How to know when You’re Frugal or just Plain Cheap

Being frugal is one thing, but have you ever known someone who is just plain cheap?

The difference between frugality and cheapness hinges on one thing: how that frugalness affects the lives of others.

Being frugal with one’s money is absolutely fine. In fact, it’s a great trait. Being cheap, however, usually involves being frugal at someone else’s expense.

Some people are cheap in an annoying kind of way. Showing up empty-handed at the church potluck. Not buying their own french fries, but then eating their companion’s. Sticking food from the all-you-can-eat buffet in their purse and pockets before leaving the restaurant. Never taking their turn in the neighborhood carpool. Using the neighbor’s lawn mower and not replacing the gas.

But some people actually by-pass cheap and even border on unethical practices in their efforts to save money. For instance, purposely not putting enough postage on an envelope in hopes that no one at the post office will weigh the package. Using the services of a food or clothing pantry when they have the means to buy their own clothing, taking those items from a family who truly needs them. Sneaking friends into the community pool without paying for them. Trying to use expired coupons, hoping the cashier won’t see they’re expired. Buying items with the intentions of wearing them once and then returning them. Complaining about food at a restaurant, not because it’s bad, but with the intent of getting the meal for free.

All of these things do save money, but on someone else’s dime.

Being frugal revolves around budgeting, saving, and re-using. Clipping coupons and sticking to a grocery budget are good examples of being frugal. Having a written budget certainly qualifies as frugal. As does re-using items for their entire intended lifespan, or finding new uses for discarded items. Saving for a rainy day, putting money aside for retirement, making meals at home are all ways of saving money. Visiting consignment stores and thrift stores and buying most things used saves money, as does buying a pre-owned vehicle and not having a car payment.

Sometimes people will start out as simply frugal and then go overboard in their zeal for saving, causing them to become just – well – cheap.

There’s a fine line between frugal and cheap, and it’s a line that must not be crossed.

So, what is the moral of this story? Cut costs where you can. Try to make frugal living a part of your life. Make a budget and stick to it. Stay out of debt.

But then know when to stop in your commitment to save money. If you find the half-eaten biscuit from last week’s trip to the all-you-can-buffet in your coat pocket, you’ll know you’ve just gone too far.