What’s the Difference Between Being Frugal and Being Cheap?

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Since I have been dating, I have seemed to have developed a heightened sensitivity to how people (well, men that I am dating) behave and act, as I evaluate people and assess their behaviour, their values, and their actions.

I'll be honest.  Cheapness turns me off…whereas frugality turns me on (usually, anyways).

Although you may be reading this and wondering what the heck the difference is, there is a clear distinction between the two traits and characteristics.

Related: Is Someone as Frugal as You a Turn On or a Turn Off?

What is Frugality?

frugal vs cheapWikipedia says that frugality is the tendency to acquire goods and services in a restrained manner in order to achieve a longer term goal.

According to Investopedia, people who are frugal can see the value in something that may be more expensive, but is better quality.  They know when to pay up for something that is of higher value, and they know when they need to spend a bit more money to get more bang for their buck.

Related: How to Avoid Frugal Fatigue as a Couple

I would say that I am frugal but I am not cheap.  I am frugal but am quite generous with my friends and family.  Here are some examples of frugality in action:

My frugality comes from a need for valuing certain things (like travel) over other things.  It stems from me wanting to save my money so that I can spend it on things that I perceive as more value (like paying down mortgage debt or investing or even traveling).  This is me wanting to save my money to achieve the longer term goal.

What is Cheapness?

Being cheap, on the other hand, has derogatory connotations associated with it.  It implies cunning behaviour to save money at the expense of others well-being.  According to Wiktionary, it is akin to being underhanded and dubious.  I think of it as disregard and inconsideration of others' feelings for the personal advancement of your own gain (well, monetary gain, that is!).  In addition, it is the drive to save money on anything without any forethought.

Here are some examples of cheapness that I have seen in dates (don't get me wrong, this isn't meant to be a b*tch session, I just wanted to share some of my observations):

  • Refusing to park in metered pay parking and instead parking in a neighbouring restaurants parking lot (even though you aren't going there for a meal and even though it clearly says “parking for restaurant customers only”)
  • Going to the bathroom at the end of the 2nd date's meal (the bill came during the bathroom break leaving the date to pay for the meal)
  • Tipping only a little bit (or not even tipping) to servers despite excellent service
  • When splitting the bill and an uneven amount of change comes (e.g. $6 in a five dollar bill and in a Loonie), taking the five dollar bill and leaving your date with the Loonie.
  • Cheapness is automatically taking the leftovers from a restaurant meal despite your date paying for the meal (without asking if the date who paid for the meal would want to take the leftovers home)

I have to admit, the above examples really turned me off so there wasn't another date with these people.  I think that people who are cheap can be at times, selfish and not considerate of others.

Still Unclear?

If you're still unclear about the differences between being frugal an between being cheap, check out this clear and concise article from Yahoo explaining the differences again.

I believe that one can be frugal (e.g. money-wise and not frivolous with money) without being considered or labelled cheap.

Evaluating a person's ability to manage money, in my opinion, is very important when finding a partner, especially since money issues are the number one reason for divorce.  Similar views on money, spending habits, and gift giving is important in order ensure that a relationship will work well in the future.

Readers, have you dated people who are both frugal or cheap?

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Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

4 Comments

  1. Phil on November 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Have you dated people who are both frugal or cheap? Absolutely! I married a very frugal lady, who sometimes can be cheap. I think all people have both in them, it just matters if your views of when to be one over the other coincide. We are DYI’s, whether it be for home projects, entertaining or travel, and being frugal allows us to put dollars in other places while still enjoying life. Now being cheap, what’s it worth? I have left a penny at a high-end restaurant as a tip for a very special dinner, and some may call that cheap. yet on the other hand I have left an equivalent tip to the cost of the meal at another. The definitions of cheap and frugal are really left for interpretation of the individual. just make sure the individual you pair with has the same view. – Cheers.



  2. Bet Crooks on November 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    If I bet that the person who under-tipped had the latest most pricey iPhone would I be wrong?



  3. KK @ Student Debt Survivor on November 25, 2013 at 7:33 am

    I definitely think there’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap and I think that you can be frugal, but still be incredibly generous and giving. We’re naturally pretty frugal, but we’re able to use the frugality for good (couponing and donating to local charities). I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any of the things you mentioned but they would definitely be turnoffs to me.



  4. Karen on November 26, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    The only real frugal person I’ve dated is my partner. I had no idea he was that frugal when we first started dating though because we always went out to eat.

    I’m not so sure how soon you should show someone your frugality when you first start dating. They may see it as cheapness, but then again if they just happen to be frugal too, then even better. 🙂



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