Even though these words are often used interchangeably, each has a different connotation. We might insult someone by telling them how cheap they are. Yet we praise them by telling them how frugal they are. And at times we may try to use both as slights or insults. Let’s explore the difference between cheap and frugal and why one has a negative connotation and the other a positive.
Cheap vs Frugal
Now, when it comes to being Cheap vs Frugal I like to think of cheap as going for the least expensive (cheapest) option, no matter what, and frugal as going for the option that offers the best value for the resources you have available.
I might be slightly biased toward frugality, and I’ll admit that freely. That is only because it is the best long term habit or approach to spending your limited resources. I specifically use the word resources rather than money, for the simple reason that we should look at everything of value that we spend when making a choice.
We spend, among many other resources, our time, attention and energy on whatever we choose. The mere act of choosing something requires mental energy and time. Be mindful of the value of these resources and be frugal rather than cheap. Focus on what matters rather than just throwing your time and attention at whatever cheap distraction comes easily.
The philosophy of frugality
Frugality ties back into ancient traditions and philosophy. Sages have cautioned against overindulgence and intemperance. Both can lead to bad health and reckless behavior. Some examples of philosophers who advocated simple living and frugality are Lao Tzu, Buddha, Socrates and Plato, even the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher himself, Marcus Aurelius.
More recent examples include Benjamin Franklin, Nietzsche and Gandhi to name but a few. Now these were all great men who achieved remarkable things. The list goes on and even includes religious figures such as Jesus Christ. So if this common theme is present in all of their teachings, perhaps it’s a good idea to take note.
While some of these men lived lives none of us would want, they all made exceptional contributions to society and the way we think. We don’t all need to be philosophers to realize the value of leading a frugal life, just look at the practical benefits of delaying gratification, saving and investing. Rather than spending and being in bad debt we discipline ourselves and put plans in place to heed the words of these great men.
There were those who took this idea to the extreme though, Diogenes the Cynic lived in a barrel or ceramic jar on the streets of Athens and had almost no possessions. Such extreme adherence to this philosophy might be considered insanity. He did not live the way he did to lead a simple life, it was more of a dramatic critique of the social norms among other things. He was basically one of the first trolls.
There is no need to take things that far though. Take the concepts he lived out to their fullest, and examine them and implement the wisdom that he suffered to extract from hardship, in your life. By looking at the extremes and ideals we can often find some parallels to these absurdities in our own lives. Do what you can to identify the worst and best in yourself, be honest and take stock. Go and look at how the sages lived, or at least learn more about how they thought.
We can apply these concepts to our daily lives, both economically and psychologically. There are many benefits to spending your time, energy and attention frugally. This becomes easy once you’ve realized that these resources are both finite and incredibly valuable.
For some more info on the Philosophy of Frugality, watch this video and take a deep dive into the concepts. The sound quality isn’t that great, but the information is incredibly interesting and the delivery witty.
Let’s have a look at how you can use the word frugal in a sentence in its different forms.
Frugal in a sentence
- She chose to be frugal and bought only what was necessary.
- The frugal man spent his money wisely, and can rest easy knowing he has no bad debt.
Frugality in a sentence
- I am always impressed by the frugality of some people, they could afford much more, but instead decide to live a simple life.
- The stoic philosophers believed frugality was a virtue.
Frugally in a sentence
- Shopping frugally can save you a lot of trouble caused by debt.
- I decided to spend my hard earned money frugally and save and invest what I had left.
Being cheap and being frugal only have a few things in common. Both approaches are concerned with using your resources sparingly and saving what you can. Being cheap however is often at the expense of others, and your future self. Being cheap looks at one variable and one variable alone, and that is price. A cheap person asks, “How can I pay the least, no matter what?”
There is a good reason why this word has a negative connotation. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish”. It means that a cheap way out is taken to save a small amount of money now, but large costs will be due in the future because of this.
We ought to sacrifice the present for the future, not the other way around. So by doing something properly the first time, we get rid of the need to redo it in the future. Redoing things can become incredibly costly, not just financially but in terms of time and reputation.
Don’t be cheap do something right the first time.
Cheap in a sentence
- Being his usual cheap self, he decided that working with protective gear was too expensive, he now only has one eye left to count all the money he saved.
- She was so cheap that instead of paying for parking, she parked 5 blocks away, walked all the way, got mugged and broke a heel.
Now I’ll admit, these examples are quite harsh and obviously many factors contribute to the decisions people make. But I hope they get the point across.
There is still much to discuss about frugality and the philosophies and practical wisdom behind the ideas that contribute to the concept of frugality. Applying these concepts to your life could be incredibly beneficial, not only practically and economically, but psychologically as well.
Cheap vs frugal might seem like an unusual topic to write about, and distinguishing between these terms might seem unnecessary and pedantic. But I hope that the differences between the two approaches are more apparent and that the different connotations clear.
For some more practical modern day tips on living frugally read 9 Frugal living tips for 2022.