How can you tell the difference between being Frugal or being Cheap?
Before I brighten your day with the benefits of being frugal I want to make sure you're clear on what being frugal actually is. People often mistake frugality with being cheap. Even after looking up the definitions, many are still confused between the two. Most of the time I end up telling folks my own story of how I went from being cheap to being frugal and they seem to understand after that. So here it goes!
My Cheap Story
When I was a preteen, my family experienced a couple of years of financial difficulty which I believe was the beginning of my frugal creative journey. I was the oldest of 4 siblings and the only girl. I didn’t have any older sisters to give me their used clothes, so my hand-me-downs came from my aunts. That meant they weren’t always the latest styles for my age group, but they were definitely quality clothes from some of the top brands. I learned to appreciate what I received and made the absolute most of it all.
That was about the time when I started buying blank white t-shirts and decorating them with puffy paint and glitter. Then I started buying what we called “bobo” sneakers – you know the plain white canvas ones with no brand name on them at all. I used to get them for $1 and decorate them to coordinate with the t-shirts. The whole outfit would only cost $2.50. Then I started hand-sewing bags using my skills learned in Home Economics class in middle school. By the time I was 13, my personal motto had become “Why pay for it when you can do it yourself?”
Unfortunately, this mode of operation was often interpreted by my friends and family as me being cheap. I didn’t agree at the time. But when I think back on it, I really had crossed over into that territory. I had gotten to the point where I would often go without something I needed because I didn’t want to let go of my money or even ask my parents to let go of theirs. It wasn’t until I had gotten my first apartment that I realized I had a problem. I was single with a decent paying job, and yet I was constantly getting shut-off letters from the electric company because I wouldn’t pay my $25 electric bill! It wasn’t because I was spending the money on clothes and shoes – God forbid I should spend money on something like that! I just hated to let go of my money. Yet my funds were still disappearing – slowly. I had no savings and I had nothing to show for whatever spending I WAS doing.
The reality is that cheap people aren’t necessarily strategic with their money. They’re just tight-fisted with it. They don’t want to let it go. And maybe you (or someone you know) is like I was. Maybe In an effort to make do with what you have, you’ve become a little too obsessed with saving a buck. You think you’re just being money conscious but you’re friends say you’ve gone too far. Let’s take a deeper look at the meaning of the word cheap and see if you or someone you know fits the mold.
CHEAP, by definition (found at https://www.dictionary.com/browse/cheap July 2022), when referring to a person, means:
- stingy (reluctant to give or spend; not generous;) and
- miserly (a person who lives in wretched circumstances in order to save and hoard money)
That means you wouldn’t let go of a dime if your life depended on it.
After I was inevitably evicted from my apartment for not paying my rent, I moved in with a friend, lost my job and then moved back into my parents’ house. That’s when I decided I needed to do better. My friends and family were right. I was a cheapskate and I needed to change. I got a part time job so funds were still low and I truly had a love for bargain hunting and assembling attractive outfits for half the regular price. I loved making things myself instead of spending a higher price whenever it made sense to do so. But this time, I was creating a budget so I could keep track of where my money was going. I made sure I paid off my debts from my previous apartment and all the delinquent credit card debt I had from college so I could start fresh. I was no longer being cheap. I was transitioning to and beginning to experience the benefits of being frugal.
FRUGAL is defined as (definition found at https://www.dictionary.com/browse/frugal July 2022):
- avoiding waste or extravagance in use or expenditure;
- prudently saving or sparing;
- not wasteful
That really means you appreciate what you have and you don’t like throwing it away on things of little value. You’re intentional with what you do with whatever resources you have – including money.
Rule of Thumb:
Cheap people think about minimizing their costs in the moment.
Frugal people think about minimizing their costs over time.
Within one year of deciding to be smart and intentional with my finances, I started working a job I loved, built up a savings, improved my credit, and was able to purchase a home of my own! I leaned all the way into my new frugal lifestyle and haven’t looked back since!
Is Frugal Living Worth It? Frugal living benefits you whether you’re low income or financially well-off. As a matter of fact, frugality is one of the ways the rich maintain their riches. Frugality alone won’t make you rich, but it can help you make room for actions that can enrich your life!
Here are 8 benefits of being frugal:
Reduced financial stress
When you focus your attention on paying down debt or you eliminate those extra streaming services, making it easier to pay your utility bills, you won’t find yourself running from bill collector calls. Plus, imagine if you only had a handful of bills to pay each month. You can cut those weekly bill-pay sessions in half because you no longer have to finagle and shuffle bills around. Frugal living cuts out the fluff and creates a more straightforward process.
Easier to handle financial emergencies
Frugal living will allow you to begin to build a money cushion so that when real, unexpected, unavoidable expenses arise, you have some money to help reduce the burden without using up all of your regular income that’s allotted to primary bills and expenses.
Improve your skills and learn new ones
Let’s face it, when you live frugally, you will need to do more things yourself instead of hiring someone else to do them. That means you will learn how to do new things and depending on how often you have to do them, you will be gaining some potentially marketable skills. I learned how to braid my own hair out of a need to save money. Getting your hair braided with extensions in a salon can cost anywhere from $100-$300. But purchasing the braiding hair and installing the braids myself only cost me $20. After years of braiding my own hair and getting good at it, other people started paying me to braid their hair for them as well. So I was saving money AND making money utilizing the same skill. Get it?
You can save money to pursue a dream or take a dream vacation
Every dollar not spent on unnecessary items can be put aside to help pay for a return back to school to get that degree or can fund that vacation you’ve been putting off for the last 10 years. Now you can count the costs, make that plan, tighten your belt and make that dream come true!
No more trying to keep up with the Joneses
Maybe you’re the kind of person that tends to spend money on things you don’t need and may not even care much about simply because someone else had it and looked at you funny because you didn’t. When you decide to live frugally, it’s because you’ve set your sights on a larger goal. Keeping that goal in mind, you won’t feel the immense pressure from your peers to make that frivolous purchase.
Allows you to work a job you enjoy
Many people are tied to their jobs – jobs they may not like - because they have spent themselves into a corner. They may be longing to resign and find a job doing something they love but don’t feel they can afford to make the transition. Perhaps the work they would love to do, doesn’t pay as much. Deciding, or even considering beginning a frugal lifestyle allows for a reevaluation of what matters. There’s always a way to reduce what you don’t need to make room for your greater desires.
Reduce waste and help the environment
When you really dig in to living frugally, you will make the choice more and more to reuse or repurpose things instead of throwing them away so that you can save money. Reusing certain items at least twice before throwing them away reduces waste and therefore, contributes to a reduction in air pollution. Here are some household items you can repurpose to meet needs in other areas of your home:
- Soup cans, glass jars, plastic bottles and jugs from water, clothes detergent, juice and soda, – Reuse these for storing desk supplies or other small items, or use as planters or for plant watering
- Plastic mesh produce bags can be reused as scrubbers for dishes, tubs and sinks.
- Reuse shoe boxes to sort and store important items or even DIY an Easter basket for the kids instead of paying for the usual plastic versions.
- Find more ways to repurpose household items at https://soapboxie.com/social-issues/reuse-everything
It boosts your creativity
This is my favorite of all the benefits of being frugal! There’s saying that goes “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When living a frugal lifestyle, the key is to spend less money on the things you need and want. Sometimes, you can’t spend any money on things that aren’t an absolute must. But that’s where you have to get creative and come up with new ways of finding or creating the things you want and need. You become an innovator!
DID YOU KNOW?
Out of a NEED to feel safe, a New York City resident named Marie Van Brittan Brown created an early version of the modern home security system! The crime rate was high in her neighborhood. But instead of picking up and buying a new home in a crime-free area, she, with her husband’s help, hooked up a motorized camera to record the entrance to her home and projected images onto a TV monitor. Plus they set up a two-way microphone so she could communicate with visitors without opening the door. She also included a panic button to notify police in an emergency.[i] She was a woman with a need and using whatever skills she had available to her, she kicked her creativity into high gear to meet that need! There’s no telling what you’ll be able to come up with when you decide to spend less and create more!