Frugal Vs Cheap: What’s the Difference? Which Is Better?

frugal vs cheap differences and which is better

Key Differences Between Frugal & Cheap Living

Years ago, when I decided to do Invisalign on my teeth, I made a terrible mistake. And this was the moment that I learned the difference between frugal vs cheap.

Because I loved a good deal, I was excited to find a $500 coupon to a dentist close by. I didn’t know anything about him, but that didn’t matter much. I’d go there and have $500 more in my pocket for it.

difference between cheap and frugal title pin

Unfortunately, as it turned out, that dentist was all kinds of shady. I sat in a run-down office for hours. Then left my appointment with new gaps between my teeth and gobs of glue all over my mouth.

Less than a week later that dentist closed up shop and “retired.” I was forced to spend thousands of dollars MORE to get my teeth fixed. And I will never forget the lesson I learned:

If you’re too concerned with saving a buck, it could seriously bite you in the butt (or the mouth).

Frugal Vs Cheap

But how do you know the difference between frugal and cheap? Both frugal and cheap people love to save money. Yet they are not the same.

Frugal: You are thoughtful about where your dollars go. You are not wasteful.

Cheap: You want the lowest price possible, regardless of circumstance or situation.

Generally, frugal prioritizes value over price. Now, when money is tight or you are crawling out of debt, it’s sometimes necessary to make a decision based on price only. But it shouldn’t be your way of life (as I found out!)

Signs of a Cheap Person

Wondering what a cheapskate looks like? Or what the line looks like between frugal and cheap? Here are some key indicators of a cheap person:

cheap people hoard things
  • A cheap person only cares about getting the cheapest price, even if it is at the expense of others.
  • This person is focused only on what they can gain in the moment. Will those shoes break down in a week? Who cares! As long as they’re cheap!
  • A cheap person is living in a scarcity mindset. They are worried about the money running out, so their choices are made out of lack.
  • Cheapskates can also easily become hoarders. They buy 10 cheap flashlights instead of one higher quality one that will last 20 years. (Sacrificing long-term quality and time for short-term gain).

Related: Things To Stop Buying To Save Money

How to Be Frugal But Not Cheap

These activities and characteristics help you live squarely in the frugal category.


Be Generous (on Your Terms)

Having an abundance mindset will ensure that you stay away from being a “cheap person.” Be generous with your money and time when it feels right to you, and know that more money is coming your way.

Think Long Term (Frugal Vs Cheap)

One of the major differences between frugal and cheap is that a frugal person is thinking of the long-term effects.

When you are making purchasing decisions, ask yourself “what will this be worth to me in 5 years?” Will it stand the test of time?

If the answer is yes, it may justify a higher price.

Use The Quality of Life Metric To Help Guide You

creative and realistic ways to save money each month: quality of life metric

After my horrible dentist incident, I created a “quality of life metric” for all of my spending. It’s a simple filter that helps me..

  • spend on quality instead of always going cheap.
  • use money to lift my family’s quality of life.

This is also a great way to shift your thinking to long-term “investments” over short-term “I need to have its!”

Is this purchase an investment in my future? Does it add to a beautiful life?

Always Value People Over Savings

Ebenezer Scrooge learned this in the Disney classic when he was seen as the cranky miser. But once he started putting people before money, he was much happier (and everyone loved him).

Make Plans For Your Money

digital money vision board examples and ideas for debt free finance

Being frugal is also about prioritizing your money so that you are putting it towards what you want. A cheap person may just be hoarding cash (or things). But a frugal person makes financial goals and money vision boards. He or she spends money on what makes life meaningful.

Remember: You can’t take that money with you when you go. But you can do some good with it for others and yourself if you are intentional.

4 Frugal Hacks to Save Money (but Not Look Cheap)

Now, of course, you don’t want to be cheap! But how can you still save money? Use these tips!

frugal vs cheap means price vs value

1. Look For Discounts On Great Stuff

If you wait for a sale or buy right after a major holiday, then you are buying quality items for a fraction of the price. It’s a win for both the price AND the value.

2. Pay Off Your Credit Card Every Month

Imagine debt as throwing money out your car window.

Debt shrinks you into a cheapskate mindset because it makes you feel trapped. Pay off your credit card each month so that your financial stress remains low.

Every time you borrow money, you’re robbing your future self. –Nathan W. Morris

3. Be Resourceful (Without Being Extreme)

Youtube is great for DIYing everything. And recycling and reusing help to save our planet. It’s COOL to be resourceful. And it’s amazing to save money for things that are more important to you.

Just make sure that your resourcefulness never comes at the expense of others.

4. Remember That Time Is Money

Your time has value. In fact, time is the only non-renewable resource in your life. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

With this in mind, find a great price for things. But if you are couponing for 2 hours in order to save $5, you need to evaluate what your time is worth to you. (Try making $500 instead, and see if it is more efficient)

Related: Surprising Habits of the Rich & Famous

Cheap Vs Frugal Examples

Frugal vs cheap, which is better? In the examples below, you can clearly see the difference.

ramen: signs of a cheap person vs frugal person examples

A cheap person eats ramen noodles every night. A frugal person cooks a simple, but decent meal (thinking of long-term health).

A cheap person saves on the meal and tips less. A frugal person saves on the meal (by splitting or drinking water) but still leaves a good tip.

A cheap person buys the cheapest appliance possible. A frugal person buys quality and waits for the sale.

A cheap person duct tapes the wall to cover a spot. A frugal person watches a Youtube video to DIY fix it properly.

Is Not Giving Your Kids All Your Money Cheap?

Is this cheap or frugal?

A relative recently called Warren Buffett cheap for not leaving his kids all of his money.

Personally, I think he’s trying to teach his kids to stand on their own two feet and live a life of purpose.

What do you think? Is he being cheap or frugal (thoughtful) with his money? Leave a comment below and let me know!

So, Are You Cheap or Frugal?

Which one would you fall under? Answer the questions for yourself!

  • Do you buy the lowest-priced thing you can find, regardless of the quality?
  • Do you judge others that spend a little more for a higher-quality item?
  • Is the purchase price or the quality a more important factor to you when shopping?
  • Do you consider your time to be a factor when shopping?

For many of us, we’ve engaged in both cheap and frugal behavior at times. It’s a great reminder that the two are very different. And it often comes down to whether you have a healthy money mindset in the moment.

Other Terms You Might Here:

thrifty vs cheap vs stingy vs frugal

Frugal Vs Thrifty

Thrifty: Spending as little as possible on the things you need.

Frugal living is about resourcefulness. “Thrifty” is very similar but more about being hands-on. Thrifty people fix things up, make their own clothes, and enjoy browsing thrift stores for treasures.

Cheap vs Stingy

Stingy: Not spending money on things you need, even when you can afford them.

Stingy is a lot like cheap, though cheap people are more likely to buy lots of stuff for cheap, whereas a stingy person wouldn’t buy it at all.

To Consider With Frugal Vs Cheap

Thanks to my life lesson, these days, I’m obsessed with investing often, but in good quality. And I hope you do the same.

Save creatively on the small things  or those things that don’t affect your quality of life. Find free things to do for fun.

Be frugal. Just not cheap.

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