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Frugal Versus Cheap

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pennyThere’s a word more and more Americans are using these days: frugal. This past summer, I launched a call to action urging consumers to make being frugal part of your lifestyle. I called it Frugal Is the New Black. Basically, many of us have treated shopping and spending as a form of entertainment.  This is a habit that could easily get out of control and get you in over your head in debt. Any newscast or news headline you read these days lays plenty of blame for this troubled economy on our exorbitant consumer spending over the last few years.

So what exactly does frugal mean? To be frugal is to be thrifty, not wasteful. And those are pleasant thoughts, right? It’s okay to think of yourself as frugal – someone who makes wise and careful plans about spending, how to save and how to pay down debt. There’s a thought process to frugal, and to me, it implies a kind of wisdom about money, especially when you realize that living a frugal lifestyle could be simpler with your goals and dreams firmly identified and in sight.

The word cheap, on the other hand, has somewhat of a negative connotation. Being cheap isn’t really something any of us strive for. It’s funny how a word can take on a positive or negative meaning, isn’t it? Sometimes cheap is good – when you find a bargain for example. I’ve cheered when finding a designer item at an off-price retailer that’s 60 percent off or so, and said I got it soooooooo cheap, which is right on target with good old Webster’s Dictionary that defines cheap as 1. low in price, and 2. worth more than the price.

So the first two official meanings are right on track with my bargain hunting. It’s when Webster digs a little deeper that cheap begins to sting. Definition: 3. easily gotten, 4. of little value, 5. contemptible and 6. stingy.

Let’s face it: few people want to be called cheap. Cheap seems to imply people who don’t care about anything but hoarding their pennies.

Instead, let’s focus on living frugally. We’ll make our budgets, stick to them, and make educated decisions about paying our bills first, saving for an emergency or a specific item, and paying off our debts. We’ll think twice before we whip out our credit cards, even if there’s a really good sale going on – because we’ll be asking ourselves if we really need the cute blouse or just want it because it’s a cute blouse AND it’s on sale. (Believe me, we’ve all made the arguments to ourselves, and that’s okay.)

We’ll see that we need fewer material items to make ourselves happy.

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  • This was a fantastic write up, really puts things in prespective.  I can totally relate!

  • By not being wasteful and living frugally, you still may pay less for something than it is really worth - buying something on sale thereby acquiring it cheaply. Though buying something that is of poor quality and is cheap is wasteful if you have to replace it too soon.

    A frugal person doesn't have to be a miser and a cheap person may not be good at managing money. The best balance is living wisely within your means, budgeting for the present and planning for the future.

  • I absolutely believe in being frugal.  When I do have extra cash, I only shop on clearance.  I refuse to pay full price for anything, but I do make sure to buy high quality merchandise, so that I don't have to replace often!  Great article!!!

  • The only time I *might* pay full price for something is if, say, a job interview came up suddenly and I really did not have anything to wear for it.  I am a large size, and tall, which is doubly horrible for a woman, so I can't always find clothes the right size at clearance, but I do make the attempt.

    On the other hand, we paid off our home finally and we are able to send two kids PLUS myself to college.  All those people that bought huge over priced homes are crying in their beer over it and people like us are just fine.

    :D

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