Difference Between Frugality and Cheapness
Published 10/23/07 (Modified 3/8/11)
I try my best to live a healthy and reasonably frugal life. This doesn't mean that I spend all of my time counting pennies but I do have a mental calculator to keep track of spending as it relates to the income I bring in. I enjoy being financially organized and efficient in how I use my limited resources to maximize the value I get back. But I have my priorities and when I am with friends, family, or loved ones, I don't mind splurging for them. My frugal lifestyle is mostly for me and I try to limit the practice when I am around others so it doesn't rub off the wrong way.
Frugality Sees Value, Cheapness Sees Cost
Frugality is a very positive trait but many people often mistaken it for it's evil cousin, cheapness. Frugality and cheapness are two different things. Frugal people understand true value and have the ability to evaluate finances by taking into consideration past, present, and future needs. Cheap people don't really care about value and prefer not to spend money for the sake of not spending money.
For example, if I can buy paper towels in bulk and after factoring in the time value of spent money I decide that I will save more money in the long run by spending a little bit more today, frugality dictates that I make the more expensive purchase now that will provide greater value cumulatively in the long run. Cheapness would probably dictate that I not buy it at all or try to borrow paper towels at the expense of someone else.
Cheapness is a very negative trait to have. Unlike frugality, cheapness neglects value and doesn't take into full consideration of past, present, and future needs and wants. It only desires to save money for the sake of conserving money for the short term. Frugality has an air of sensibility that helps one make smart and efficient choices, while cheapness causes negativity and can sap the life and spirit out of any spending situation.
I Spend a Lot of Money For Lunch But Still Consider Myself Frugal
For lunch I usually eat out with friends and co-workers. I consider this a worthwhile time to spend with others and find it more convenient to eat out like everyone else. I am keenly aware that eating out costs substantially more than brown bagging my own lunch but I consider it a worthwhile expense. Shared social interactions are important for me personally and professionally, and I think I get great value out of it.
I frequently have lunch with a friend of mine from way back who also happens to work near my office building in D.C. Whenever we go out to eat lunch together we always take turns paying. We are both smartly frugal but generous at the same time. We never actually had an arrangement to take turns paying - it just sort of happened. Neither of us keeps score of how much each person spends on the total lunch meal when it is his rotation to pay, and we don't spend any extra time debating perfect fairness. The cost of lunch varies greatly depending on where we choose to eat but we usually avoid unnecessarily extravagant lunches. We don't keep a running tally since we both believe such costs even out over time.
Shared frugality brings a lot of financial harmony and positivity to our friendship. Generosity always begets more generosity.