Can We Just Admit We’re Cheap Already?

Hi, my name is Nelson, and I have a confession to make.


Uhh, hey everyone. I’m here because I’m an alcoholic.

Sorry, wrong therapy session. I’m actually here because I’m a cheap bastard.

It’s true. How am I a cheap bastard? I’d count all the ways, but nobody has that much free time. I go to my parents’ house for dinner on a regular basis. The food is delicious, and most importantly of all, free. I refuse to upgrade my 27 inch picture tube tv because it works, dammit. I’d love to buy for the upcoming baseball season, since I’m one of 9 Canadians who actually cares about baseball, but I just can’t bring myself to shell out $125.00 just to watch baseball.

I have the money to do all of these things. I could buy a new tv and the baseball package and it wouldn’t affect my finances negatively in any material way. I could even upgrade to the fancy receiver that has a PVR attached, meaning I could watch Storage Wars whenever I wanted.

But I resist. Do you know why? It’s because I’m cheap.

Back In The Day

The personal finance blogosphere has been having this debate since approximately 1992, back when personal finance blogging was a bunch of guys passing around cheap Xeroxes of personal finance articles. (Note: this may not be true) The overwhelming majority believe that we’re not a bunch of cheap people. Rather, we’re frugal.

The differences between cheap and frugal are multiple, but are pretty simple. Frugal people are willing to spend more money on a quality item, since that means their cost per use is minimized. Cheap people, meanwhile, just go find the cheapest item they can find, quality be damned. Frugal people are willing to buy stuff that’s important to them, cheap people aren’t. Frugal people are willing to invest in their future, while cheap people won’t spend money on anything, even something that will benefit them in the future.

Cheap or Frugal?

Are you kids ready? I’m going to blow this whole frugal vs. cheap thing wide open. It’s simple, really. Just substitute the word ‘smart’ for frugal, and ‘stupid’ for cheap. Smart people are willing to invest in the future. Stupid people aren’t. And so forth.

Of course frugal bloggers are going to assume they’re smart. And, for the most part, they are. However, how many of them do you see buying the highest quality item because they think it’s important to them, when they could really buy an item that’s pretty good for significantly less. They take their thesis and overdo it, and the next thing you know you have people who like to cook buying knives at a hundred bucks a shot.

Here’s what really makes someone cheap. If it pains you to spend money on something, even if you really want it, you’re officially cheap. The money becomes more important than the items you can exchange it for.

We’re all guilty of it. How many times have you checked your chequing account balance? How many times have you said no to something – not because you didn’t want to do it – but because you stress about the amount of cash it would cost? How many times have your friends subtly (or not so subtly) made fun of you for being so obsessed with your finances?

Mirror Mirror On The Wall – Who Is The Cheapest (Frugalist?) One Of All?

I’m the first to admit I’m guilty of it. Sure, I can spend $10 or $20 and not feel guilty, because it’s such a small amount. Once we get above $40 or so, I get a little anxious handing over my cash. The feeling usually passes quickly. Once we get over $100, I will think about this purchase for hours afterwards. I usually end up being okay with my decision, it’s just the part where I hand over money that’s tough.

I’m working hard towards being financially independent. Every dollar I can put towards savings, or investments, or towards paying off my mortgage, is one more dollar I can put to work increasing my net worth. I can see the potential that dollar has, and how I can use it to improve my financial situation. Or, I can use it to buy chicken McNuggets. I enjoy chicken McNuggets. They are quite tasty. But eating chicken McNuggets are not going to get me rich, except that one time I won $20 for eating more McNuggets than my buddy. I ate 80, in case anyone is wondering.

I am clearly a disgusting person.

Look, life is about choices. I know that’s cliche, but it’s the truth. I can make the choice to spend my money on stuff, or I can make the choice to put it to work in an attempt to make more money, which eventually snowballs into being financially stable enough to be able to afford to retire. That’s why it pains me to spend money, and that’s why I’m a cheap bastard. It’s not such a bad thing.


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I’ve been debating about whether to write a post on being cheap vs. being frugal for a while now – and your assessment makes my whole theory totally moot. You hit the nail on the head!

I was cheap before frugal was a word. I learned it from my dad who grew up during the (last) Great Depression. He defined the word cheap.

12 years ago

I love that saying. “I was cheap before frugal was a word” classic.

12 years ago

I hate when this happens!

12 years ago

This was a fun read. I think you educated me on the difference between frugal and cheap. After reading this, I am confident that I am a lifelong frugal. :)

12 years ago

If cheap is defined by the amount of pain we experience when spending money then I definitely pass for cheap. Anything over $10 has me hemming and hawing before actually making the purchase.

12 years ago

Thanks, Nelson, for making me realise that I have been kidding myself. I am officially cheap! Help, get me out of here!

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being either cheap or frugal. It sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and helping you reach your goals. :-)

12 years ago

OMG, it’s like we are long lost twins!!!! I hate to spend and I am one of the 9 people in Canada who enjoys baseball. I got a new much higher paying job in December and even though I am a terrible shopper I obsessed that I was going to fall victim to Lifestyle Inflation. I gave myself a budget of $500 for Life style inflation. I used to work shifts and my erratic schedule made it impossible to take any courses. I’ve been wanting to learn how to sew on a sewing machine for years so I budgeted $150… Read more »

12 years ago
Reply to  Slackerjo

I like the fact that you admitted you would have some lifestyle inflation and subsequently kept it under control. Buying a sewing machine doesn’t quite throw you full bore into the “keeping up with the Joneses” race. I wouldn’t worry too much as long as you stick to your safeguards.

haha. Sounds like someone is a cheap romantic bastard. :) You make being cheap sound cool.

Being cheap isn’t so bad :) Most of my ‘cheap’ friends have nice things because they buy quality stuff that lasts (many times used) and they have awesome savings and no debt.

12 years ago

I agree, it can be bad to be too cheap. People need to recognize quality and realize that paying a high price isn’t bad if you benefit from the purchase. One thing I am never cheap on: Health Supplements. I always try to buy the highest quality when it comes to my health.

12 years ago

Just out of curiosity, why not buy good food and totally eliminate the need for health supplements? I’ve been in sports forever, and some of my best friends are nutritionists. I have read nothing to convince me that the vast majority of supplements are irrelevant.

12 years ago

Maybe “cheap” should be the norm. We would all be better off, and then the term wouldn’t be derogatory. I guarantee no one has ever been cheap when spending tax dollars anyway!

12 years ago
Reply to  Teacher Man

Yea, good food is something that you shouldn’t be cheap on. But it can be difficult for a busy person to eat a healthy diet every day, and that is where supplements are useful. Certain ones, such as Omega-3 fish oil and Vitamin D come to mind. I eat fish once a week, if that, so I supplement with fish oil. Also in the winter, I don’t get much sunlight so I supplement with Vitamin D. You could also take a greens supplement if you don’t think you get enough fruits and vegetables. Also, whey protein can be used for… Read more »

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