I read several personal finance blogs, and on several of them, the word “cheap” has come up, usually in the comments. Commenter after commenter will carefully define the meaning of “cheap” vs. the meaning of “frugal,” in every case disparaging the former and praising the latter.
The latest case I came across was this post, where a commenter explained it as:
Cheap and frugal are two different things. Cheap intrudes other people on your decisions. Cheap is when you split a Popsicle to give to your children’s friends only to give your children a whole piece. Frugal is splitting a Popsicle for your children and their friends. Cheap is having the inexpensive beer at your party for your friends and keeping the good stuff in the fridge for yourself.
Now, from my point of view, those two behaviors are stingy or even downright mean. They go beyond cheap or even miserly.
I find the debate over “cheap” and “frugal” kind of amusing. I think people are defensive, basing a distinction between the terms on the idea that frugal is good; cheap, bad. But after all, if you tell someone you got a pair of designer shoes for $10, or you signed a lease on an apartment at half the market rate, they’re likely to say, “Wow, that is sooo cheap!” rather than “Wow, you are frugal!”
To me, “frugal” has a ring of old-fashioned, perhaps country, values. It is about judicious planning for the future, and not spending money, or spending it only wisely. “Cheap” sounds, granted, a bit more fly by night. Cheap is more like “thrifty” than “parsimonious.” In my case, it’s about figuring out how to get the greatest value for the lowest price; acknowledging that you will spend money and then choosing how you’ll spend it.
To me, “cheap” and “frugal” are essentially the same; both are different from miserly or skinflint or mean. By claiming “cheap” on this blog, I’m being a little tongue in cheek, as well as bowing to the spirit of esteemed predecessors like The Tightwad Gazette.
But comments like the one referenced above make me worried about the title of my blog. Obviously, some of you “get it,” but is everyone else thinking I’m all about giving my child the most Popsicles? What do you think?