5 ways being frugal is different than being cheap

5 ways being frugal is different than being cheap

It’s no secret that Mer and I live a frugal lifestyle. Actually, we come from a long line of frugal gurus and despite getting a little off-track in our 20s we tend to really live by the mantra that excess doesn’t bring happiness or joy to our lives. As a result, we really limit our spending and most months we can keep our expenses at around 1000$.

Recently, we watched an episode of Extreme Cheapskates. We were drawn to it because of our frugal tendencies but after watching I was left questioning if living frugally means the same thing as living cheaply. My resounding answer is no – it’s absolutely different.

Here are a few reasons why!


Frugal living is about prioritizing and saving for a larger life goal. We don’t live frugally to hoard away all our money and never spend it. Quite the opposite actually.  We live frugally so we can save money and use it to fulfill our life goals. Our first goal was getting out of debt, the second was saving up half the down payment for our first home and most recently we’re working towards saving up a fund to purchase a vacation home which we plan to rent out to help cover the costs of a second mortgage and all the associated costs involved in owning a property. Cheapness is oriented towards saving money for the sake of saving without having an end goal in mind whereas living frugally gives you the power to realize life goals however costly.


Frugal living doesn’t come at the expense of others.  Although we choose to live a frugal lifestyle those around us never feel like their are deprived when visiting or spending time with us. When it comes to things like dinner plans, social events or family gatherings we always put our best foot forward. Recently, when hosting a dinner party we fed our guests a feast of delicious food. We were still very much conscious of what we bought opting to create delicious meals around items that were on sale as opposed to full price. Our goal was having a lovely meal with our closest friends and family and our number one priority was that our guests have good laughs and a full belly! Being frugal is about being creative and conscious of how you spend your money while being cheap is about prioritizing the amount of money you can save even if that means disregarding the needs of others.


Frugal living isn’t about not spending money. Surprisingly, we spend quite a bit of money on things we deem important and necessary.  We don’t scrimp on things like dental or healthcare, we eat good quality food and make sure to make purchases that we know will be beneficial to our lifestyle. Frugal living isn’t about saving every penny – it’s about making informed, conscious decisions about what you choose to spend your money on. As an example, both Margs and I have very sensitive skin and as a result we opt to buy costly laundry detergent that keeps our skin rash and itch free. Sure, there are far cheaper options out there but I would never opt to save a few dollars and put myself or Margs at risk for skin reactions.


Frugal living is about value and not cost. Frugal living means spending money wisely. Recently, Mer and I decided that it was time to replace our winter boots since both our pairs were really on their last legs. We live in an extremely cold northern climate and during the winter months appropriate footwear is essential. We could have spent 50$ on boots and called it a day but we made an investment in better quality boots that are conducive to holding up to our harsh Canadian winters. We ended up spending nearly 300$ (on sale!)  combined but we’re confident that these boots will last us for quite a few years and most importantly keep our feet warm and dry for many winters to come. We try to use the same philosophy of value over cost when we’re purchasing food, clothing and furniture. We’re not in an income bracket that allows us to necessarily buy the best quality all of the time but we do make conscious decisions to purchase things of mid-range quality or better (if we can swing it) at a higher cost to gain product longevity. Replacing things is so no fun!


Frugal living isn’t about obsessing about saving money. As shocking as it might sound, Mer and I really don’t obsess about our bank accounts. Sure, we check in from time to time to make sure everything is as it should be but we rarely have a look to scrutinize where our money goes. We’ve sort of automated our frugal lifestyle and the routine of not spending is just so ingrained in us that we rarely need to check in to see how much we’ve spent. We have a rough budget for groceries and weekly expenditures and we simply stick to our budget as best we can. Sure, there are weeks that we go over. For example, our local grocer was having a sale on organic chickens a couple weeks back so I completely blew our weekly grocery budget and stocked our freezer full of chickens to make delicious meals in the months to come. Frugal living isn’t about obsessing about money. It’s more a lifestyle choice that allows you not to focus on money at all!  By living on a budget we end up saving money (albeit at different increments each month) which is is the consequence of choosing to spend our money wisely.

Basically, if I were to summarize this entire post in just a few words I’d have to say that cheap people focus on not spending money while frugal ones spend it with intention and purpose.


What are your thoughts? Is being cheap and frugal the same thing?








  1. March 20, 2017 / 8:10 am

    I think this post ties into your one about being labelled a minimalist. In my mind being frugal is also a privileged state just as you stating being called minimal is. To be frugal you have to have the money to be conscious about in the first place. Choosing to spend $150 on a pair of boots instead of only $50 assumes you have the ability to spend the extra $100 while not making a sacrifice in another area, say not paying the electric bill that month. A lot of people are considered “cheap” when they are just doing the best they can with very little money.

    • March 20, 2017 / 8:15 am

      I think cheapness is a choice of privilege too. Those who do not have the privilege to make that choice (say opting to buy better quality boots) are not doing that out of choice but rather necessity. Cheapness and necessity are two very different lifestyle choices in my mind. When I was a kid my mother could hardly afford to buy me any boots. I don’t really feel that was her opting to be cheap ya know? She simply had no choice.

  2. March 20, 2017 / 9:40 am

    Love this! Makes me proud to be frugal! One thing that’s hard for me as a student with seriously very little money is to buy better quality items for longevity. I wish I could purchase fair trade organic cotton clothes for my baby and I, but if we need to add things to the wardrobe and don’t have a gift card stashed away, I have to shop places like Old Navy, and I feel bad about it.
    But that also supports your point that cheap is different from frugal. I have a frugal mindset, but until I start having a solid income, I find it hard to not just live cheaply.

    • March 21, 2017 / 9:27 am

      There’s nothing wrong with buying from Old Navy. Don’t for one second make yourself feel bad about that. I buy Margs’ stuff used. It just makes no sense to me to spend on new clothing when sometimes she outgrows it in a matter of weeks. Have you had a look at local thrift shops? You’d be surprised what you can find for both yourself and the baby!

      • March 21, 2017 / 9:35 am

        I’ve never had much luck at our local thrift shops, I think because I’m the kind of style-challenged person who needs to see the outfit put together on a mannequin. We have some good consignment stores around here, but they have become so trendy that the prices are almost like new! I really do like the idea of buying used though, mostly for environmental sustainability. And for kids clothes, it make so much sense. I do use a local moms buy/sell/trade group for kids stuff!

        • March 21, 2017 / 9:37 am

          Agreed on price inflation. Just this weekend I headed out to try and score some new PJs for Margs. At the consignment shop the Pyjamas were split – so 2-3$ for the pants and the same for the tops if you could find the match. I ended up heading into a local shop that sells just about everything. They had PJ sets for 5$ on liquidation.

  3. March 20, 2017 / 3:57 pm

    How do you do it? Does the $1000 include mortgage and childcare? Also, Do you do a CSA? I have been trying to buy more fresh fruits and veggies and it seems to be driving up my grocery bill. I consider myself cheap but frugal does sound nicer 🙂 For me the benefit of keeping costs down is not working as much and not having a high stress job. This gives me more time to care for my son. But having a tight budget is stressful. I wish I could learn how to do it without “obsessing over every dollar”.

    • March 21, 2017 / 6:35 am

      Hi Gracie. Some ways to save on produce might be buying seasonal produce (it is always cheaper), buying the produce that is on sale and also checking out the reduced to sell shelf if your grocery store has one. A lot of the produce on that shelf is perfectly good. Take a look the next time you shop. I have saved a lot of money this way. Hope that helps. 🙂

      • March 21, 2017 / 7:37 am

        This is solid advice. I only buy what’s in season and often turn to frozen veggies (either my own from the summer or store bought) when prices are really really high.

          • March 21, 2017 / 9:20 am


            I tend to use frozen anytime I’m making a casserole or stew. They get cooked so well that you can hardly tell the difference.

            Stir frys and whatnot tend to come out better with fresh but even then frozen works quite well.

    • March 21, 2017 / 7:39 am

      Hi Gracie.

      The 1000$ does not include our mortgage, insurance or city taxes.

      When it comes to food, we tend to stick to a very strict list. As for veggies and fruits we eat what’s in season and what’s on sale. In the winter months for example we eat a ton of citrus fruits. Also, do you have any local farmers in your area? We bought a huge bushel of apples for 5$ in October. We keep them cold in our garage and they are still very eatable. Small things like this save a ton of money in the long-run.

      • March 21, 2017 / 1:16 pm

        Yes we have a lot of local farmers, but I haven’t been too lucky finding deals at the farmers market. I usually buy what is seasonal and on sale but lately i have been making micro-nutrient smoothies everyday. It seems as if Kale, Chard, Spinach, and avocados are expensive and hard to buy in bulk because they go bad so quickly. Thanks for the suggestion I need to do more research about my local farms.

        • March 21, 2017 / 3:20 pm

          I skip the farmers market and head straight to the farm 😉

    • March 21, 2017 / 9:23 am

      Oh and Gracie, we don’t have any childcare costs since I stay home with my little one.

      • March 21, 2017 / 1:19 pm

        Ok I think I do pretty good then when I take out my rent and childcare costs. I think most other expenses I keep around the $1000/month range. I know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but I feel much better now lol.

        • March 21, 2017 / 3:20 pm

          I don’t include our mortgage, taxes and insurance because they are fixed costs. The rest food, gas, electricity and internet are what comprise our monthly costs.

  4. March 20, 2017 / 5:59 pm

    Well written. Being frugal is having spending under control and knowing the difference between wants and needs. Great job!

    • March 21, 2017 / 7:42 am

      Thank you Mr. Mel!

  5. March 20, 2017 / 8:51 pm

    I think being frugal and being mindful are closely related. Frugality is about appreciating the things we have and utilising them in the best way we can. I do agree that lots of people don’t have any choice but to not spend money, however being frugal allows you to open up possibilities where there were none before. Very nice article, thank you!

    • March 21, 2017 / 7:42 am

      Frugality is absolutely about appreciating the things we do have and making the best use of them. Thank YOU for reading Nicole!

  6. March 21, 2017 / 6:32 am

    The word frugal seems to have received a bad reputation over the years. I think we need to redefine frugal for ourselves. To me, frugal does not equal cheap. Frugal equals wisdom. 🙂

    • March 21, 2017 / 7:41 am

      I love this! Frugal = wisdom! It’s very true. You learn to make conscious decisions for HOW you use your money.

    • March 21, 2017 / 7:35 am

      Nope it’s not!

  7. March 21, 2017 / 7:38 am

    No never…. Living cheap is closing dreams of life and heart. Frugal living is saving now to make dreams come true. And it is good as we don’t waste resources of the Universe. We only need little so why get lots. Yes, agreed to you cheapness and necessity are two different things, cheapness is negative attitude I see because if we have it why not get that but necessity is basic requirements and even living frugal live we can have them. No harm.
    Agreed to Mel, knowing the difference between wants and needs.

    • March 21, 2017 / 9:21 am

      Knowing the difference between wants and needs is so important when living a frugal lifestyle.

      • March 21, 2017 / 9:38 am

        Yes, it indeed is and I have read your post fully and did understand each word you wrote up there. I admire your post and found it really good.

        • March 21, 2017 / 9:38 am

          Thank you kindly!

          • March 21, 2017 / 9:40 am


  8. March 21, 2017 / 10:31 am

    I’ve never thought about this, but love the distinction! It’s so true – to me, “cheap” implies low quality, while being “frugal” is more about quality over quantity and being intentional with spending. I do not come from a long line of frugal people, but have learned so much from my husband in this regard and think it’s a very satisfying way to live.

  9. March 21, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    To me, frugality is a lot about prioritizing. Do I actually need this? Is this thing really going to improve my life? Can I get away with buying something cheaper that will work just as well as the more expensive counterpart? Like you said, it’s not obsessing over money. It’s more like making informed decisions and taking the time to analyze the information you have before diving right in. I don’t tend to spend much money on clothes, and often buy used because “fashion” doesn’t matter much to me. I just want something respectable to cover my body and I generally don’t care what brand it is as long as it is in decent shape and fits. I tend to spend my money more on experiences. I like taking road trips, trying out new restaurants, and seeing interesting sights. My mom loves the casino, and she thinks I’m absolutely silly for spending money on restaurants, but to me, at least at a restaurant I’m walking away with an experience, and if it’s a pricey one, chances are I won’t be back for a long time if ever. That special experience is worth the money to me. Throwing endless $20 bills into a slot machine on the other hand, is rarely rewarding in my opinion! To each’s own I suppose, but I like to get some value for my money!

  10. March 23, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    There is a difference. I said the word cheap once and I was misunderstood. I will use the word “frugal” instead. Frugal living is about being thoughtful about the money you do have and planning accordingly. I love that you considered life goals. It’s like having a diet. Everyone has one. Just plan according to what one’s body actually needs. (My goal😊)

    • March 23, 2017 / 3:45 pm

      Yes we very much use frugal living to accomplish life goals. We’re not saving just to save or hoard money it’s to accomplish things that are important to us!

  11. March 23, 2017 / 7:27 pm

    I love your perspective on this. “Intention and purpose” exactly how I attempt to live life in a variety of aspects: writing, eating, spending, life in general! I’m still working on reducing my social media usage down to intention and purpose, but it’s a struggle.

  12. March 24, 2017 / 11:55 am

    Hi Jenny
    I’m just browsing…but just wanted to say I love all your post about food, life and your baby’s adventures! When I set up my blog and Btw it’s so new, I had no idea that there is someone doing something so like this. Talking about life and our children. Well I’m a new mommy and im so encouraged by you cos I can see that mommy’s just never get over their kids! It’s the most amazing thing to see.

    • March 24, 2017 / 11:59 am

      Hi there! Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words! Welcome!

  13. April 1, 2017 / 11:59 am

    Talking about spending “quite a bit of money on things we deem important and necessary” really resonates with me. This is the view I’ve held and I’m glad to see others enjoying the benefits that can come from it.

  14. April 16, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    This post really sums up how I feel as well. There are so many more important things to spend our time doing than letting money take over. Being frugal is being in control. I think it’s interesting that in English we ‘spend’ money AND time. Both are valuable and can easily be misspent. I want the majority of my time to be spent among people I love. Being frugal allows that to be possible.
    Your point about the extreme cheapskate reality type shows is so good. They make frugality look like a mental illness instead of an intelligent, informed choice.

  15. July 24, 2017 / 4:17 pm

    I like the distinctions you draw here between value and cost. Because of my upbringing, I tend towards “cheapness” and often have to remind myself that sometimes it’s better to spend more and get more use (and often more beauty as well) out of a product. I recently bought my daughter some clothing from a line that supports women who have overcome sex trafficking. They were a lot more than I would normally prefer to spend, but they are individually sewn items, sturdy quality, and help rather than exploit their creators. (On another note, it’s nice to hear from a fellow former professor and mom!)

  16. September 28, 2017 / 6:44 am

    I’ve learned the difference between being cheap and being frugal a while ago and it’s not always easy to spot. Sometimes it makes it difficult to interact with some people, on both sides. I’d say I’m pretty frugal but when I can I spend on mainly pretty but practical things. I also pay more for shoes like in Clarks that will last a long time. I am usually fairly good at spotting the bargain but sometimes I slip up and buy something I get little use out of for more than I would usually spend

Share your thoughts: