Day 28: Frugal ≠ Cheap

Saving Habits 101

30 Day Writing Challenge

Yesterday I went out with a friend and we were having a conversation about money. She kept referring to herself as cheap and I kept correcting her and saying she was frugal, not cheap. It is easy to conflate the two but they are not one in the same. While being cheap can be a hinderance on your wellbeing and of those around you, being frugal is a lifestyle that can help you declutter your physical and mental spaces.

In a nutshell, to be cheap is to only care about the bottom line, regardless of other factors, such as quality, or it’s effects on your lifestyle, the people around you etc. To be frugal is to be mindful of your spending habits and to spend on things that are truly important to you, rather than getting a good deal. Check out the chart below, originally appearing on for a deeper look into the differences.

Admittedly, there was a point in my life where I would have considered myself cheap. It was a combination of not having sufficient funds and not knowing any better. These days, I like to think of myself as frugal— spending more for quality items and limiting spending on unnecessary items.

Frugality is about more than just spending less or saving more. For one, its a lifestyle tide to mindfulness. I’d rather cook a healthy, well thought out meal than order fast, unhealthy take out. It is also about the idea that quality is better than quantity. I’d rather have 5 pairs of high quality (perhaps expensive) shoes than 100 pairs of cheap, fast-fashion shoes.

Choosing to live a frugal lifestyle is making the decision to be selective with your money, time, and indulgences. These days, I find myself buying less junk, spending less time with people I don’t value, and feeling overall happy with my spending habits. Here are some things I’ve changed overtime:

  1. Using my Credit cards to Socialize
    • FOMO (the fear of missing out) was a major source of anxiety in my life, so much so, that I never said no to invitations. It originally steamed from being the “new girl” in town and wanting to make friends. Then it was because I wanted to maintain my friends. Now that I’ve lived here for 5 years, and have a solid group of friends, I have more or less recovered from FOMO. But more importantly, I’ve learned that you should never be ashamed to say, “Thanks for the invite but I’m budgeting or I’m low on cash right now.” The other thing that changed is my mantra. Where I used to think, “Eh life is short, live it up,” now I think, “I am going to live til I’m 105 years old and have plenty of time to ‘live it up’ once I become financially free.”
  2. Impulse Shopping
    • This one is a killer. We live in a society built on consumerism, capitalism, instant gratification, and the idea that more is more. But in reality, less has always been more. One trick I mention in my post, How to Save like an Impulse Shopper, is to delay gratification. Delayed gratification is the concept of waiting to obtain something you want for something potentially better. In this case, if you see something in a store that you want to buy, instead of buying it immediately, you would leave it, wait a few days, then purchase it, perhaps when you have more cash or when you find the same thing you wanted in a different store for a better price. article, Delayed Gratification: Learning to Pass the Marshmallow Test, gives a full breakdown of this phenomenon.
  3. Using my Credit cards to Travel
    • Again, this bad habit was a result of my “Eh life is short,” mantra. Now that I can visualize the longevity of my fruitful, financially free life, I am more conscious of limiting my debt. Even more enticing is the amazing feeling you get from cash flowing* a vacation and coming home owing nothing to the credit card companies (I’ve cash flowed about 3 trips, and counting)!
  4. Buying Cheap/low Quality
    • Quality will always beat quantity. I learned this lesson when I bought my first real expensive winter jacket. I had been gifted a high quality winter jacket by a family I worked for when I was in college. That jacket lasted me several years and was still in pretty good condition when I donated it. I was worried about buying a new jacket of lesser quality so I threw down $250 dollars to by a quality winter jacket that would replace that one. It was the best purchase I’ve ever made! My new (2 year’s old) winter jacket is in mint condition and it keeps me so warm. I could have spend half that amount and gotten an okay jacket, but then I’d likely have to buy a replacement twice as fast and it wouldn’t have kept me half as warm!

The Bottom Line

Once you start taking control of your money and your spending habits, you will begin to free yourself from social pressures to spend, careless or unnecessary debt from more “stuff,” and, most importantly, you will free yourself from money (or lack there of) controlling you.

*To cash flow something is to pay for it with money you’ve earned and have in your possession, either in your banking accounts or in actual cash.

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