Cheap, Frugal, Stingy, Thrifty [Which One Are You?]

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It’s an age-old question, and one that’s often debated in friend or family circles.

You may not realize it, but it’s quite common to wonder this about people you meet or hang out with. And don’t worry, I’m not saying that people are constantly trying to judge you in a negative light or put you down. It’s just kind of an instinct. Sort of like how people try to figure out their personality types using the Myers-Briggs criteria.

In the same way that no one personality type is inherently good or bad, being cheap or frugal or stingy or thrifty also isn’t inherently good or bad…

Or is it? Before we start, let’s quickly look up the definition of each word.

What does it mean to be cheap?

Cheap means “low in price; worth more than its cost.” To be cheap means, always looking for the lowest price regardless of the value and quality. The aim is to spend as little money as possible for what you want.

What does it mean to be frugal?

Frugal means “sparing or economical with regard to money or food.” To be frugal means, looking for the best deal, the price doesn’t have to be the lowest. Value means everything, you are looking for long-term use of your item, and not have to replace them.

What does it mean to be stingy?

Stingy means “unwilling to give or spend; ungenerous.” To be stingy means, not being willing to spend money for any reason. The aim is to not buy things at all.

What does it mean to be thrifty?

Thrifty means “using money and resources carefully and not wastefully.” To be thrifty means, taking advantage of your surroundings and making the most out of what you have and can find, being resourceful and crafty is the aim.

Are you cheap, frugal, stingy, or thrifty?

It’s possible that by now, you know which one you are. And if so, well then that was quite easy!

Still, there are some nuances to note for each one, which are best explained by comparing each label to another. Let’s go ahead and do that right now.

Difference between cheap and stingy

Both stingy and cheap people look for low prices. In a way, you could say that both are looking to spend as little money as they can without regard for the value of time and effort. The difference between the two is in that person’s generosity.

You can be cheap and still want to spend money on others. Granted, you won’t pay past a certain price depending on the item, but you have no problem getting items at a reasonable price and gifting it to someone.

On the other hand, a stingy person won’t pay past what they need for themselves. When they find a cheap item, you can bet they’ll buy it if they need it. If someone else needs it and they know there’s a good price to be had? Well, they won’t be buying it for that person, even if it costs 50 cents to do so.

In other words, being stingy clearly has a negative connotation compared to being cheap. If someone calls you stingy, you’ve likely done something personal in their eyes.

Difference between cheap and frugal

It’s tempting to say that the difference between cheap and frugal revolves around the concept of value. That is, a cheap person will try to save money at all costs while a frugal person will consider the price against the quality of the item. A frugal person considers the overall value of the proposition.

While this is close, it’s not entirely true. Since we’re talking about two closely related and often interchangeably used words, subtleties do matter.

I’d argue that the pivotal difference between cheap and frugal is the overall timeframe considered by each.

A cheap person will always think in the short term. The price and only the absolute price is what concerns them. If the price is too high, nope, no transaction will happen.

On the other hand, a frugal person will consider the price, but will consider the necessity of the purchase in the long run. Yes, quality is important. And yes, perhaps it may be a bit above what they’re willing to pay, but if it saves money in the long run, the purchase will be made.

So, while a frugal person does consider the price of the item against its quality, that alone does not suffice as the definition of frugal. Many people do that. Rather, they must possess the qualities of a cheap person in trying to get the lowest price possible, but also consider the value proposition on a longer timeframe in terms of saving money.

Would I say that a frugal person is a cheap person with a bit more reasonable sense built in? Absolutely! But we all know that reasonableness can be quite subjective.

Difference between frugal and thrifty

Now here’s a comparison I love. We can already see that being frugal isn’t all that bad, right? But what about a thrifty person? They’re not needlessly throwing money on unnecessary items either. They’re both quite thoughtful with their money. So, what’s the difference?

The difference lies in resourcefulness. That’s not to say that frugal people can’t be resourceful, but a thrifty person has resourcefulness ingrained into their minds.

Before making any purchase, the frugal person will consider the value proposition of the transaction. A thrifty person will also consider it too, but not before asking themselves, “Is there an alternative to this item that I can utilize in a way that will allow me to not need to buy this item?”

It’s quite the difference in mindset. Before buying a new pair of shoes or clothing items, a thrifty person will consider their current wardrobe. Can they repair a used item that they already have? If the item is beyond repair, is there an alternative such as buying a used pair of shoes or clothing from a donation or thrift store?

Is being cheap bad?

Being cheap certainly has a negative connotation. Perhaps not as bad as being stingy, but if someone calls you cheap, it’s usually a jab at you. However, that doesn’t mean that the label itself is inherently good or bad. It just means that you want the lowest price possible. How can that be bad?

Perhaps you just lost your job. Or you literally just don’t have enough money in the bank for the week. You can see why being called cheap needs to be in some sort of context for it to be truly understood as good or bad.

However, there are a few instances where I would draw the line:

  • Relationships
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

If being cheap affects any of the above in a negative way, it doesn’t matter if the label is inherently good or bad. You’re sacrificing things that are important. There are solutions to each, even if you truly are being cheap for good reason such as literally not having enough money in your bank account.

Being cheap in a relationship

For example, how many times have you heard a friend say:

  • “My husband (or wife) is cheap.”
  • “My husband (or wife) is selfish with money.”

If you’re a husband (or wife) who’s a cheapskate, you may have had fights with your spouse about it. If not, then apparently all is good.

But if you have, what should you do about it? Well, you should sit down and talk about it. Communicate.

Do you have enough money and are just cheap because that’s how you grew up? Consider how that makes your spouse feel if they didn’t grow up the same way you did. Either come to an understanding or agree on some middle ground to gradually transition towards.

Are you actually not cheap but frugal, and your spouse simply don’t know the difference? Talking out your thought process of a purchase with your spouse and have them understand your reasons.

Are you cheap because you literally don’t have enough money? Communicate that with your partner and see if they understand. If they now get it and are ok with you being cheap to make ends meet, great. If they’re still not ok with it, perhaps your partner can help by getting a job. Or perhaps you both already have jobs and still don’t make enough money, so something more drastic needs to happen. Either way, if it’s causing fights, it’s important enough to step up and be truthful about if you haven’t already.

Being cheap on your mental health

If you’re being cheap and it’s ruining your mental health, you may be spending too much time being cheap. Remember, cheap people look to save money wherever possible without much regard to time and effort. This can take a mental toll on you over time. You’re trying to save cents and spending inordinate amounts of time doing so when you could be productive in other things.

Truly examine yourself and ask whether you might be penny wise, but pound foolish. If you can say that it’s true, perhaps reconsider your habits of trying to save as much money as you can, and instead, try to save less money.

It won’t mean that you’re no longer being responsible with your money. You’re just simply toning it down to a still reasonable level without draining your mental state.

Being cheap on your physical health

This one is extremely important, and one that is oft ignored in younger people, understandably. Not everybody is in the greatest of financial positions. Because of that, we do have to be conscious of the money we spend on the food we eat. But it should not be at the expense of our long-term health.

Plus, being cheap on your physical health will eventually backfire on you. Healthcare is expensive in the US, and most of the money spent is on chronic conditions such as diabetes. If you eat poorly, you could be shooting yourself in the foot both health-wise and financially, since you’ll be forced to spend more on healthcare on your future self.

Challenge yourself to save money not by eating fast food, but rather, by consuming more vegetables or raw produce if you can. Tone down on your processed food purchases.

How are cheap, stingy, frugal, and thrifty people perceived?

You probably won’t like the answer. By now, you can see that frugal and thrifty people can be quite admirable in how they approach their finances. Maybe cheap and stingy people not so much. But are they perceived all that differently in the public eye? Probably not.

Cheap and stingy will often be used as a jab of some sort. But even if someone states that a person is frugal or thrifty, they’re probably not 100% complimenting you. These terms can be used sort of as a backhanded compliment; as words they sound great, but at the same time, the person ultimately thinks you’re just being cheap.

Of course, it all comes down to context. If you’re hanging out with a group of like-minded individuals, don’t worry about it, all is good. And if you feel like you’re getting a backhanded compliment, well, just still don’t worry about it. You can never really prove their malicious intent, so it’s best to let it go.

In conclusion

If I had to rank each label from best to worst in terms of connotation and usage among the general public, it’d go like this:

  1. Thrifty
  2. Frugal
  3. Cheap
  4. Stingy

Thrifty and frugal come relatively close to each other, whereas stingy is far and away dead last.

What do you think? Do you agree with the above assessments? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!

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