each other, helped without expecting to be paid. I have smiled and spoken to people and have been told I was the only person they had talked to in days. My heart ached for them they were younger than me.

    • Hi Annie. Society and communities have changed so much in the past 70 years haven’t they? So sad that people can be so lonely with no-one to talk to when we are so often surrounded by so many people. A smile goes a long way to making someone else’s day. Take care x


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