The Frugal Lifestyle vs the Cheap Mentality: What’s the Difference?

While being frugal is usually seen as something praiseworthy, being cheap is usually a negative character trait. What is the difference between the two?

What is the difference between being cheap and being frugal?

Someone recently posted on one of Reddit’s frugal communities, “I think there is confusion on the difference between FRUGAL and CHEAP.”

He continued, “A frugal person will try to buy quality stuff but probably wait for a genuine sale and find a coupon or use cash back (or both) to offset some of the costs. A cheap consumer just buys whatever they can find at the lowest price possible. Many folks are posting things that would be classified as “cheap.”

As expected, this brought forth a huge amount of comments debating the difference between frugal and cheap and how each person defines it.

Comments have been lightly edited for legibility. 

Sacrificing Quality

Someone wrote, “Cheap is saving money even at the sacrifice of quality. Frugal is getting quality cheap.”

OP agreed with this comment: “Yes,” he wrote.

Related: 10 Examples of When Being Frugal Crosses Over to Cheapskate

Spending as Necessary

Someone else wrote, “For me, frugal is spending only as much as necessary to accomplish the goal. That goal may be buying a $1500 item on sale for $1000 that will last 25 years vs. spending $600 on a nonsale item that is the cheapest but will last 10 years.”

They added, “There is a level of research and purpose to being frugal. Cheap is just buying the lowest priced item for the sole reason being its price. Sometimes these two price points can overlap. But, it’s by choice.”

Related: Frugality vs. Cheapskate: How To Know When You’ve Crossed the Line 

Quality That Will Last

One person wrote, “The way I describe this is by the best quality you can afford that will last, rather than the cheapest that you can get away with.”

He continued with a  personal anecdote, “Example: when I graduated college, I bought two really cheap pieces of cookware, and then started hunting down sales on quality cookware. I managed to find Caphalon, not the cheap stuff sold at Target but the stuff that can run multiple hundred dollars a piece, and stocked my kitchen. That was in 2000. I’m still using that cookware daily, I expect it will probably last me the rest of my life. Good quality cookware can be a bit it for a life purchase. I bought the best quality I could afford while looking for the best price on it.”

Related: 10 Best Frugally Priced and Long-Lasting Household Products People Are Raving About

Different Income Levels

Someone says they think it depends on how much you actually can afford, “Frugal means different things at different income levels. There is no single “frugal” life. But cheap is always cheap.”

Someone added, “Frugal always means saving money and time on the things that you don’t care about so that you can spend time and money lavishly on the things that you do care about no matter your income level.”

Related: 10 Extreme Cheapskates Tips That Are Honestly Great Tips 

Affects Other People

One person had an interesting take. They said it depends on how OTHER people are affected. They wrote, “Said here: frugal affects you. Cheap affects people you know.”

Someone wrote their own personal experience, ” I’d just mentioned on this sub yesterday about a friend who always takes every packet, wet-nap, and whatever else she can from her table at restaurants but won’t even wait until everyone else at the table has used what they needed. She laughs when we call her cheap, and she insists she’s frugal despite everyone being annoyed with her.”

Affects Your Health

Another person said they agree that it matters what your behaviors affect. It is cheap, not frugal if it affects other people or your health. They wrote, “That or your health and well-being. I saw some people post on here about hacks to save by eating cents per day by serious calorie cuts or junk. Unless you are seriously broke and need to, I will never compromise my health to save a few dollars if I don’t need to.”


Someone else agreed with the distinction of bothering other people: “Frugal is when you inconvenience yourself, and cheap is when you inconvenience everyone.”


Another great definition of frugal vs. cheap “To me, frugal is trying to get the most value out of every dollar you spend. Cheap is trying to spend as few dollars as possible regardless of value,” someone wrote.


Is knocking people for being cheap treading on classism? I have written before about the difference between “Frugal-by-choice” and “frugal-not-by-choice.” When people who can afford to make good choices about money mock people who don’t have the same choices and must buy cheap items out of necessity.

Someone wrote, “Yea, most of these comments strike me as “cheap is when a poor person is just trying to survive so I can still have people to look down on” and “frugal is when people I perceive as having more money are making wise financial decisions.”

Someone expounded, “Frugal is usually a choice; people choose to be frugal and watch their money. People are cheap or cheap out on things due to poverty. People don’t choose to be poor.”

They continued, “A frugal man who has money in the bank can buy good quality expensive leather boots that’ll last him years if not decades. The cheap poor man buys the crappy boots that are least expensive and has to buy new boots every year.”

Something to think about!

I hope you enjoyed this Reddit discussion about what constitutes the difference between frugal and cheap. While you are here, check out the 10 Best Money-Saving Tips People Learned By Being Frugal. 

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Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.