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Guide to Frugal vs Cheap

By Edited Aug 16, 2016 2 4

Frugal vs Cheap

When someone calls an individual as being cheap, it often brings with it some negative connotations, because who wants to be called cheap?

You may be embarrassed when you go to a restaurants with your friends or significant other, and the other person cheaps out on you.

But when someone calls the person as being frugal, a different opinion forms.  People may associate frugal as being smart in managing their money.

There are a lot of times though where the definitions between these two words are blurred.  One person's cheapness can be considered as another person's frugality.

To help guide you through the framework of what is considered cheap and frugal, below are three themes that should help you make a decision yourself.

1) Money vs Time

When it comes to time, time is something we each have a finite resource of. As time continues to tick away, we don't get this time back.

When people try to rationalize doing things themselves instead of hiring professional help, they are really paying for it with their time. 

For example: A seller looking to sell their house decides to sell the place on their own instead of looking for a real estate broker.  This means that the seller will need to market the house on their own and conduct the tours themselves. 

This could be considered frugal if the seller knows what he/ she is doing.  It  could also be considered cheap if the seller is way over their heads.   

If there is a task that truly needs professional help and the individual still decides to go their own way then I would lean closer to it being cheap. 

This is where I am coming from, using the selling the house example again, if a buyer is found and a lawyer is needed to read through the lengthy contract and perform other legal duties, you don't want to do it yourself.  A lawyer has years of studying and experience and more efficiently complete the task for you.

2) Quality vs Quantity

For frugal and cheap, quality can mean buying a higher quality item just once at a higher price instead of buying a lower quality item several times. 

A perfect example that I can think of is buying a pair of shoes.  I noticed that paying good money for a pair of shoes means the shoes lasts longer and the comfort level is there. 

I had purchased shoes before where I was doing it because of the cheap prices.  I paid for it in a couple months when the soles had ripped apart.  Even gluing it together didn't fix the problem.  Also, for some reason walking on them over long periods of time ached my whole body.

Turning the argument around, there are times when a simple inexpensive item is enough.  I would sometimes shop at Dollarama to buy inexpensive cleaning supplies for the house.  It cleans the same way as the more expensive brand so I did not feel the need to pay more. 

I am not saying that all Dollarama items are of bad quality, most of my purchases from the store has been good.  Also, Dollarama does stock brand name items. 

To be frugal or cheap, it comes down to whether buying a higher quality product will improve your quality of life.  If the higher quality of life is negligible then you are better off with just purchasing an inexpensive item. 

3) Experiences vs Money

Sometimes it is worth paying for the experiences.  My friend always told me that when I go on trips I should not be afraid to spend (within reason of course).  If I have already purchased the plane ticket and booked the hotel at a foreign country, I mind as well also spend the money to taste the local cuisine, and tour the areas that I normally can't see in my home country.

Being frugal here means knowing when to spend the money for the experience that will last a life time. 

Going the cheap route means finding ways to drive costs down and missing out on life.  People don't want to catch themselves realizing that after a lifetime, they spent half their lives worrying about money and not really living.

If you ever happen to be in a place where you can enjoy a once in a life time adventure.  My suggestion is to go for it.  Money will always come and go but the life's experiences can change your perspective of life. 

For example, one of the items in my bucket list is to one day do skydiving or for a more tamer adventure, go on a hot air balloon.  But I'm not willing to spend $100 on a piece of steak.  Of course, being cheap and frugal has no universal definition.  It comes down to what you are comfortable with and what type of lifestyle you want. 


There are times when it does make sense to lean towards living the so called "cheap" life.  As a university student back in the day, I had to penny pinch.  I did not have a job and it was a constant daily cash outflow.

My meals with friends consisted of looking at the menu and ordering the cheapest entrée.  During this period I was more concerned with stretching my dollars.  It is fine, people have to live by the financial circumstances they are in. 

For the people that can afford a bit more and are not as financially constrained, I do encourage them to "live" a bit more.  Sometimes stretching the dollar too far can negatively impact a quality of life you deserve.   

Being cheap - to me - also means selling yourself short.  For the price of paying for the cheapest item, we have to make up for it in other ways such as our time and frustrations of using a poorer quality product. 

There are times when it is necessary to be frugal and it is okay to be cheap.  How the pendulum swings between the two depends on you. 



Jun 15, 2015 6:59pm
I have never thought about frugal vs cheap before. Thanks for your insights. I can really relate to the shoes and other things you've said. I would never pay 100 dollars for a steak either, but I gotta have my long-lasting comfortable shoes. They're a must!
Jun 16, 2015 8:25am
Thanks for your comment.

Yes long last comfy shoes are a must - I learned it the hard way!
Jun 16, 2015 10:10am
Skill level can definitely determine frugal vs. cheap. I needed to rip our concrete patio out and pour a new one. I can swing a sledgehammer so I removed it myself (saving money) but as for pouring a new pathway of concrete--I have no experience. I'm hiring someone for that. Great points!
Jun 17, 2015 6:28pm
Thanks for your comment Skyler Harrison. I remember changing my car stereo one evening, I relied on youtube to help me change it, saved myself at least a $100. But it was stressful!
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