Frugal vs. Cheap: What's the Difference?

It’s understandable that many people often confuse frugality with being cheap, as their definitions share similarities. However, I believe that there is a key difference between the two. What’s the difference between frugal and cheap?

I believe we all love to save money, we all want items at a lower price and we all want to use as few resources as possible. However, it’s the approach we take in order to come to these end results that spells all the difference between frugality and cheapness. It’s this difference that separates those who are frugal from those who are considered cheap.

What’s the Difference between Frugal and Cheap?

It’s a fine line to walk between frugality and cheapness. Frugal people aren’t necessarily cheap just because they want to save money. So before you make the mistake of confusing the two, you may want to take a look at the 3 major differences.

1) Cheap people are driven by saving money regardless of the cost while frugal people are driven by quality.

Frugal people look at quality even though it would mean spending a little more to get it, because they know that spending a little more in the beginning will mean spending less money in the long run. Frugal people realize that spending on quality does not only mean less money spent overall but it also means less waste, which is another hallmark of frugality.

Cheap people on the other hand, are often afraid to spend money so they are willing to sacrifice quality in order to cash in on some short-term savings. These kinds of people are always thinking about spending less without realizing that this is not smart in the long run as they may end up spending more than they otherwise would have.

Frugal vs. cheap: What's the differencI pride myself on being frugal and I am never ashamed to admit it. And being such, I have developed the habit and principle of buying only what I need, not what I want. But every time I do, I always go for high quality items, even if it means paying a little more.

Unlike many people I know who buy a new cell phone every 6 months or so, I seldom buy one for myself because to me a cell phone is only good for texting and calling. But every time I do, I buy one of good quality regardless of the cost because I know that any gadget of good quality will last longer compare to those of low quality.

2) Cheap people only think about spending less while frugal people prioritize their spending in order to have more of the things they really care about.

Frugal people are resourceful with their spending, maximizing every penny in order to fund their goals and dreams. Whether that be a nice vacation, a more expensive brand or a bigger home, a frugal person is willing to adjust his spending to achieve that goal.

Some people who have a certain hobby they really enjoy will spend the money necessary to enjoy that item. They won’t try to cut every corner because they realize that the value they get in return add value to their lives.

On the other hand, people who are cheap simply look to spend as little money as possible, even if it means sacrificing the things they enjoy and really care about, which I believe in the end, will make them miserable.

Frugal vs. cheap: What's the differenceI seldom eat out, I prefer to prepare my own meals at home and I find small saving strategies in my day-to-day life so that I can allocate my resources to bigger dreams. Those include early retirement in order to spend more time with my family, concentrate on building and maintaining my website and be able to travel.

Number one on my friend’s bucket list is being able to travel to Europe with her mom before she retires at the age of 45. So she is doing all she can to earn and save, even if it means sacrificing some of the things she enjoys like eating out at least once a week and having the latest gadgets.

3) Cheapness uses price as a bottom line while frugality uses value as a bottom line.

One of the biggest differences between frugality and cheapness comes down to price and value. Price is what you pay, but value is what you get in exchange for your money.

Frugal vs. cheap: what's the differenceIn other words, the value of anything you pay for is what gives context to the price. So if you do not know the value, it would be very impossible to know whether or not the price of something is appropriate or reasonable.

Cheap and frugal people both want to save money and spend less. But while being cheap means focusing almost incessantly on price, being frugal means focusing far more on value. For a frugal person, the amount spent isn’t the determining factor of the spending decision but the value of the item.

Whenever I decide whether or not to spend my hard-earned money, focusing on value is what I aim to do. While I aim to spend no more than necessary, the bottom line is almost never just the price but the value.

Conclusion

I say this again, I believe there is a fine line to walk between frugality and cheapness, and the side on which you choose to stay can make all the difference.

There’s nothing about being cheap that’s admirable. On the contrary, being cheap negatively impacts one’s quality of life while being frugal can and often improves one’s quality of life.

So be careful which path you decide to stay on because cheapness is a slippery slope that can lead to a miserable life. At the end of the day, spending less is often not simply about spending less; it’s about maximizing value, freedom, happiness and personal fulfillment.

And let me just say that you can actually be frugal without necessarily being cheap.

If you have differing insights, please feel free to leave your comments below. Thanks for reading!


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28 thoughts on “Frugal vs. Cheap: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Hey, 

    Thanks for explaining the difference between Frugal and Cheap. After reading your article, I have learned more of the things about it. People tend to lump cheap and frugal together. I say, Frugality is really about finding the center line between being cheap and the opposite side of the spectrum, which is spending. Those who are cheap are often afraid to spend money. They are willing to sacrifice quality, value and time in order to cash in on some short term saving.  

    1. You’re exactly right, most people don’t understand what it means to be frugal or cheap. They tend to think that frugality is about spending less without considering the quality of what they’re paying for. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  2. This is very true in all ramification, I agree with you. Most people want to purchase an item at the lowest cost; they want to buy items that are very cheap while sacrificing quality at the alter of cheapness.

    Frugality may be misconceived to being stingy, but the fact remains that being frugal means being wise and maintaining taste and quality. Frugal people go for quality without minding price, cheap people don’t consider quality they look at low price.

    1. You’re right! Some people might think that being frugal is the same as being stingy but that’s not necessarily the case.

      I consider myself frugal because I am after the quality of the items I am looking to buy but I also look at the price because I believe that the monetary value of something is justified by it’s quality. What I’m saying is that, inexpensive things are not always of low quality and expensive items are not always the best, quality-wise.

      Thank you for your comment.

  3. You raised an interesting topic for discussion. English is my second language, and never heard of the word frugal, because “cheap” comprised in itself both meanings. It is good to know the difference. Frugal for me is more “resourcefulness,” such as achieve the desirable with limited money. 

    I can tell that I am frugal as well, because I prefer to have few things but with better quality. 

    1. Hi there!

      English is my second language too, Ani, hence the word “frugal” is not that popular in my country. Instead, we use the word “thrifty” which basically means “wise-spender.” And when we say that something is cheap, we mean it costs lower so we will be spending less. Today, with the growing popularity of financial advisors, more people have come to understand the difference between frugal and cheap.

      If you are only after something that costs less without considering its quality, you are CHEAP but when you think more of the value you get or the quality of the item you are looking to buy, you are FRUGAL.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. This is a great and much needed post.  I used to fall on the side of being cheap thinking I was being frugal, but with cheapness often comes lower quality.  I learned the phrase “buy cheap, buy often” and it has helped me a lot to see the value of things as being most important, just not price. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hey Nate, 

      I used to think that I am frugal because I often buy cheap items. But I did not realize that I was actually being “cheap” and spending more because I had to buy again after only a couple of months. While not everything that’s expensive is of good quality, not anything that costs less is bad either. I  believe we can get the best value for the money we spend by looking closely at the products we’re paying for. 

      Let us choose to be frugal rather than cheap. Thank for your comment.

  5. Thank you Alice for explaining the difference! It seems so obvious now. I will proudly say I am frugal!! I really believe it is important especially with so much material waste and disposable products. I am proud that my children are the same way but worried that they have had the “cheap” influence by family members, I see now they also know the difference 🙂 It is a family event to go thrift store shopping and find great quality items. We are a frugal bunch, I see!

    1. Hi Kathleen,

      Parents need to teach their kids the value of money by showing them exactly how because these days, our kids do not do what we say; they do what we do. Avoiding wastes is not having a “cheap” mindset; rather, it’s about knowing the value of things that we spend our money on. Thrift store shopping as a family is a great idea of teaching our kids to become frugal.

      Thanks for your comment.

  6. Unfortunately I am neither cheap nor frugal – but after reading your post, I can see the benefits of trying to be more frugal in the way I spend my money! Thank you for sharing these tips, Cheers, Karen

    1. You’re welcome KD and thanks for dropping by. Out of curiosity, if you’re neither cheap nor frugal, which group do you classify yourself based on your spending or saving habits?

  7. Hi Alice! I completely agree, being too cheap brings nothing but misery. However, on the other hand buying lots of expensive things on a whim brings a broken bank balance.

    I believe that it’s important to buy what we really desire, even if it costs a boat load of money. As long as your purchases bring value to your life for a long time to come.

    I personally like to live cheap day to day and save my money, some see me now as being “cheap” but what they don’t know is that I’m about to spend my hard earned money on an 8 month expedition around South-east Asia… I’d say that’s going to bring me some value orite 😉

    1. Hey there! I am excited to hear of your upcoming 8-month expedition around South East Asia. That’s gonna be awesome! Living frugally from day to day has definitely saved you enough money to be on vacation for that long. I mean, not many people can afford to not have a job for 8 long months. Wishing you all the best Anthony.

  8. Awesome post. While I was reading it lots of people I know where popping into my head that are prime examples of cheap more so than not and it never seems to pay for them to be that way in the long run and from an outside perspective it can look a bit silly at times. Generally speaking I would say I am too a very frugal person but at times I have gone down the cheap route and it has indeed ending up costing me more so I have learned by my mistakes and that’s why I always pay that bit extra for a pair of quality shoes that I know are going to last longer and be more comfortable instead of buying 2 pairs of cheap ones because the first pair is past it that ends up costing more and not even been as comfortable.

    1. Hi Janette,

      You’re absolutely right, there are a lot of cheap people around; some of them are actually the people we know and interact with everyday at work. They think that by going for cheap items they were able to save some money but in reality, they will lose more money if they continue on with this habit. Going down the cheap route will definitely cost you much more and I’m glad you realized that was a big mistake.

      And speaking of quality shoes, I also have the same experience. It used to be difficult for me to buy shoes of good quality because I tend to always look at the price. However, after buying one pair of a particular brand that is known to be more expensive but of better quality than others, my cheap mentality started to fade.

      Just a reminder though, just because an item is expensive does not necessarily mean it is of high quality. Admittedly, there are products that are very expensive but are poor in quality. In other words, they’re over-priced.

      Thanks for your comment. Cheers to us for being frugal, not cheap!

  9. Great article! I totally agree with you on everything. I have had people call me cheap. One time I was out with some people from work and some of my friends outside of work and someone from my work called me cheap, and one of my friends from outside of work said no he is not cheap, he is very particular on what he spends his money on. I never thought of it like that, but he is right on when he says that about me. Thanks for this.

    1. Hello Fred, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. And by the way, don’t mind the people who call you cheap when you are actually being frugal. They will realize in the end that you were right all along in not wasting money on unnecessary things or on things that you do not really need because by doing that, you were able to save for something that you really like and want to have. There is a huge difference between being cheap and being frugal but most people haven’t really figured that out yet.

  10. Hi,

    Really interesting post and got me thinking. I always check around when buying a product – yes I want it as cheap as possible but without sacrificing the quality. Being frugal works out better in the long term.
    Thanks again.

    1. Hey Mark,

      We can actually avail of products at a lower price without necessarily sacrificing good quality if we take time to shop around or wait for the items to go on sale. There are also shops and outlets that sell exactly the same high quality products at a lower price, we just have to locate them right. Often times, the difference in prices lies in the fact that some shops are paying more expensive rents, thus they also top up their products cost much higher than the stores or shops that pay their rents at a lower cost.

      Bottom line is, it always pays to be frugal rather than cheap.

  11. This is a great article. I definitely agree that there is a difference between being cheap and frugal. I proudly announce too, that I am frugal. I take the same approach. I do not buy cell phones too often because, when the phone that I really like comes out I buy the top quality and I like it so much, that I never have to buy another one for like 2 sometimes 3 years.

    I do this with everything, all the way down to buying grocery. I buy in bulk and sometimes, my groceries or house items can last us for months at a time. Which saves us money. I rather save money now so, that one day I can buy that bigger home. Being cheap can cause more headache. In fact, it can cause more money to be spent.

    I’ve noticed that sometimes, people can be cheap and put things off, like an oil change. While putting off an oil change can lead to more costly problems. So, it never pays to be cheap. There is always a consequence with being cheap. It best to frugal.

    When you purchase quality, the item may be expensive at first but, they usually last a long time. In fact, it usually will out last most products that are purchased in a rush. this is a long run can save money and time. Thank you for this informative post.

    1. Hello Lakisha,

      Your example of putting off oil change is a great illustration of how people pay a much higher price as a result of being cheap. They do not realize that being cheap will actually cause them to spend more money.

      You’re right, quality items are more expensive but they will last longer than those that are priced lower.

      Thanks for your comment.

    1. Yes, it’s all about quality and value. Although I do not think that more expensive items are always better in quality than cheaper ones, it pays to do your diligence in researching about every product you plan on buying if it’s really worth the price.

  12. Hi great post!

    My wife and I often argue about the very points you highlighted. She would often throw the word cheap around because I don’t want to always go out and eat, so I really agree with your point on that. Also with cell phones too, I always buy the last year model and save hundreds of dollars and will use the phone for several years before buying another one (I only use it to talk and go on the internet so why should I care if they have useless features I will never use lol)

    Thanks again for a very enlightening article 🙂

    1. Hi Michel,

      I’ve been called cheap too, often times, by friends and colleague who do not understand the difference between frugality and cheapness. But I couldn’t care less because I have my eyes fixed on the the prize, which is that at the end of the day, I can have the things that I really want.

      I have the same thoughts when it comes to cellphones, there are a lot of apps and features that the latest models of cellphones have which I do not use anyway, so why bother to get new ones every now and then?

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