Are You Frugal or Cheap? Thumbnail

Reader Beware: If you make your own soap or buy single-ply toilet paper, please don’t take offense to the following. Everyone has their own standards of living and this post just reflects mine.

What’s the difference between being frugal and cheap?  For me being frugal is the willingness to spend, but the smarts to make good decisions and get a deal when it counts.  Whereas being cheap is an avoidance of spending and trying blindly to save money on absolutely everything.  A frugal person will make smart decisions based on value and quality.  On the flip side, a cheapskate will be willing to sacrifice quality in order to save a few dollars, often times making themselves or others suffer in the process.

For example:

  • If you drive 30 minutes out of your way to save 5 cents a gallon on gas you’re probably CHEAP.
  • If you buy a car with a higher fuel-efficiency you’re probably FRUGAL.


  • If you buy a used car seat on Craigslist you’re probably CHEAP (yes, that’s dangerous).
  • If you buy a new car seat on Amazon at 25% off, you’re probably FRUGAL.


  • If you avoid your turn to buy a round at the bar, you’re probably CHEAP.
  • If you buy draft beers instead of imported bottles, you’re probably FRUGAL.


  • If you splurge and dine at a nice steakhouse and leave a 5% tip, you’re probably CHEAP.
  • If you buy the New York Strip instead of the Porterhouse, you’re probably FRUGAL.


  • If you take an extra carry-on bag instead of checking a bag you’re probably FRUGAL.
  • If you make 3 connections and travel all day to save $25 you’re probably CHEAP.

Anyone that reads my blog knows that I’ll do everything I can to save money on big ticket items.  I’ll put in some research to find the best TV prices, save money at Home Depot, or figure out how to buy a car at the best possible price.  I do this because saving 50 or 100 bucks means a lot to me, but so does getting value for my money.  For every big purchase I make, I try to find the right balance between price and quality.

Does that mean I’m cheap?  Quite the opposite.  While I haggle over big ticket items, I still buy them when I need something.  It’s the small stuff I don’t sweat.  My time is valuable and I’ll only put forth extra effort when it makes an impact.  Life is too short to worry about money 100% of the time.  Not everyone will agree with me (and that’s ok), but here’s my list of things where I won’t go to extremes to save money:

  • Eating out (and leaving good tips). Eating is one of my favorite past-times and I won’t negotiate at a restaurant.  And 15% is the bare minimum I will leave for a tip (unless someone really pisses me off).  Wait staff work for tips and its factored into their wages.  If you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the meal.
  • A round of drinks for my friends. You’re going to get the short end of the stick once in a while and will end up paying more than someone else.  But over time it evens out.  And if you do pay a little more, just think of it as doing something nice for your friends.
  • Health care. Need the dentist to drill a cavity?  Want some prescription strength cold meds? My health is worth a few bucks to me.  Now that’s not to say I won’t try to find the best health care plan available, but I’m not going to skip a doctor’s appointment to save myself a copay.
  • Basic consumer staples.  Who doesn’t like soft toilet paper?  Personally, I refuse to go single-ply.  And I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but I’m not going to start making my own soap and I’m certainly not going to start stitching my socks.
  • Hot water and air-conditioning. I don’t need much, but I do need hot showers and a down comforter at night.
  • Gas. If you do the math, driving 30 minutes out of your way to save 50 cents on a tank of gas is just not worth the time and effort.  And asking my passengers for gas money for anything less than a 3 hour drive?  Sorry, won’t do it.
  • Educational experiences. Anything that will make my daughter smarter and more well-adjusted is worth it in my book. She’s not old enough to do much of anything yet, but if she wants gymnastics or piano lessons online, a class trip, or SAT prep, you can bet I’m going to pay for it without batting an eye.

Now I’m not saying I won’t use a coupon for any of the items above, but I won’t go out of my way not to pay for these items.  And I won’t try to negotiate.  But send me car shopping and that’s another story.

Sometimes the line between frugal and cheap can be blurry, but I try to stay on the frugal side.  So what’s on your list of things that you won’t sweat spending money on?