5 ways being frugal is different than being cheap

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It’s no secret that Mer and I live a frugal lifestyle. Actually, we come from a long line of frugal people 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$. Some months we go over but that’s not a big deal since we’re always prepared with a solid emergency fund for times when certain months are more expensive than others.

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 –being frugal is different than being cheap.

Here are a few reasons why!

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5 Reasons being frugal is different than being cheap

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 at least 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.

5 surprising ways being frugal is different than being cheap. Here are 5 real life reasons why living a frugal lifestyle doesn't necessarily mean your cheap. frugal | frugal lifestyle | frugal living tips | cheapskate | frugal living ideas | frugal lifestyle ideas | frugal living tips & tricks

Frugal living doesn’t come at the expense of others. 

Although we choose to live a frugal lifestyle those around us never feel like they’re 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.

5 surprising ways being frugal is different than being cheap. Here are 5 real life reasons why living a frugal lifestyle doesn't necessarily mean your cheap. frugal | frugal lifestyle | frugal living tips | cheapskate | frugal living ideas | frugal lifestyle ideas | frugal living tips & tricks

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.

5 surprising ways being frugal is different than being cheap. Here are 5 real life reasons why living a frugal lifestyle doesn't necessarily mean your cheap. frugal | frugal lifestyle | frugal living tips | cheapskate | frugal living ideas | frugal lifestyle ideas | frugal living tips & tricks

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!

5 surprising ways being frugal is different than being cheap. Here are 5 real life reasons why living a frugal lifestyle doesn't necessarily mean your cheap. frugal | frugal lifestyle | frugal living tips | cheapskate | frugal living ideas | frugal lifestyle ideas | frugal living tips & tricks

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.

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I want to hear from you!

What are YOUR thoughts? Are being frugal and cheap the same?

43 thoughts on “5 ways being frugal is different than being cheap”

  1. 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.

    • 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. 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.

    • 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!

      • 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!

        • 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. 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”.

    • 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. 🙂

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?)

    • 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!)

  13. 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


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