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The Difference Between Being Frugal and Being Cheap

Audrey knows the difference between being frugal and being cheap and is here to share her knowledge with you.

Qualities of a cheap person and a frugal person

Qualities of a cheap person and a frugal person

Cheap People vs. Frugal People

A lot of people might look at being cheap versus being frugal and say, "Isn’t that the same thing?" In fact, it really isn’t.

There may be some similar characteristics between being cheap and being frugal, but in my opinion, the two mindsets are totally different.

In my own experience, I know both kinds of people.

In fact, I think I’m one of the two choices—but more on that later!

Characteristics of a Cheap Person

Cheap people can be described with an old-fashioned phrase like "tight as a tick."

What are some other characteristics that I consider cheap?

  • Cheap people spend more time counting their money than spending it—no matter what.
  • Cheap people tend to make spending mistakes simply because they buy on the cheap and then regret it for the rest of their lives. They won’t be replacing it because they are, well, cheap!
  • Cheap people make other people extremely uncomfortable because they dwell on how much something costs constantly.
  • Cheap people really don’t know how to enjoy life.
  • Cheap people hoard their money and only think of it in terms of having it.
  • Cheap people do not share their money—with anyone—usually even when asked.
  • Cheap people don’t see anything wrong with never tipping.
  • Cheap people try to get other people "on board" by lecturing them. "Do you know how much that light being on costs? Turn it off!"
  • Cheap people not only bargain for a better price, but they also pressure people ad nauseam into giving it to them and then get angry when they don’t get their way. It’s an entitlement.
  • Cheap people seem as pinched as their pocketbooks. They are grumpy from dwelling on the state of their bank account. They do not seem capable of relaxing and being happy.
  • Cheap people take vacations or go places, resent it the entire time they’re there, then dwell on how much they spent afterward. They immediately begin amassing the fortune they just spent as soon as they get home.
  • Cheap people do not forgive if you’ve chumped them on a loan or in any situation. They remember it forever!
  • Cheap people don’t even allow themselves hobbies because, hey . . . that costs money.
  • Cheap people eat less because, let’s face it—food costs money, and why spend it? They need the minimum to keep themselves alive, right?

Characteristics of a Frugal Person

What are some of the characteristics of a frugal person?

  • Frugal people enjoy life. They look for the best possible way to get from here to there, but they embrace life.
  • Frugal people enjoy spending money if it’s for something that is a fantastic buy.
  • Frugal people will barter with someone but never make it an entitlement. If they "win," it’s gravy . . . if they don’t, it’s part of life, and they move on.
  • Frugal people buy for value and don’t look at the price tag—much!
  • Frugal people save in some areas and then allow themselves the pleasure of seeing their hard-saved money go for something that is enjoyable, like a wonderful vacation. They enjoy every minute of it because they’ve saved for it, and they see the value of the time they have.
  • Frugal people put off doing some things in order to do other things first, but they generally get all that they want—just in a more disciplined fashion so as not to overspend.
  • Frugal people can juggle many financial balls in the air. They can save in this envelope and have the foresight to slide it the next time into this envelope.
  • Frugal people are happy people because they see the difference between saving money on everything and feeling happiness in that but getting on with the business of living.
  • Frugal people can let it go sometimes. If there’s a party and all kinds of lights are on for "no good reason," they can ignore it and enjoy the party!
  • Frugal people are unobtrusive in their spending habits because they do not impose them on others.
  • Frugal people are harder to pick out because they appear "normal." They go out, spend money, and leave tips. They just know which corners to cut better than some people.
  • Frugal people are easier to live with or deal with because they are not unhappy about life or their situation. They look at it as . . . well, life! They do the best they can, and then they let it go.
  • Frugal people might keep track of expenses or debts owed, but they won’t hold them against you—much. They will hope to be repaid, but it won’t keep them from being generous.

Frugal vs. Cheap vs. Conscious Spenders

In my own personal experience, I know several people who I would classify as cheap. To me, it’s a sad waste of one’s life to go through it so fixated on money or how much things cost.

Yeah, there's the whole saving money thing, and I'm definitely on board. I like to think I'm frugal, or better yet, that I'm a conscious spender! I like that term because it means that I'm thinking about what I spend, and what better way to save money?

But here are some examples of cheap.

Example #1

A friend of mine needed new flooring in their home. They were planning on staying in the home for at least ten years (they’re still there), but they didn’t want to opt for an "expensive" floor covering such as tile or wood. They were tired of linoleum. They talked to several people, got estimates, and then decided to go with fake wood flooring (pergo) simply because it was the cheapest thing they could find up from linoleum.

From the moment that they had the flooring put in, they were unhappy with it. It dented, it scratched, it looked old within a month or so, and they had to constantly keep coating it with floor polish to even make it look halfway decent. But it was the cheapest!

They’ve never been happy with it and still hate it to this day, but they would not replace it if it caught on fire tomorrow.

Example #2

Someone near and dear to me is a bit hard to take. When you go for a visit, this person runs around every minute shutting doors, turning off lights, turning the heat down to 60 degrees and below . . . and we are talking in the wintertime. Everyone is bundled up in coats sitting at the dining room table drinking hot coffee to try to stay warm!

If you turn on the water and let it run for two seconds, he will step up behind you and shut it off.

If you turn on a light, you have basically five seconds to turn it off again. If you don’t turn it off, he does it for you.

Dinner is precisely enough pieces of chicken to "cover" the people sitting at the table and maybe one extra—for him. We’re all too fat anyway, right?

I grew up with this guy, and I know the anxiety factor better than most! The question comes up why we won’t stay with them when we visit and prefer a motel. I wonder!

Cheap Can Backfire

Cheap people make me want to run screaming from the room. I’m sorry . . . I grew up poor, and I certainly know the value of a dollar. But life is too short to make money that much of a priority, in my opinion.

I’ve seen cheap backfire so many times it’s not even funny. I shake my head and think, "If only you’d thought it through before deciding on going the cheap route."

I believe in always getting the best bang for my buck, but I’ve decided that I will live my life by a different set of tenets than the cheapskate. I have to admit, though, my philosophies probably seem cheap to some.

I have someone else near and dear to me who believes that things have to cost a fortune to mean they are good or that they’re not "the best" if they’re not expensive.

I believe in getting everything on sale—period.

I believe in getting the best that I can for the best price, but in some cases, you just have to say, "That’s the best I can do," not regret it, and treasure your buy or your experience and be done with it. No looking back!

Frugality is all in the eye of the beholder, to be honest. You can save money and live within your means, and no one ever has to know about it.

Being cheap seems to be a personality trait that radiates from the person like a neon sign! Someone said somewhere, "Stingy is a way of life." That said, frugality is a way of living—and as you can see, these are two entirely different things!


Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on March 25, 2018:

Years ago, somebody taught me this slogan: Buy cheap and buy twice. Have I ever been a victim of this self-defeating habit? Absolutely. Fortunately, however, I don’t do it any longer.

Some people choose to be cheap for life’s essentials because they are spending money on frivolous habits like cigarettes, lottery tickets, alcohol, etc.

Susan on March 25, 2018:

Having a boyfriend that always sticks a receipt in your face turns me off

Big time...sexually

MarloByDesign from United States on April 29, 2015:

Rated "Awesome". "Cheap people eat less" ~ I love it and so true!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 14, 2012:

Thanks Lana---appreciate the comment and you enjoying.

lanablackmoor from New England on November 14, 2012:

I love this! Voted both interesting and useful. I completely agree that there is a huge difference between frugal and cheap. To me, frugality is about taking mastery of your spending for the purpose of having one less thing to worry about so you can enjoy life. If money becomes another worry, that's kind of defeating the point. Wonderful points you bring up here!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 31, 2011:

Thanks as always for being such a great fan, Hanna~!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 31, 2011:

They were really great tips. Well written hub as always.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 29, 2011:

Thanks Micky Dee for ALL your wonderful money-saving ideas!

Fabulous!! I agree on tipping - if it is a great experience, I tend to overtip too but we don't eat out that much anymore why not splurge a little?

That's the difference between cheap and frugal though - you know what you're doing and it's not to be cheap; it's just to save money because of your income. I feel exactly the same way!

Micky Dee on January 29, 2011:

Awesomely useful akirchner! I am definitely frugal. I jsu waited more than 6 months for a TV DVD collection for Psyche. The DVD yearly collection became available last year sometime - but I knew that if I waited months and I think the magic number might be about 6 months, the price will come down. When they are first released, they are 44.95. If you can wait, and I sure can, they will become 19.95. Sure, I'm not seeing the DVDs right away, but if "urgency" was an issue I would be signed up for cable. But like "Tour de France" videos or whatever, I don't mind the wait for a lower price.

Meanwhile - I don't mind over-tipping one bit. I don't eat out much, but when I do, I want a great experience for me and my server.

I'm on a limited income so I don't ride in a lot of events that have entry fees. I take pictures during some rides and get free entries. I don't mind driving a long way (costing more than the entry) for a free entry. It's just the way I have to and want to live. God bless.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 26, 2011:

Funny - I forgot my point though yesterday because I got interrupted when I was posting up your response....see the deal is cheap people don't have you're completely SAFE!

Crewman6 on January 25, 2011:

Thanks, Audrey- you've restored my faith in myself! Actually, I've been out of the loop for a while- I got a new toy, and have been tinkering with it for a couple of weeks.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 25, 2011:

Thanks, Prasetio for the kudos and for stopping by~!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on January 25, 2011:

Good information from you. Audrey, I liked your work and how you always give us useful information. Every time I visit your hub, I always find something new. Very well written and thanks for share with us. Vote up. Love and peace,


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 25, 2011:

Crewman - I think you most definitely fit into the couldn't be cheap and love your toys!! Thanks for the read.

Christopher - That's exactly what we started doing...or guarding the table until the gal or guy comes back. Pathetic to say the least! I totally agree with you.

ListLady - most definitely - people are just the craziest sometimes and I prefer to go through my life being happy - you only get one shot at this thing! Might as well enjoy ourselves! Thanks so much for the read y'all.

TheListLady from New York City on January 25, 2011:

So true so true. Have you noticed that cheap people tend to have a permanent sneer? But no not frugals who seem to be laid back and a bit more relaxed. They manage their money well and enjoy it. A frugal person will even share what they have - but not a cheapo.

Such a fun hub - complete with lists. Rated way up!

Christopher Price from Vermont, USA on January 25, 2011:

Good job making the fine distinction between frugal and cheap. I would suggest that frugality is an attribute and cheapness a failing.

Your mention of your stepfather, who swipes the tips left on the table by other relatives, is an example of someone who has slipped over the edge. The next step is taking the tips left on other tables. Service industry workers rely on tips. And stealing is stealing.

When eccentricities become mean-spirited or immoral the cuteness factor is lost. I suggest giving the tip directly to the server. It discourages other less honest patrons from succumbing to temptation as well.



Crewman6 on January 25, 2011:

I had to smile at myself; I seem to freely cross the border from cheap to frugal and back. This was a fun read!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 25, 2011:

CHSPublish - I think we all do being frugal and it's a hard line to walk sometimes. I just try to always ask myself the question whether I'm going to regret my decision later and that seems to help me figure it out when it's a case of cheap or frugal! Thanks so much for stopping by!

chspublish from Ireland on January 25, 2011:

Good article - food for thought and reflection. I steer myself towards frugality, but maybe some might say cheap. Thanks.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 25, 2011:

BJ - As usual, you make me smile and thank you for that! It just seemed like a cute subject to tackle when speaking about finance...and you are right...I'm rather surprised my family member doesn't cut out the chocolate chips in his muffins!

Sandy - Thanks so much for stopping by and glad you liked it.

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on January 25, 2011:

Great hub! Thanks for explaining the difference between cheap and frugal.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on January 25, 2011:

What wonderful explanations for cheap vs. frugal, Audrey. Although this is a particularly mundane subject, you managed in your inimitable fashion to make it interesting and even humorous. The F-ASS organization salutes you - that's the Frugal Association of Selective Savers.

For me, frugal is putting half the amount of chocolate chips in cookies you bake. Cheap is eliminating them! :)

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on January 25, 2011:

Steph - Now THAT's hilarious....I imagine sometimes that probably my stepfather might do the same kinda thing....yikes! I know he's been known to go back and pick up the tip that WE left! So embarrassing.

Nicole - thanks so much for stopping by and I totally agree with you...sometimes you just have to laugh and say 'oh well - that's THEM'....

TMB - I think we all have been there and done that but I'm now of a mind that middle of the road is usually best (for me anyhow)! Thanks for the read!

Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on January 25, 2011:

Excellent hub my friend, and I have NO choice I am on limited income and always looking for cool ways to make my life easy. I know that this is a very important hub and a must read for all. thumb up, awesome & useful. Love & peace darski

tmbridgeland from Small Town, Illinois on January 24, 2011:

I am cheap sometimes, buy cheaper things that don't hold up well. Better off buying a higher quality item. Good Hub.

Nicole A. Winter from Chicago, IL on January 24, 2011:

I really like this hub, akirchner, it sounds like your friend who makes everyone bundle up in coats sitting at his dining room table drinking hot coffee to try and stay warm might actually be a little OCD ... (well, and probably a lot cheap, too, though.) I got a giggle out of:

"Cheap people not only bargain for a better price, they pressure people ad nauseum into giving it to them and then get angry when they don’t get their way. It’s an entitlement."

I see that happen all the time where I live and it makes me kind of uncomfortable, but it's funny just the same.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on January 24, 2011:

I have a VERY cheap uncle who fishes things out of the garbage after his wife throws them away (we're talking broken items that have no use whatsoever). We laugh at what is lurking in his fridge - ketchup and salad dressing from 1993.... oh gosh! Great hub - I really enjoyed it. :)