woman thinking about frugal vs cheap

Frugal vs Cheap: Which One Are You?

Want to know the difference between frugal versus cheap?  

There’s a fine line between being frugal versus cheap, but it’s definitely better to be frugal. In this guide, we’ll dive into the key differences between each. 

What does frugal mean?

When you choose to be frugal with your money, you’re being intentional about how you spend your cash. There’s no one-size-fits-all definition for being frugal. But if you prioritize what you spend your money on, live within your means, and have enough left over for savings, you’re definitely on the right track. 

Is frugal the same as cheap?

It’s easy to get confused between frugal versus cheap. After all, they’re both based on not wasting your money. But actually, there is a significant difference and it all boils down to whether you’re sensible or selfish with your cash. 

Being frugal is a sensible approach that allows you to live life to the fullest. You’ll spend money in the areas that bring you joy while cutting back in less important areas. And this will look different for everyone. 

On the other hand, being cheap is holding onto your money in a way that might seem mean or selfish. But unfortunately, it can cost you more in the long run if you’re not spending money in the right places or at all! 

How can I be frugal but not cheap?

Still worried about striking the right balance between frugal versus cheap? Check out these nine ways to live frugally, avoid debt, and save money for your future. And you can do all this without falling into the trap of being cheap! 

1. Lookout for high-value items on sale

Whether it’s Black Friday, the January sales, or any retail promotion throughout the year, the sales are an excellent chance to put your frugal skills to the test. 

A cheap person would rush out and stock up on the lowest-priced items with zero focus on the quality they’re buying. But spending your hard-earned cash on low-quality goods can be foolish. These items are more likely to be faulty or need replacing quickly, ultimately costing you more money. 

But a frugal person may have been keeping a close eye on a more expensive item. During the sales, they’ll purchase this quality item at a reduced price with the view that it will last a lifetime. Remember, this is better for the environment too! 

2. Save up for gifts 

Do you find it expensive to buy gifts for loved ones? If you’re great at crafting then making a unique gift for someone can have fantastic sentimental value. 

You should usually avoid giving second-hand goods to your nearest and dearest as this can seem a little cheap. Even if you love visiting flea markets and garage sales, it’s best to save up and purchase something new to give as a gift. 

The exceptions are if you’re buying antiques, classic vinyl records, a first edition book, or a second-hand car for the recipient! 

3. Avoid excessive dining out 

Eating out is a fantastic treat, but it’s expensive on the wallet and often costly on the waistline too! It’s also a pleasant way to spend time with those you love. So, what’s a more frugal approach to eating delicious food and breaking bread with your friends and family? 

You might pack a picnic to enjoy in the park or at the beach instead of dining out at fast-food places. Alternatively, hosting a meal at home is a great way to remain firmly in charge of the spending. You can still enjoy luxury food but at a fraction of the cost of eating out.

4. Embrace minimalism 

Have you adopted the Marie Kondo approach to decluttering yet? The Kon Mari method is perfectly aligned with frugal living. 

Based on minimalism, you’ll go through your existing household items and keep only those that are essential or that spark joy. You can discard the rest, either by giving to charity or by selling on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or similar

Follow the same approach when you’re buying new items. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Does it bring me joy?” A frugal person will be happy to buy something that fits these categories, whereas a cheap person will hold onto their wallets tightly. 

5. Be generous with your time 

If you’re unable to donate financially to charity, a frugal approach would be to set aside time to volunteer instead. Whether you’re able to visit a care home, mentor a child or serve in a soup kitchen, these are all generous ways to support others. 

6. Choose what your values are 

Frugal living looks different for each individual. The best part? You get to define exactly how you want to spend your money and live your life. After all, these are your values. 

For example: if home renovations don’t matter to you, but taking a proper family vacation does, frugal living allows you to cut back on redecorating costs. Instead, you’ll plunge your money into a vacation savings account to create those memories with your family. 

Someone who was being cheap in this scenario would avoid spending money on vacations, renovations, or anything else. 

7.  Schedule date nights at home 

One of the downsides of being cheap is not setting aside time to enjoy with your partner because you’re worried date nights are expensive. But date nights are so important! They’re a great chance to zone in on each other and forget about work, your kids, or any stress in your life. 

If you’re worried about the cost of wining and dining your partner, know it doesn’t need to be expensive to be special. In fact, you don’t even need to go out at all. A frugal alternative is to schedule date nights at home. You can stream your favorite movie, watch your wedding video or go through old photo albums and have a giggle. 

The point is to make time for your relationship and understand this time doesn’t need to have a price tag attached to it. Although if you want to splash out once in a while, that’s ok too! 

8. Learn how to do things yourself 

There are plenty of people who pay someone else to carry out a service for them. Everything from getting your nails done, to mowing the lawn. While a cheap approach to this would be to avoid paying for these jobs entirely, a more frugal strategy is to learn how to handle more tasks yourself. 

You might teach yourself how to give a great manicure or watch YouTube videos on how to carry out basic repair work around your home. Even if you need to spend a little on tools and equipment, learning these new skills is a long-term investment that will pay off. 

Who knows? You might become so skilled that you can offer these services as a side hustle of your own and bring in more income

9. Grow your own organic fruit and veg 

Ever noticed that high-calorie convenience foods are low-priced while nutritious produce has a higher price tag? This is even more likely if you want to go organic and buy fruit and vegetables that aren’t covered in pesticides.

A cheap person would head straight to the store and bulk-buy inexpensive groceries with little nutritional value. But obviously, this isn’t great for your health. A frugal alternative is to grow your own fruit and vegetables at home. 

Don’t panic if you’re lacking in garden space. Edible plants like avocadoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and salad greens can be grown from a balcony or even inside an apartment. Getting started is as simple as sprinkling some seeds in a soil-packed container. If your plant produces plenty, don’t forget to share with your neighbors!

Settling the frugal vs cheap debate

So, now you understand what it’s like to be frugal versus cheap. Don’t panic if you’ve been living cheaply up until this point, it’s never too late to change. Instead, you can adopt a more frugal lifestyle, and give yourself the freedom to plan how and where you’ll spend your money.

Get started with planning out your financial goals and frugal lifestyle today. 

Rebecca Noori

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