When to be Frugal, When to be Cheap

grocery shopping woman

There is a difference between being frugal, and being cheap but the definition of the two is different for every family. Frugality and cheapness are both good things to be when we are trying to live with our means – it’s just difficult, sometimes, to decipher between the two, and to know which one to be.  So, here are a few examples that sway my family’s frugal and cheap decisions.

ice fishing
Image via Melanie Denney

Clothing

Where I live, summers are hot, but short-lived. Our winters, on the other hand, seem to last forever, so warm clothing is a must have. My husband, and our son, do a lot of hunting, and ice fishing in the wintertime; our daughter and I choose to stay off the ice…for the most part. We will go at least once.

Frugal: Because my boys spend a lot of time in the cold, we don’t mind spending a little more money for good boots, snow bibs, wicking layers, and coats that will keep them warm and dry. We don’t purchase name brand items with hefty price tags – we choose other quality pieces that have reasonable prices.    

Cheap: My little girl and I don’t normally venture out onto the ice. We might brave the conditions once in a while ( like when it's windless and when the temperature reaches double digits — like in this picture), but we’d rather stay in when the temperature outside dips down into incredibly uncomfortable coldness, and watch reruns of Dr. Who, read books, or bake. So needless to say, our winter boots aren’t made to withstand below-zero degree weather – and when we do venture out, we’re alright with hand-me-down snow pants that may or may not fit well, and layers upon layers of socks.

little car
Image by FotoSleuth, Wikimedia Commons

Vehicles

Remember when I told you about my dad’s $500 dollar cars? While the majority of us defined his low cost car purchases as cheap, he defined his decisions as being frugal.  Thinking back on it now, I believe the same – it was frugal choice for him.

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Frugal: When it comes to cars, my husband’s mechanical ability is limited, and the only thing car-related I can do is sing the NAPA know-how song, which is totally useless. So when we needed to buy a vehicle, instead of buying one that comes with a price tag of a few hundred dollars like my dad always did, we opted for one that is a little more because we were confident that we my husband, with his limited mechanical knowledge, will be able to maintain it.

Cheap: If you are like my dad, and can fix anything, then I say go on ahead and be cheap with your car purchase. Buy that $500 dollar car if you can keep it working for years.

It wouldn’t have been a smart or frugal choice for us to buy a $5oo dollar station wagon because the money we would have had to pay someone else to fix it would quickly exceed the amount we paid for it.

burrito eater
Image via Melanie Denney

Food

Food is the subject where sometimes I am cheap with my time, instead of with my money. I’ve heard of the coupon people who save insane amounts of money at the grocery store and have an impressive stockpile of toilet paper and sports drinks and tampons to prove it. I am not a coupon person – I wish that I were, and someday I might learn how to do it. But for now, I just do what works for my family.

I invest in baking goods in bulk, and try to make everything that I can from ingredients that I have on hand.

Frugal: For some families soda, chips, pre-made peanut butter sandwiches, fruit snacks, and tubes of yogurt are pantry staples. That doesn’t work for mine. My sister and I ate food that my mom made – rarely did she make anything from a box, and if she did it was probably because she was either too tired to cook, or we were in a hurry to get somewhere. If we wanted a snack, we’d get leftovers or a sliced apple. She made her own bread, cinnamon rolls, noodles, soup, stuffing, granola, birthday cakes, etc. And I find myself doing mostly the same thing. I invest in baking goods in bulk, and try to make everything that I can from ingredients that I have on hand. Making food from scratch is my way of being frugal – a little money up front saves me a lot of money later on.  

Cheap: I don’t make everything from scratch – sometimes I don’t have time so I allow myself to be cheap with my time instead of my money. My family will consume burritos all day, every day (that's my little boy sampling a cheese smothered burrito), so instead of trying to keep up with my ravenous burrito eaters by making them myself, I buy them to save myself some time.

Do you coupon? If not, would you like to learn with me? What shopping tips would you like to learn?

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What is your family’s definition of being frugal, and cheap?

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When to be Frugal, When to be Cheap

Melanie Denney lives in the smallest of towns, with her two little darlings. She has a Bachelor's degree and happily works as a full-time mother and a freelance writer, specializing in sociology and recreation leadership. ... More

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4 comments

  1. mommy nhoj says:

    I do not consider myself as coupon expert though I enjoy store coupons in hand or seen along the grocery trip. I usually make a list of to-buy things to both save time and money. My husband and I both agree to live within our means, save money as much as we can and still enjoy a little bit in life. I remember my husband telling me he’s so glad that I am not the “high maintenance” wife. But he would love to see me flaunt in style at times. 🙂

  2. Summer says:

    thanks for the tips

  3. Dottie says:

    I am that crazy coupon lady. I do a lot of cooking at home and if we do go out or eat something that is from the box then I never pay full price. I am slighly snobbinsh when it comes to brands but I only but name brand if I can get it for less than store brand. I never buy new clothes, Thrift stores, yard sales and hand me downs are my shopping mall. I love all the tips but its all things I already do

  4. paula says:

    I don’t know if I agree with all the cheap frugal descriptions. I consider frugal as buying an item of a good quality at a great deal. Sometimes cheap is just that cheap. Less money is not always better. sometimes you get what you pay for. But if you can get something great at a steal of a price that is frugal.

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