Frugal vs. Cheap

June 2, 2014 by


Frugality is definitely in vogue these days. The lessons our grandparents learned during The Great Depression are being resurrected as a result of the current economic times. I think that’s a good thing.

I remember having a conversation with my Grandmother in which we were discussing the financial challenges my family was facing. She asked me if it made me feel better knowing we weren’t alone. I answered with an unsure, “I guess so.” My immediate thought was that I didn’t wish this for anyone else; but as I reflected more on our conversation, I realize that’s not what she meant at all. With so many of us in the same boat, at least we have each other to teach and encourage. We can truly understand each other’s situations because many of us are facing them ourselves.

That is one of the reasons I am writing this blog. I want to share the things I have learned.

One thing I have learned is that there is a real difference between being frugal and being cheap, though those words seem to be thrown around as though they are interchangeable. I have learned that they are not. Allow me to explain…

When my husband and I first learned that his pay was going to be not only drastically reduced, but irregular, we allowed our fear to cause us to come up with some pretty crazy ideas about how we would manage our finances. Some of our first thoughts were clearing the trees from our 20 acres and selling vehicles. We decided to take some time to consider these matters in prayer before we acted. In that process, we learned that putting some money in our pockets at all costs, might actually cost us dearly.

Had we sold those 20 acres of trees; we would have netted a couple thousand dollars (maybe), but the value of our land would have decreased far more than the two thousand we would have sold the tress for. It would have solved our immediate money crisis, but it would have cost more in the end. We own two vehicles, but we have very specific uses for each one that do save us money because we own them. Again, selling either of them may have given us momentary relief, but would have cost us more in the end as we would have had to pay more down the road because we no longer had that needed vehicle. These realizations helped us to distinguish the difference between being frugal and being cheap.

For us, being frugal means making the best use of the money God has given us by using His resources wisely. Being cheap means spending as little money as possible as well looking at short term solutions without considering the long term consequences.

We were being frugal when we decided to keep our needed vehicles, but sold our camping trailer.

We were being cheap when we bought my husband low-quality tennis shoes that didn’t even last a few months. We should have spent double the money for them to last four times longer. (Not to mention how much better his feet would have fared!)

We are being frugal when I cook meals from scratch rather than buying convenience foods from the store or dining out.

We would be cheap if we decided that we needed to stop all charitable giving because things are so tight financially. (This is a discussion large enough for its own post, which I will do at some point. For now, know that I am not implying here that you should give before you take care of your own. For our family, we decided to keep giving while trusting that God would continue to provide for our needs.)

We are frugal when we go without wants, but cheap when we go without needs.

We are frugal when we eat out very rarely for special occasions. We would be cheap if we left a crummy tip and filled our pockets with napkins and condiments from the table on our way out.

I will admit that a lot of our frugal tendencies stem from a need rather than a desire, but this lifestyle is growing on us. I hope and pray that one day we will find ourselves more financially stable. If that time comes, I am certain that many of the frugal habits we have learned will stay with us. You see, for us, the choices we make with our money need to honor God first. We want to be responsible stewards with what He has given us. To us, that means giving to those in need, tipping well, and sometimes paying more for quality items that will last longer.

There is also a lot to be said for knowing that you are not drowning in debt, but living free of the stress and worry that come with wondering how you will make all of those payments. Living a frugal life is not about being self-sacrificial at all costs or going without wants at all times. It is about spending money intentionally.

Here are a few of my favorite books that help me save money. (Click on the highlighted link to view or purchase from Amazon.comHomemade: How to Make Hundreds of Everyday ProductsNatural Beauty at Home, The Homemade Pantry, William Sonoma Family Meals, and Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.

*Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. You are not obligated to make any purchases, but when you do through one of my links, I will make a small percentage on the sale. Thank you for supporting my site.

What do you think? Are you cheap, frugal, or a spender? Have any tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Shared at Retro Re-Pin Party & the SHINE Blog Hop.

10 Responses to Frugal vs. Cheap

  1. Rick

    When it comes to buying chicken (that is what we were talking about right?), my wife will watch the ads and stock up when it is on sale. Our freezer harbors many a bird with a big red sticker on it. I have a good friend who lives one state over who would always comment about his wife’s chicken purchasing habits. They would always do the shopping together as he was a gourmet cook and made most of the meals. He would pick out a chicken based on the size for the meal he was preparing, place it in the cart and wait for what he knew was going to take place. At some point, his wife would mumble something and wander off. She would inevitably return with a package of chicken and replace the one in the cart. My friend said he would always end up back at the freezer section and you could not find a bird cheaper than the one they now had. He had long since exhausted the argument about chicken being sold by the pound. It was an ingrained principal she was unwilling to modify. He had learned over the years how to handle this dilemma however. As she scooted off in search of the item he sent her for, he swapped birds again. Once home, the recipe’s chicken requirement was satisfied as well as the partakers.The downside of this story is they were never able to share the joys of practicing frugality over cheapness with one another in a unified way… May all your chicken purchases be free from unnecessary entanglements!

  2. DK

    We were taught that frugal meant saving money to buy quality items, not cheap one. Quality furniture serves not only you, but benefits your descendants. It may cost a little more money, but it’s so worth the expenditure.

  3. Julie V

    Heather, I love these tips. I’m featuring this tonight at the Retro Re-Pin Party at SomebodysDinner.Blogspot.com
    We all need some more ways to save for the holidays, and making sure we’re being frugal instead of cheap is a great idea.
    My old roommate bought very inexpensive — but cheap — silverware when she first moved away to college. 1 year later, with butter knives falling to pieces, and other mishaps, she had to replace them all.

    • Heather

      Thanks so much, Julie, for reading and for featuring this! I really appreciate it. I love being able to encourage others with the things I have learned and the mistakes I have made. Thanks, again!

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