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Cheap vs. Frugal 

The other week I was talking with a client about their personal values, and the husband said something I hadn’t come across before.

“I don’t want to be viewed as being cheap.”

Fascinated, I asked some clarifying questions. There was some family history at play, and it was interesting to hear how he manifests that value when paying for dinner or coffee with friends, or hosting people at their house, or making purchases for his business. 

I’ve been thinking more about it since - and trying to decipher the difference between being “cheap” and being “frugal.” For whatever modern cultural reason, being frugal seems positive. Being cheap seems negative. 

Evidently I’m not the only one asking, as a quick Google search yielded 34,600,000 results.

Here are my unqualified thoughts on the differences between the two.


Cheap and frugal both aim to save money - but frugal people won’t do so at the expense of others. 

Cheap views prices alone as the bottom line. Frugal views value as the bottom line. 

Cheap saves a dollar to stash away. Frugal saves a dollar for another purpose. 

Cheap is reactive in decisions. Frugal is proactive in decisions. 

Cheap only considers expense. Frugal considers expense and experience. 


I’m guilty of being cheap at times. I cut my own hair for 10 years before just recently going to an actual barber. It’s quite easy to justify being cheap as being frugal - but I do think there’s a material difference between the two, and digging at it may be worth the effort to see where our heart is at.  

 
Interesting Resources 

1. Morgan Housel - Five Lessons from History
Long article but a good one worth the read. My favorite is the 4th point. 

“Lesson #4: Progress happens too slowly for people to notice; setbacks happen too fast for people to ignore… Growth is driven by compounding, which always takes time. Destruction is driven by single points of failure, which can happen in seconds, and loss of confidence, which can happen in an instant. The irony is that growth – if you can stick around – is a more powerful force, because it compounds. But setbacks capture greater attention because they happen suddenly.” 



2. Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten (poem) 
Our 2nd oldest is wrapping up kindergarten this week, and the school had a special event to celebrate - during which one of the teachers read this poem. It’s beautiful. But the part that really got me was at the very end (which I had to look up because the teacher was crying a bit): “Be aware of wonder.” As adults, we lose our interest in wonder. We just want facts, and we stick to only things that we know. We can all too easily dismiss wondering as a waste of time. It was a good reminder for me to stay curious, and to remind myself it’s okay to wonder. 
I'd love to hear your thoughts with being cheap vs being frugal? Have you wrestled with it? Any other distinctions you'd add to the list?

Gratefully,
Jeremy
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