Being Frugal … Not Cheap!

What is the difference between being frugal and being cheap?

Frugality considers value … not cost alone. For many people, ethical standards are also a consideration. Frugal people know that, sometimes, it is better to pay more and get better overall value. These folks want to save money but not if there will be a detrimental cost to others or our planet.

Cheapskates are primarily concerned with paying the lowest price for a product or service with little concern for the long-term well-being of self, society or the environment.

As it turns out, cheapskates are typically less skilled at managing their money than frugal people due to their shortsightedness.

Being Frugal vs. Being Cheap

A cheapskate may try to double-dip on rebates by using a second address. (Example: work address or post office box) Most rebates clearly state that the rebate is limited to one rebate per person. By doing this, the cheapskate is committing an illegal act … fraud.

A frugal person will research a product or service based on expert and customer reviews and will wait for the product to go on sale before making the purchase. The frugal person will be buying a quality, well-reviewed product or service at a reduced price.

Cheapskates believe everything is overpriced and that the seller is trying to rob him. It’s not unusual for a cheapskate to make a scene at the store with a clerk or cashier because he believes an item is overpriced and demands a price reduction.

A frugal person frequently waits for an item to go on sale before buying it. They may also use a coupon or rebate. If a frugal person cannot afford something, she will wait for it goes on sale or do without. It’s no one else’s fault that she cannot afford the item she desires.

A woman finds the perfect dress for an upcoming party. Unfortunately, the cost of the dress is far more than she can afford. She gets the great (unethical) idea to buy it and wear it to Saturday night’s party and then return it to the store on Monday.

A frugal woman will look at consignment stores where she can buy a beautiful dress that might have been worn once at a steep discount off its original cost. She can afford the dress, and she will have it to wear in the future. This is a frugal and ethical purchase.

You have a habit of swiping paper, staples, paper clips folders, toilet paper, paper towels, condiment packets and trash bags from work. You don’t have any qualms about this because you feel you are underpaid anyway.

A frugal person doesn’t steal … even if it is just petty theft. If something is being discarded, that’s a different scenario. It makes frugal sense to help yourself to items being thrown away and you have a use for it.

You need to get a birthday present for aunt. Since you are on a tight budget, you decide to give your aunt a jacket out of your closet that no longer fits you.

Unfortunately, you forgot that she complimented you on it when you last wore it at a family member’s graduation party.

Secondhand gifts don’t need to be thoughtless gifts just because you are on a tight budget. Upscale thrift stores and consignment shops typically have a selection of like-new merchandise that you can purchase for a good price. Clean and wrap the item up nicely and your aunt won’t care if it was secondhand if you selected something you know she’ll just love.

The difference may between being frugal and cheap may not be obvious if the “cost” of the item or service is the sole determining factor. In these cases, it may come down to doing what your sense of right and wrong is telling you to do.

Deep down inside ourselves most of us know the difference between being frugal and being just plain cheap. Being frugal makes us feel good about ourselves. Being cheap makes us feel dirty … inside and out.

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Published by W. M. Brown

I am a retired U.S. expat living in Ecuador. I was a business owner for 32 years before retiring in 2012.

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