How is Frugal Different from Cheap?

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Frugal and Cheap? at

When trying to cut down and save money, some people worry that they’ll come off as looking tight-fisted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Being frugal is in many ways being generous.  I explain more in my responses to a recent interview for personal finance expert Jean Chatzky at Savvy Money:

What is the difference between being frugal and being cheap?

Cheap is a quick fix, frugal is a thoughtful process.

Can you be frugal and still buy expensive items?

Yes, if the purchases are planned and fit into your philosophy of life. For example, you might choose to pay more where you spend more time in your life, such as on office chairs, mattresses, or strollers.

Where is the line thin between frugality and being cheap, and how can you stay on the frugal side?

Good furniture is very expensive, but buying cheap often means flimsy, trendy, and short-lived. One way to save money while getting quality and style is finding vintage, antique, and salvaged furniture and house parts. Buying second-hand is also being frugal with the earth’s resources.

How can you bargain-hunt without seeming cheap?

Getting the most bang for your buck is not cheap, it’s smart. And you could earn bragging rights for finding all the designer brands and new-with-tags clothing that are available at thrift stores. There are also consignment shops (a bit more expensive) or clothing swap parties (free but require planning).

Skipping out on the check at a group dinner is cheap, but is it cheap if you simply buy low-quality products for your own personal use?

You show what you care about when you pull out your wallet. The cheapest food is probably not good for your health, the cheapest webstore will not keep your colorful neighborhood store open, and the cheapest appliances will probably end up in the trash soon.

Frugal is being careful about what you spend, and there is great peace of mind when you can align your dollars with your values.

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Frugal and Cheap? at

Is it better to buy used products or older ones that are still in the box?  For example, a used iPhone 6 vs. a brand new iPhone 5s.

With technology changing so fast, it’s usually best to go with the newest model you can find at a good price. Of course, always do your research with ratings and review sites like cNet, ConsumerSearch, and Edmunds, because newer models can have problems or features that you don’t need.

What is your general advice for staying frugal without being cheap?

Try to turn the focus away from spending and onto relationships and passions. Get to know your neighbors, meet people in your school or work community, join groups. Instead of buying and reselling stuff: share, borrow, and exchange. Create an atmosphere where people don’t have to feel miserly and self-seeking to save money, but generous and friendly.

I really do think that giving is one of the keys to spending less and living well.  When you give your time, your shoulder, or a home-cooked dinner, you are helping create a place where people share, help, and take care of each other.

p.s. For more thoughts on how you can be proud of being frugal, there’s also Why Frugal is Not the Same as Cheap by guest writer Karen Falter.

Share this post:

1 comment

  • Jen | Green Baby Deals March 21, 2016, 9:26 pm

    Finally, some great answers! I will be using this as a guide the next time someone calls me cheap. Thanks so much :)