Are You Just Being Cheap or is it Frugal Living?

by Scott Sery on July 11, 2013

Frugal LivingWhen you are smart with your money, and you are living a frugal lifestyle, you will inevitably come across people who criticize you.  While most of it comes from jealousy on their part, they are ashamed that they do not have the self-control to live frugally; their words still have an impact.  Some people simply do not understand the difference between being stingy or cheap, and being frugal or thrifty.  There can be a fine line between the two, but much of it boils down to how you view yourself.

Before we look at the differences between a stingy and a frugal person, let me explain what led up to this thought process.  A few years ago, a local brewery would have $4 all you can drink on Wednesday nights starting at 8pm.  Some friends and I would gather at the old watering hole, and enjoy a couple beers while catching up.  I almost always ate before I went out, mostly because I didn’t like waiting that long to eat dinner, but also I would rather eat at home where I could get the same food for less.  Almost every time I would be called cheap, stingy, or a miser because I didn’t order anything but my beer.  And when the check came, their bill was 4 times as much as mine.  Was I being stingy?  Or was I making a better choice by not spending money eating out?

The key difference between being stingy and frugal living is greed.  What are the motives behind not spending your money?

A stingy person is often greedy.  They have plenty of money, but they would rather spend it on themselves.  They rarely donate to causes, they do not offer to pick up the tab, and if they are going to go out of their way it better benefit them somehow.  The cheap person in the group will complain about splitting the bill evenly because their meal was $2 less than everyone else’s.  The miser will shun the idea that something they spend will benefit more than just them.  They weigh each decision carefully to make sure they are not spending too much.

In contrast the frugal person only appears to be greedy to the undiscerning eye.  Many times frugal people do not have extra money to spare, and they know the value of budgeting.  Frugal people understand the concept of sharing the wealth, and they will build their budget so they can give to charities, pick up the tab on an evening out, and overall be generous people.  The frugal person weighs each decision carefully to make sure they are getting the best deal.

Did you catch the difference?  Being greedy because you don’t want to spend on anyone but yourself as opposed to being wise and getting the best deal?  From the outside perspective, the line between the two can blur easily.  The deciding factor is your motives.  You decide if you are a stingy person or a frugal person, and you adjust your attitude appropriately.  Now sometimes you do have to be stingy; you have to take care of yourself first.  But when you start to make this a habit, you start to alienate yourself from others.  Instead of regularly being a miser, practice abundant thinking.  And ignore the haters that can’t budget properly and get after you for not ordering food when your original intent was to just get out and have a beer.

What areas of your life do people mistake your frugality for stinginess?  How can this apply to giving time as well as spending money?

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Scott Sery

Scott Sery is a native to Billings, Montana. Within an hour in nearly any direction he can be found fishing, hunting, backpacking, caving, and rock or ice climbing. With an extensive knowledge of the finance and insurance world, Scott loves to write personal finance articles. When not talking money, he enjoys passing on his knowledge of the back country, or how to live sustainably. You can learn more about Scott on his website Sery Content Development
  • Justin @ The Family Finances

    I run into this fairly often as well. My family lives on a single income, while most of our friends and family are dual income households. Naturally, we can’t afford a lot of the things that “everyone else” has. We’re thrifty and deemed as “cheap” by a lot of people. But we think it’s worth it. We don’t have a lot of the luxuries, but we’re quite happy with what we have and with our quality of life. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

  • Common Cents Wealth

    I completely agree with you on the differences. It can be a fine line sometimes and I know I’ve been on the “cheap” end of that line before, but I’d like to think that most of the time I’m being frugal. It’s not that I’m against spending money or that I’m greedy, I’d just like to spend it on things that I deem “worthwhile”.

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  • When I refused to donate to a charity my boss was promoting, she remarked (in front of everyone), “wow, money is THAT tight, huh?” I was really put off, because I don’t feel that my financial situation should be commented upon. I simply did not want to donate to that specific charity, and would rather gift my money to a charity I agreed with. In that instance, I know she was attempting to make me look stingy or selfish, without bothering to understand my reasons behind not wishing to donate.

    • It’s no ones business but you and your husband. I think the workplace is the wrong place to be vetting for charities because it makes people uncomfortable.

    • Scott Sery

      Kudos to you if you were able to hold your tongue. I would have been very tempted to make a snide comment about how poorly I was paid and thus could not afford to give to her “charity.”

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