What is the difference between frugal and cheap?

Is he frugal or cheap?

Growing up you realize that people have completely different definitions for frugal and cheap.

Some people consider not wanting to waste money as someone who is cheap. And some people say that someone who refuses to tip waitresses is frugal.

Let’s see what Webster has to say about it…


Pronunciation: \ˈfrü-gəl\

: characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources

and here is the definition of cheap…


3b: contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities <feeling cheap> c: stingy <my cheap uncle>

They describe “cheap” with”stingy”, so if we look at what stingy means…


Pronunciation: \ˈstin-jē\

1: not generous or liberal : sparing or scant in using, giving, or spending <stingy with the salt> <stingy employee benefits>

I think the word “frugal” has gotten a bad rap. Somehow it seems to have gotten somewhat of a negative connotation. Maybe not in the personal finance world, but I just don’t hear “frugal” being used as a compliment very often.

I prefer use “wise with money.” It just sounds better 😉 And ultimately that is what I am trying to do. I don’t want a single dollar to go to waste. That doesn’t mean that I just want it all for myself, but I want to direct the money to where it should go. So, by getting control of my money I can have more to give to others, more to fund God’s Kingdom, and more for my family.

A quick little quiz…

I am interested to hear what other people’s opinions are on this, so…

How would you define someone who is cheap? Someone who is frugal?

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  1. Tristan

    To me, frugality is more along the lines of using wisdom. Whereas cheap is more along the lines of being stingy.

  2. bob

    Yea, I am with both of you in your definitions and tristan I like your defn that frugality uses wisdom…

  3. MInTheGap

    I actually see frugal as someone who has a budget, keeps track of their funds, and is to some degree money minded. These people don’t mind spending on quality items, but will try to negotiate price.

    I see cheap people as those that are out for the cheapest goods. They’ll spend money on cheap items instead of looking for the best quality for the best price. They’re view of money is more selfish.

    The difference is subtle, and depending on what end of the transaction you are on can be different! 🙂

  4. Jan

    To me frugal means using what you have wisely. It also involves being creative…in that use.
    Cheap is as you say..stingy. Usually a cheap person has the money to buy better items but buys the least expensive…seems like the “love” of money comes into play in his thinking.

  5. crossn81

    My parents divorced when I was quite young and so I grew up with two families and two perspectives on money.

    Cheap – buy the least expensive brand b/c we need it now and don’t want to wait for it.

    Frugal – we’d like to have that, lets do some research and save money to make sure we get the best bang for our buck.

    I think in the long run cheap people end up wasting more money than frugal people.

  6. bob

    The pattern that I am seeing is that everyone seems to think that cheap is more of the short-sighted, me first mentality that as Crossn81 puts it wastes more money in the long run… I completely agree. There is some real sound wisdom in spending a bit more upfront or waiting to get something a little better that will last longer. Its kind of like looking for the overall value of an item rather than the best price…

  7. Acting in a frugal manner is a state of mind where you see yourself as a steward, trying to maximize the resources you have at your disposal. Frugal people save so that they can bless the lives of others.

    Cheap/stingy is hoarding everything and worrying that you won’t have enough for yourself.

  8. John

    Shoot, Ron said what I was going to say 🙂 I like how you associated cheap with hoarding – I think that’s very true.

    I view frugal as searching for the best “value” for an item and this does not necessarily equate to getting the cheapest one. Also, in the definition, the term “resources” is used. I think that frugality can apply to other areas of your life like your time, for instance. A person might spend money to hire someone to do a certain job for them to save them time and get a better job done – I think this still could qualify as being frugal.

    I aim for frugal but often miss and end up at stingy.

  9. Until Debt Do US Part

    Wise with money is a lot more favorable than frugal or cheap. To me frugal seems to give a sense of lacking as in they are frugal because they have very little money. While this may be the case it can also be the case that some rich people are frugal. So for me ‘wise with money’ is a lot better all round.

  10. Scott

    Where does taking advantage of others come into play? Cheap/stingy people might use others for their gain whereas frugal people manage resources so that nothing is wasted. I associate selfishness with one and not the other.

  11. Money Saving Dad

    To me frugal is somebody who just wants to save money and get the best bang for their dollars. It is having wisdom with money and caring not to waste any money at all. When buying a quality product for instance, they’ll shop around for sales, use coupons, or specials. However the product is usually good and sought after. Frugality is a thinking man’s/woman’s game.

    Cheap is somebody who carelessly and almost ridiculously does not spend money… Almost insulting in ways.

  12. Ruschel Ernacio

    Nice, the dictionary defines frugal as economical in use while cheap is one of its synonyms but there are really difference between the two. Nice information.