Cheap Vs Frugal – Which Are You?


Scrablle tiles spelling out the word frugal which as you will learn, is not the same as cheap. Saving money is fine, cheating others not so much.

I went for a coffee with my school friend the other day. Debbie, that’s not her real name of course, asked me “Why would you write about saving money? Aren’t you afraid people will thank that you’re cheap?”

I was astounded. Firstly, it had never even occurred to me that people couldn’t tell the difference between frugal and cheap. Secondly, that Debbie would think that I would let other people stop me from doing something sensible because they didn’t approve.

Now, Debbie’s a good friend and a long-term friend – so I didn’t go crazy, I just took the time to explain to her what the difference between saving money and being mean really is. Now, I’d like to do the same for you.

Hey! I Want To Get On With Saving Money! Show Me Some Tips Right Now!

Frugal People Eat Carefully On The Menu – Cheap People Don’t Tip Properly

When Darren and I go to a restaurant, we rarely order the most expensive thing on the menu. We know that those dishes are often the highest profit for the restaurants and unless we haven’t tried them before – we prefer to stick to a reasonably priced entrée. We also don’t normally have a starter AND a dessert, we have one or the other.

That’s frugal life in practice. We go and have a good time, we just don’t spend too much money while we do it. Also, we always tip well – at least 20%.

A cheap person doesn’t act like that. They go to a restaurant and chow down. They order expensive entrees and go for the starter and the dessert. Then when it comes to settling up, they stiff the waitress on the tip and go home.

Trying To Double Up On A Toilet Roll

You can save money by getting cash back on toilet rolls like the ones pictured here but don't try and turn one roll into two.

The frugal person knows that they have to buy toilet roll even though it is literally money down the drain. They try to offset this expense, however, by using a cashback scheme that provides them with a small reward in exchange for buying their toilet paper. They minimize the costs of their toilet roll.

The cheapskate, on the other hand, tries to turn one roll of toilet paper into two. They try to separate two-ply sheets individually. This doesn’t work very well and can leave you having to wash your hands for a long, long time. Yuck!

Cheap People Think Everything Costs Too Much And Tell The World About It

Often the easiest way to spot someone who is cheap is the amount of complaining they do about the costs of things. Everywhere they go, there they are, moaning about the price.

In a restaurant, they want to know why their burger is $10 when they could go to McDonald’s and get one for $3. They whine about the cost of gas when they’re filling up their car. In the supermarket, the cashier has to listen to them complain about diapers and candy bars.

Frugal people don’t do this. They may occasionally think “why isn’t this cheaper?” but they know that once you’re committed to buying something, moaning doesn’t do you any good. Just pay up and shut up.

Frugal People Can Be Generous, Cheap People Aren’t

An image of charitable donations being made something that a frugal person can do because they save money when it counts.

A frugal person is often as kind and generous as someone who spends more money. In fact, they can often afford to be more generous. Need an example?

Darren and I give 10% of our surplus income every month to a charity. We do this because we can and because we think it’s right. It’s a cause that is very dear to my heart.

Before we selected our beneficiary, I did a ton of research to make sure that the charity had the lowest levels of admin costs and could clearly demonstrate the value of the help that it provides.

A cheap person doesn’t give to charity. That’s because, in essence, being cheap is a form of being selfish.

By the way, if you can’t afford to give to charity – don’t, there is a difference between generosity and foolishness too. You take care of yourself first and only when you’re in a solid position to take care of others do you move on to do that.

Darren and I only started making charity donations once we’d taken care of all of our basic needs, paid off our debts and bought our home. Now, we donate because it doesn’t hurt us or our children to do so.


Making Something As A Gift Is Frugal, Regifting Any Old Thing Is Cheap

I love spending time with my kids. It’s the pleasure of motherhood and it’s important to ensure that my children get quality time with me every single day. That means it’s easy for me to make gifts for people when a special occasion comes up.

I sit down with the little ones and we have an “art project afternoon” where we make something with love that we truly hope the recipient will cherish. I think that most of the time we succeed in this.

Frugal people know that love is a great substitute for money. In fact, it’s better than money because you can’t buy love.

Cheap people, on the other hand, keep a drawer full of stuff they don’t want and dip into it whenever a special occasion comes around. They don’t care if you like what you get, they just want it gone and to avoid spending any money.

It’s OK to re-gift things if you think that the person will love what you’re giving them, that’s frugal. But just dumping rubbish on people? That’s cheap.

Cheap People Make Foolish Short-Term Savings, Frugal People Look Ahead

Plastic plates are shown here. Cheap people pick these over better quality low cost items.

If you go to a cheap person’s house, they’re always eating off plastic plates. Plastic plates that will quickly crack, melt, discolor and end up being thrown away. Then the cheap person will buy them again.

Sure, this is the “cheapest option” when you compare an individual purchase to a frugal person’s choice (more on this in a moment) but when you see that this has to be done 5-10 times compared to the frugal person… it’s a fool’s economy.

The frugal person just buys a low cost plain permanent set of dishes. Hit up Target or Walmart and you’ll quickly find that you can buy complete sets of flatware for less than $20. These will last pretty much forever unless you drop them and break them.

In fact, this is a mistake that many of us make in different areas of life. I used to buy the cheapest sneakers I could find, for example, but I soon noticed two things: 1. They didn’t last, 2. While they did last, they didn’t smell so good.

I quickly worked out that it was better for our budget to buy slightly more expensive but much better-quality sneakers. These last longer, they’re more comfortable and best of all they don’t get stinky!

The Frugal Person Also Makes Sure They Get Cashback On Every Purchase, Find Out How Now!

Frugal People Enjoy Being Treated, Cheap People Take Advantage

I once went for a Sunday Brunch Buffet with some friends. My uncle Richard was there and he agreed to pay the bill for everyone.

Given that it was an “eat all you can occasion”, I may have eaten a little more than I normally would at mealtimes. After all, nothing tastes as good as free food, right?

Yet, there was one lady there, Tamara who took things too far. We saw her wrapping food items up in tissue and putting them in her bag to take home. Given that this is against the rules of these kinds of buffet – she was so cheap that she was stealing from a restaurant.

Can you imagine how embarrassing it would have been for my uncle if she had been caught? Everyone felt Tamara had badly taken advantage of his hospitality and she was never invited out by anyone in our group again.

It’s fine to take what’s offered to you, that’s what frugal people do. It’s downright rude and cheap to take more just because you think you can get away with it.

Frugal People Take The Best Value Where Cheap People Take The Lowest Bid

A picture of a bathroom. A frugal person saves a little money but gets a quality job done. A cheap person saves a lot, gets a bad job and then pays for it later.



My friend Shelly and her husband Dave (again not their real names) are a little cheap. They recently came to very much regret this when they had their bathroom renovated.

They called Darren and me one night and asked how we’d had our bathroom remodeled. I told them we’d gone to about 10 different companies and asked them to quote and explain what they would do and their warranties etc. We also took up references.

Then we picked the one that we felt was the best value and went with them.

Shelly and Dave did almost the same thing. Except for one detail, they went with the cheapest quote.

Cheap does not always equal good. In fact, the “cheapest” quote was hundreds of dollars cheaper than the others. And it some became apparent why it was that cheap.

The products they installed were all substandard. They leaked from the day they were fitted. They destroyed part of the ceiling below the bathroom. The company has since gone out of business and it’s cost Shelly and Dave a fortune to put things right.

Sometimes, cheap is a warning sign not a reason to open up your wallet. If you find something that is so much cheaper than everywhere else, you must investigate why before you part with money. Or you can join Shelly and Dave paying to put things right when they, inevitably, go wrong.

Frugal People Will Often Splurge On An Expensive Item, Cheap People Never Will

Darren and I travel the world. One of the things we love to do is to take photos of our family in the places that we have visited.

I want memories that will last a lifetime. So, when I bought my camera – I spent a lot more money than I needed to.

Sure, you can take pictures on an iPhone but they’re not awesome quality and I feel that they won’t do our good times justice.

I save our money so that it will be there when Darren and I need it. We’re not cutting costs for the sake of living in some sort of miserable dollar store half-life, we cut costs so that we can have the things we really want.

We have our home, our car, our travel, good computers for work and some nice cameras.



Cheap people aren’t like that. They always buy cheap. They will buy a $20 camera on Alibaba and insist it shoots like a top of the range Canon when it quite clearly doesn’t.

This is really important to me. If you use the advice on Money Nuts, it’s not meant to keep you in poverty with your head just above the financial water – it’s meant to free you up to live the life you want.

I’d rather have a nice camera than drink coffee in Starbucks every day. I’d rather own my own home than buy Versace clothes. When I make a small sacrifice it’s in line with a much bigger picture, one where my happiness along with my husband and children’s happiness is paramount.

Finally, Frugal People Care About Other People

Images of two children hugging to show they care. Frugal people care about people. Cheap people do not.

This is the most important point of all. The frugal person cares about other people. They do not try to save money at the expense of doing what’s right.

They pay tips when they’re socially required to do so. They do not cut corners on safety or decency to save a buck. They do not complain about paying for health treatments because they know that you cannot buy back lost health. And so on…

I want you to save money. I truly believe that saving money is half the battle, along with making more money, that lets you live the life you want to live. I also want you live a life worth living.

Come with us and be frugal but don’t be cheap, please?


Thanks for staying the course with me, this week. Let me know what the worst examples of cheapness you’ve ever seen are in the comments below or feel free to ask any questions about how to save money and I’ll try and cover them in another column soon.