Are You Cheap Or Frugal?

Are you being cheap or are you being frugal? Are they derogatory terms? Would it upset you if someone called you frugal, or called you cheap?

Let’s first begin by looking at the dictionary definition.

Definition of cheap

\ ˈchēp  \

  • 1a: charging or obtainable at a low price – a good cheap hotel – cheap tickets
  • b: purchasable below the going price or the real value
  • c: depreciated in value (as by currency inflation) cheap dollars
  • 2a: of inferior quality or worth TAWDRYSLEAZY – cheap workmanship
  • b: STINGY – My uncle was too cheap to pay for dinner.
  • c: contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities – feeling cheap – I felt cheap, full of shame and guilt
  • 3: gained or done with little effort – a cheap victory – talk is cheap
  • 4 of money obtainable at a low rate of interest

Definition of frugal

fru·​gal | \ ˈfrü-gəl  \

  • characterised by or reflecting economy in the use of resources
  • economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful

Differences Between Cheap and Frugal

As you can see by the definition something is cheap when you buy it at a low price, or the interest rate is low. But, it can also mean it is poor quality. A person can be cheap by not paying their fair share.

On the other hand, frugality is the conscious decision not to be wasteful with resources. This includes everything from money to food. For example: saving money rather than flippant spending, or being careful with food purchases so that you don’t end up throwing food away.

Cheap has negative connotations of being dodgy; whilst, frugal has positive connotations of being resourceful.


In writing this there needs to be an acknowledgement that having a choice between being cheap or frugal often comes from a point of privilege.

An example is a person struggling to have enough money to buy a pair of boots so they buy the cheapest boots they can afford. Whereas, someone being frugal could opt to buy good quality expensive boots that last a long time.

In the end, the person forced into buying cheap items by necessity will need to buy new boots every year as poor quality boots do not last. Whilst the frugal person, even though they initially spent more money, will be better off over the longer term as their quality boots will last a long time.

The irony is that the person with limited money ends up paying more than the frugal person who has choice. (Of course, there are people who have a ‘cheap mindset’ even though they have plenty of money to purchase sustainable products.)

Cheap Vs Frugal
Cheap Vs Frugal

It’s also important to realise that the privilege of choice to be frugal is not a blanket permission to buy many pairs of expensive boots as an excessive consumer, as which is sadly seen all over the world and impacts the future sustainability of the planet.

Cheap Vs Frugal In The Home

Let’s now compare being cheap in the home, compared to being frugal.

Looking at the table below you will see a comparison between repeatedly buying single use or poor quality items, and reusable items that cost more initially yet will cost less over the long term.

Reusable items are also better for the environment as they are purchased once and used again and again, rather than bought once and thrown away.

Cheap, buy repeatedly
Costs more over the long term
Frugal, buy (or make) once and reuse
Costs less over the long term
Disposable plastic razorsReusable stainless steel safety razor
Paper napkinsFabric napkins
Cleaning wipes such as ChuxWashable rags/cloths
Baby wipesFace washers
Disposable nappiesWashable reusable nappies
Make up remover wipesWashable reusable make up pads
Disinfecting wipesWashable wipes dabbed with disinfectant
Disposable plastic glovesDurable latex gloves
Plastic carry bagsReusable fabric bags
Gift wrapping paperFuroshiki, or reusable gift bags
Plastic party buntingReusable fabric bunting
Cling wrapContainers, glass jars, napkins or beeswax wraps
Baking paperSilicone baking mat
Aluminium foilA baking dish with a lid
Patty pansGreased and floured muffin tray
Snap lock bags, plastic lunch boxesStainless steel containers or bento boxes
Disposable coffee cupsKeep cups (some cafes give a discount if BYO cup)
Throw away plastic water bottlesRefillable, durable, stainless steel bottles
100s of plastic straws1 stainless steel straw
TamponsReusable menstrual cup
Single use sanitary padsWashable reusable sanitary pads


As seen from the table, purchasing frugal items will cost less money over the long term as it is an economical and resourceful use of your hard earned dollars (as well as better for the environment).

Using this theory, you can extrapolate the frugal mindset to other areas in your life.

However, having the choice to be frugal is not the same as being excessive consumers of expensive products just because you can.

Do you consider yourself cheap or frugal? Please scroll on down to the comments box and share your thoughts!