Frugal vs. Cheap

Not to harp on this subject too much, but my Sunday Scribblings post got me thinking about an idea I’ve wanted to flesh out for a long time.

I’m fascinated by the concept of being frugal versus being cheap. For me, being frugal means reusing items or finding cheaper ways to do things. Being cheap, well, I define it the same way pornography is defined—I know it when I see it.

I admit, if I can get away with not paying for something, I consider it a coup!

Here’s an example: I carry teabags in my purse because I never know if I’ll get stuck someplace that only serves coffee (meetings, waiting rooms, airports). If I have access to hot water, I’ll make myself a cup of tea. If I can finagle a cup of hot water from an eating establishment, I’ll make my own tea even if it’s served on the menu. Am I being frugal or being cheap?

Another example: My mother carries Sweet-n-low, artificial sweetener packets, wherever she goes because some restaurants and coffee bars don’t carry that product. But, she’ll pick up extra packets if she sees them at a condiments bar to add to her stash. Frugal or cheap?

Yet another example: Many folks I know who take the commuter rail to work read the daily newspapers left behind by other passengers. They never buy an actual newspaper, but will always read what someone else has left behind.

Here are a few other examples to consider.

  • Reusing plastic grocery shopping bags as trash bags.
  • Not buying trash bags because you only use grocery shopping bags.
  • Reusing plastic sandwich bags.
  • Driving out of your way to save a few cents on gasoline.
  • Saving once-chewed chewing gum to chew another day.
  • Taking the soaps and shampoos from your hotel room.
  • Taking a pen from work.
  • Tearing out a magazine article in a doctor’s office or waiting room.
  • Hooking up another room in your house to cable TV, even though you only pay for one connection.
  • Using your neighbor’s wireless Internet connection without his/her knowledge.
  • Picking furniture and discarded items from the neighbor’s weekly trash collection.
  • Downloading music from the Internet without paying.
  • Seeking out free samples (cosmetics, toothpaste, etc.) but never buying the products.
  • Leaving a standard, 15 percent tip at a restaurant.
  • Haggling for a better price on a blouse at a department store when you can afford it.

My new favorite frugal thing that I do is using hair conditioner on my legs when I shave. Conditioners have an emollient in them so I don’t have to use lotion afterwards. I’ll never go back to using shaving cream or soap again!

So tell me, are you frugal or cheap? Where is that fine line for you? And what do you do that you consider frugal?


twitches said…
I'm really neither. I'm a terrible overspender, although I try not to be the wasteful variety.

I tried to go "frugal" on haircolor this weekend, and ended up spending a buttload at the salon getting it fixed. So, even when I try, I tend to overspend.
Bug said…
I try to be frual where I can, though my husband often things I'm being cheap in these attempts. But I hate the idea of being wasteful (money wise or environmentally), so I'll do things like resuse sandwhich bags if they're not really dirty. I do spend a lot of money on things that matter to me or that I truly don't think are as good in the cheapo version. Like hair cuts. I get expensive hair cuts cause I think they look way better, and I can go longer between cuts so it's not really that much more money over all... Good post. I wish more people would watch their money and the environment.
deirdre said…
I carry tea bags too, but only because I'm a tea snob. The dishwater that passes for restaurant tea is horrible. And I'm sure I walk the line between cheap and frugal. But I'd rather call it inventive or creative or shopping with a social conscience. I'll re-use some things but won't take what I haven't got permission to use. Conditoner for shaving is great, but several years ago I switched to almond oil. The only drawback is making sure to control the slip factor on the shower floor. It's the best skin softener I've found.
Catherine said…
If it's at the expense of other people, it's cheap eg hiding in the toilets or suddenly remembering an urgent appointment when it's your turn to buy a round of drinks (not that I'm ever in the situation of taking turns to buy rounds).
If it's kind to the environment it's not only frugal but the right thing to do. Not only do I reuse sandwich bags, I actually use the bread bags as sandwich bags so I don't buy sandwich bags in the first place. And I always use grocery bags for trash, and take cloth bags to the supermarket when I remember, to cut down on plastic bags.
I never pay for coffee after a meal in a restaurant - I just make a cup when I get home.
Things like taking a pen from work are neither frugal nor cheap, just dishonest. But then so is surfing the internet at work and printing things out on work paper and I'm guilty of that occasionally.
I'm frugal on some things so I have spare money for the things that matter, like books :)
January said…
Twitches/Bug: I agree that you can't really skimp on a good haircut or good hair care. It makes such a difference in the long run.

Deidre: "inventive or creative or shopping with a social conscience," I like that!

Catherine: You're absolutely right, especially about using work time for personal time (which I am guilty of the occasional distraction). I agree that books are an investment and worth the money in most cases.
paris parfait said…
I am probably neither frugal or cheap. Definitely not cheap. Sometimes I make extravagant purchases and balance them out by saving on other areas. Some things I never scrimp on are moisturizer (because you get only one skin), haircuts/haircolour (I've tried colouring my own hair; it doesn't look as good and is harder on my hair) and well-made shoes and handbags and books. The budget goes right out the window when it comes to books! Sigh. And travel. See, it's a wonder I ever save money?
I'm cheap. Okay?
Thomas Watson said…
In most cases, there is a thin line between being frugal and being cheap.

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