Should I ditch the ‘cheap’?

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.Β  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?

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10 thoughts on “Should I ditch the ‘cheap’?

  1. Melissa says:

    I think if you were just “cheap,” none of us would get toilet paper when we came over. We’d have to bring our own. πŸ™‚

    No, I see you in the positive w/ regards to being cheap. Keep up the good work.

  2. Jenna says:

    Don’t worry about the word nazis, if you like the sound of cheap as your blog header, roll with it.

    Frankly, the comment you reference makes a whole different set of questions go off in my head, like… what’s that person doing looking in my freezer to make sure he’s getting as much as my family? Why does he feel its okay to root around in my cupboards to insure I’m not hiding any good stuff from him? (But then, I’m honest – or possibly shameless – enough to cop to times when I’ve had large groups over and I’ve gone for the BYOB or just gotten a case of the cheapies when I have a few bottles of the “good” stuff hiding in cupboards for special occasions.)

    Love your blog. Don’t get yourself fussed. I think anyone of reasonable intelligence should be able to figure out your meaning. And if they don’t, well…. more then likely not of average intelligence!

  3. Cheap Like Me says:

    @Melissa – Ha ha ha, that’s a good idea! πŸ™‚ Isn’t it bad enough that I only provide recycled one-ply?

    @Jenna – Well, if we’re talking about special *occasions,* that’s a different matter. πŸ˜‰ I guess I am cheap if I don’t believe there’s a requirement to provide expensive drinks. Sigh.

  4. susie says:

    But “Frugal Like Me” has no ring to it! Maybe you’re “taking back” the word cheap and making it positive again. (Plus, I dig the “Mr. Cheap” and “Little Cheap” nicknames for your family. It makes me picture you as little cartoon chickens or something…)

    Now where’s my popsicle?

  5. litchic says:

    Loved this post…and your blog in general is great! As someone living on a very limited budget and trying to “go green” it is fun to hear about your adventures. I agree with “frugal” being old fashioned…it hearkens back to the days of Benjamin Franklin and the protestant work ethic. I’d stick with what you’ve got, it seems to be working well. πŸ™‚

  6. MS says:

    What you describe is a particular case of this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism#The_.22Euphemism_Treadmill.22

    “Cheap” originally came from the term for trade, ie. something that wasn’t handcrafted by you or someone in your own village. Most of what we have and use nowadays is cheap, and the focus of your blog might make the term particularly apt.

    “Frugal” is meant to connote a virtuous thrift, but if you’ve indeed noted a language trend it might become more pejorative in another few decades (or perhaps sooner as the idea of virtue is steadily deconstructed).

    It’s good to sample the linguistic zeitgeist from time to time, but using the word that provides the desired meaning in your own head is usually the best communication one can do. Plus you’ll risk throwing off your readers and breaking umpteen textual references to your blog if you change the title now. πŸ˜‰

  7. Daryl Warner Laux says:

    Cheap is not a bad word. My favorite flavor is 75% off. Love your blog and look forward to more!

  8. robj98168 says:

    My Dear- If being thrifty and knowing the value of a dollar is bad- then sign me as evil!!!
    I know the stigma of someone being called cheap- I never knew it was a bad thing! I had an aunt who used to save every scrap of fabric she could find-no one called her cheap- especially when they saw the beautiful quilts and wall hangings she made. I would like to think that I am crafty- my hobbie is hacking furniture- and some would call me cheap- I have been called worse things than cheap. And I tell you if things don’t change politically soon, the cheap shall inherit the earth. I think of the word cheap like I think of the word survival. So now I will go on with my cheap self.

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