The Difference Between Frugal and Cheap

We’ve all been there – trying to save a few bucks, only to be labeled as “cheap” by friends or family. But what if I told you there’s a smart way to keep costs down without skimping on quality or putting your values on the back burner?

In today’s blog post, we’re exposing the differences between frugality and cheapness that everyone needs to understand because I’ve heard way too many times people be called cheap when they’re actually just being frugal.

Frugality: A Mindful Approach

After spending hours on research and a lifetime of experiences, I believe it comes down to frugality being a mindful approach to spending that prioritizes long-term value and considers the impact on others. It’s about making informed choices, leveraging tools like coupons and rewards, all while still allowing yourself and loved ones to live enriched lives.

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  • Frugality is about making informed, intentional choices.
  • It prioritizes quality over short-term savings and considers long-term value.
  • Frugal individuals invest in higher-quality items that last longer.
  • They leverage coupons, cash-back rewards, and special promotions.
  • Their purchases are strategic, balancing quality with cost-effectiveness.

Frugality is really about being an informed, intentional consumer who thinks long-term. It’s considering the full lifecycle and utility of each potential purchase, not just the upfront sticker price. With this mindful approach, our money buys us the things that truly enrich our lives without wasting resources on junk. That’s the smart way to save.

Cheapness: A Reckless Obsession

In contrast, where frugal people make intentional choices to maximize value, cheap people are singularly obsessed with spending as little money as possible, no matter the consequences.

  • Cheap people sacrifice quality, comfort, and societal norms to save a buck.
  • They opt for the absolute cheapest options, disregarding craftsmanship and longevity.
  • Cheap behavior often comes at the expense of friends, family, and society.
  • It can alienate loved ones and come across as rude, entitled, and off-putting.

At its core, cheapness disregards any notion of value, quality of life, or considering how one’s actions impact others. It’s a reckless, short-sighted obsession with pinching pennies today, while turning a blind eye to the potential to create lasting value and memories tomorrow.

Impact on Relationships

One of the most glaring differences between frugality and cheapness lies in how each approach impacts the people around us. While frugal individuals are considerate of others, cheap behavior often comes at the expense of friends, family, and society.


Frugal Individuals:
  • Consider the recipient’s wants and needs.
  • Invest reasonable money into finding a meaningful present.
  • Use discounts and sales to stick to their budget.
Cheap individuals:
  • Prioritize spending as little as possible.
  • Give flimsy, re-gifted items or the cheapest option from the bargain bin.
  • Put the recipient’s wants and needs as an afterthought.

Psychological Influences

Growing up, my household was like a mini battleground over budgeting. My mom would constantly—like, constantly—be preaching the gospel of budgeting to my dad, who, like me, is a natural spender. They started a small uniform rental company, and man, those budgeting discussions they had were definitely some memorable ones!

While we’re not diving into the weeds of their business today, those debates left me with some burning questions:

  • Why are some people frugal?
  • Why are others perceived as cheap?
  • What makes someone a natural spender or even a big-time splurger?

Psychologists say that how we spend money is deeply tied to our upbringing and personal values. It’s fascinating when you think about it. For some, spending money is a way to express love or to ensure comfort. You know, like buying gifts for a loved one or splurging on a cozy home environment. It’s almost a language of love for them.

On the flip side, others view saving as a means to secure their future. These are the folks who see every dollar saved today as a step towards a more stable, secure tomorrow. They’re not being stingy—they’re being strategic, prioritizing long-term security over immediate gratification.

Money Scripts We Create In out Mind

As we dive deeper into the psychological influences behind our financial behaviors, it’s essential to consider the groundbreaking work of financial psychologists like Dr. Brad Klontz. His book, Money Mammoth, sheds incredible light on why we think and behave the way we do with money. It’s a resource I find invaluable when navigating these complex topics and have to bring up during this conversation.

In Money Mammoth, Dr. Klontz introduces the concept of ‘money scripts’—these unconscious beliefs about money that we inherit from our family and society, which can deeply influence our financial behaviors. He argues that many of us are walking around with outdated scripts that don’t necessarily serve us well in the modern world. For example, some might hold a belief that ‘money is the root of all evil,’ which can lead to either avoiding wealth-building opportunities or feeling guilty about having more than others.

Reflecting on my own upbringing, as I mentioned earlier about my parents’ dynamic handling finances in our family business, I can see these money scripts playing out. My mom’s frugality was her way of ensuring we never had to face uncertainty, while my dad’s spending was often about enjoying the fruits of hard work and sharing that joy with the family.

Dr. Klontz’s work also points out how these scripts can lead to emotional reactions around money. And here’s why conversations around money can get so heated—we’re not just talking about dollars and cents; we’re talking about deeply ingrained beliefs and values. Money isn’t just money. It’s tied to emotions, to history, to personal and familial narratives. It’s about what we’ve been taught to value, whether it’s the pleasure of the present or the security of the future. Recognizing and understanding these scripts can help us see beyond the numbers and start to work through our financial conflicts more constructively.

Understanding these psychological underpinnings can really change the way we approach our finances. It’s not about changing who you are but understanding why you are the way you are.

Money Mammoth: Harness The Power of Financial Psychology to Evolve Your Money Mindset

Key Takeaways

As we’ve explored today, frugality and cheapness may seem similar on the surface, but they are worlds apart in their motivations and real-world impacts.

True Frugality:

  • Disciplined, mindful approach to spending.
  • Prioritizes quality over short-term savings.
  • Considers the long-term value of purchases.
  • Uses coupons and rewards to maximize money.


  • Obsessed with spending as little money as possible.
  • Disregards quality, comfort, and societal norms.
  • Reluctant to invest in enriching their own lives or those of others.

The biggest difference lies in how these two mindsets impact the people around us. Frugal individuals balance their budgets while still allowing room to treat loved ones and respect societal norms. Their spending is considerate of others. Cheap behavior, in contrast, alienates friends and family through selfish penny-pinching that comes at the expense of generosity and thoughtfulness.

So while both frugality and cheapness involve watching one’s spending, the similarities end there. As you navigate your own financial journey, embrace an attitude of mindful frugality that enriches your life while aligning with your principles. Steer clear of the reckless, self-centered cheapness that undercuts quality and erodes relationships. Your future self – and your loved ones – will thank you.

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