How to Be Frugal Without Being Cheap

The difference between being frugal and cheap is so significant, understanding the characteristics of each will help you be thrifty with your dough without looking like a tightwad. One significant quality of a tightwad is that those who are cheap will hang onto their cash, even to the detriment of another. They may underpay at dinner (when everyone else contributes their fair share), sacrifice quality for a low price and even try to skip out on paying for basic necessities. A frugal individual is one who uses research and intellect to find good deals, understands that brand items may not always be better and likes to save money for a higher quality or better item.


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    Scan the paper and Internet for coupons or special deals. The easiest way to obtain products without paying full price is to look for a deal. In addition to the Sunday paper, dozens of websites are dedicated to hosting coupon offers that can be used both online and in-store.
    • Maintain a coupon pouch at home. Make it a habit to maintain coupons you receive or cut out. Purchase an inexpensive pouch used for make up and keep it with you at all times--either in your purse or in your car. You never know when you may need a coupon.
    • Gather QR codes on your smartphone. Many stores can scan your QR code at the register. Create a special folder for codes and check your phone before you check out at a store or restaurant.
    • Wait for special sales/deals to stock up on certain items. For example, Bath and Body Works will host major specials on higher priced items from time to time. The store’s aromatic $20 candles will often go on sale for $10 apiece. Instead of impulsively purchasing one for $20, wait until they go on sale for $10 and stock up for your home and to use as gifts.
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    Have a financial plan. One of the basic tenets of living frugally is to know how much money you have. Create a financial plan that will be used as your road map to saving money, while still enjoying life.
    • Set goals. What are your ultimate financial goals? Paying off the mortgage early or saving enough for retirement by age 55? Examine what you hope to achieve financially so you can design a way to reach those goals.
    • Create a budget. Have every expense mapped out each month so you know what to expect as well as how to prepare for financial emergencies. Know what you plan to spend before you are faced with the expense. For example, if you know that going out for an expensive dinner with friends that week isn’t in the cards, don’t just go and cheap out on the check but instead graciously back out or suggest another time when you’ll have the funds.
    • Squirrel away cash for a rainy day. Your emergency or rainy day fund is extremely important should the roof suddenly need repair or you have to get a new car (after yours dies). Determine the amount of money you can sock away each month and then forget about it. Consider a high interest money market account to hold your cash--you will still have limited access but will most likely receive a better rate of return than a typical savings or checking account. Also, don't forget to replenish used funds so you will always have that go to account in case of emergency.
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    Understand that cheap products may end up costing you more money in the long run. The difference between being cheap and frugal is that a frugal person knows that if he/she purchases a quality product, it will outperform a cheap product and remain usable for a considerably longer amount of time.
    • Lower quality products break more often, requiring you to repurchase the item. For example, purchase the cheaper washer/dryer and you may end up having to replace them years earlier than going for the workhorse set that may be slightly more expensive.
    • You may not get the same effectiveness of a cheap product. A cheaper made product may cost less but may also produce less as well. For example, if you purchase a cheap flat iron for your hair, you may end up with frizzy ends after every use, whereas with a higher priced, better made iron, your hair is smooth and silky.
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    Generate simplicity in your life. You don't need a lot of “toys” in order to have fun or be happy. By finding simplicity and reducing the clutter you can get back to basics and realize the value in aspects of life that are actually free.
    • Appreciate nature. Whether its taking a walk in your neighborhood or visiting a national park, reconnect with nature and take advantage of the seasons (i.e. go ice skating or snow shoeing in the winter or swimming in the summer).
    • Find fun within your family. Build a blanket fort with your children or spend the day appreciating priceless works of art in a local museum; you can find ways to have fun with your family without spending any money whatsoever.
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    Be generous with friends and family when it comes to gift giving. One place where frugal people spare no expense is with friends and family members. You don’t need to spend a tremendous amount of money in order to give the ideal gift--just a little ingenuity and dedication.
    • Use your talents to create gifts or special gestures. If you are a painter or chef, create a special painting or exquisite meal to give someone you love as a gift. Most people would treasure a gift from the heart more than one from the wallet.
    • Save money to give your friend or family member exactly what he/she desires. You don’t have to be cheap with your gifts. Examine your budget that month to see how you can accommodate a special gift your friend or family member desires. Of course, if there is no way you can afford the gift, consider purchasing a piece of accessory to the item or contribute money towards the gift (if others are thinking about buying it).
    • Be generous with your time. In a fast paced world, time may be the most valuable thing you can give to someone. Make time for your friends and family members and truly be present while you are together. Ditch the cell phones and computers and focus on being together.


  • Reconsider diverting from your original budget if you get a pay increase. Continue to live frugally, but increase the amount of money you save. This way you’ll have a more comfortable cushion and will save faster for retirement.
  • Create a five, 10 and 20 year plan (and beyond) regarding where you’d like to be financially. Estimate how much money you’d have to save to reach your goal and commit to sticking to your plan.


  • If your behavior seems to clash with receiving proper healthcare or interferes with suitable living standards, reconsider your thrifty approach and revise your budget. Any time your behavior interferes with basic human needs you could be trending toward acting cheap.

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Categories: Buying Wisely