Thanks to TV shows like Extreme Cheapskates, which thankfully I have never watched, people are scared of being frugal for fear of being seen as cheap. Nobody wants to wear patched clothes or pick out of free boxes when "they can afford" to buy brand new shiny stuff. What we need to realize is that being a frugal person is WAY different than being a cheapskate, though they do share some common ground. Here is the main difference:
Frugal people hate waste, but take ALL factors into consideration when buying.
Cheapskates only care about the price.
Buy Something Just Because It's Cheap
A cheapskate will buy anything that is cheap, regardless of if they need it or if it is beneficial. A cheap person will buy old Easter candy just because it is 90% off (like I did this spring...). Cheapskates will pick up anything for free, just because it is free. It might sit in the basement for 10 years, but they'll take it anyway.
Want To Get Something for Nothing
A cheapskate doesn't want to pay for anything. I get so annoyed with ladies who want to eat high-quality organic locally-produced food, but aren't willing to pay the high price NOR do the hard work required to keep an organic garden or take care of animals. Instead they just complain about how much everything costs. A cheapskate will try to have a baby on her own because she doesn't want to pay the midwife or doctor. Instead of fixing something so it will last longer, she'll run it until it dies because she doesn't want to pay a mechanic (or learn to do it herself).
Don't Care About Other People
A cheapskate doesn't care if he offends, hurts, or takes advantage of someone else. The cheapskate will wrap up a used, dirty, non-relevant gift or not give any gift at all. He will give small tips or no tips at a restaurant, even if the waitress did a good job. A cheapskate will cut wood, hunt on, or forage on someone else's property without asking. He will wear inappropriate clothing to a wedding, date or other event and embarrass other guests. At the farmer's market, he'll grab samples and gobble them down without saying thank you. And he'll take all he can get.
Don't Buy Just Because It's Cheap
A frugal lady doesn't buy what she doesn't need, period. We drink water not just because it's free, but it's healthier than drinking pop or Gatorade. We don't need to be pouring sugar and artificial flavors and sweeteners down our throat. We ride our bikes for the same reasons of health. If we already have two ovens, we will leave the next free one on the side of the road, because maybe there is someone out there who will actually use it and not let it sit in their garage like we will. Part of being frugal- not WASTING- is not having more stuff than you need. That's a waste of time, space, and money.
Care About Others
A frugal person takes others' feelings into consideration. I only give used gifts to my immediate family, who give used gifts to me in return. We know that there isn't a difference. My sister is the queen of finding cool stuff at Goodwill. But to others, especially those who would be offended at getting something used, I buy new gifts or make homemade gifts for. Homemade gifts are cheaper but they take more work (see below). Frugal people don't have a problem giving to charities or church... even more than 10%. Frugality, unlike cheapness, can be used to help other people in need. Frugal people know that their money can help make the world a better place, so they don't hoard it all. A frugal girl dresses to the occasion and not to offend others, but she does it inexpensively with good quality used (or even free) clothing. Wear whatever you want at home, but be clean and well-fit if you're in public.
Are Willing to Work
Instead of stealing ketchup and mustard packets from McDonalds, frugal people go through the hard work required to grow tomatoes and mustard seeds. While a cheap person will wear dirty holey rags because they are free, a frugal person will alter or fix the free clothing so it's presentable (taking other people into consideration... see above). Frugal people know that you can't get something for nothing (and if you do, SOMEONE took a loss for your gain). If we don't want to pay for it, we'll work for it. And if we don't want to work for it, we won't complain about paying for it.
If you are wondering if something is "cheapskate" or "frugal", ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I buying/taking this JUST because it's free?
2. Am I considering others?
3. Will this offend someone I care about?
4. Am I being a lazy complainypants?
5. Am I willing to pay for value?
The Social Factor
Cheap or frugal will vary according to your location and peer group. In our social group, $50 is the going rate to spend on a wedding gift (and don't forget the $20-30 shower gift, and possibly $20 bachelorette party gift or honeymoon pot). Yes, weddings are expensive but it's the price you have to pay if you want to keep your friends. Likewise, if someone has a baby you're expected to buy a shower gift for the first kid ($25-$40), and diapers or outfit with any subsequent kid. And don't forget a meal for the sleep-deprived family. The going rate for graduation gifts around here is probably $20-$30. This is just for gift-giving. There is other socially-inflicted spending too- things like eating out, group camping trips, outings, etc. I'm sure the price tag is even higher for people with kids.
I'll be brutally honest here and say what many of us are thinking but never say because it might "look bad". Am I the only one who winces at a $30 restaurant bill because it could have fed both of us for a week or two? Sometimes it hurts to pinch pennies and save as much money as possible, only to stuff it all in a gift card so some college-bound graduate can go buy beer for his roommates. It's hard to throw down a whole week's grocery budget to buy yet another baby outfit that the kid will probably outgrow before he has a chance to puke on it, or realize that you have 5 weddings this year that will cost you hundreds of dollars. YOU could do so much with all that money that those other people are just going to flush down the toilet!!
Here's the deal, though. It's not about you, it's about THEM. Do you want to keep your friends or turn them all off? Don't look at it as a waste of money- look at it as an investment in a friendship. Cut your own expenses before you cut social expenses. And if your peer group really is more than you can afford... maybe it's time to find new like-minded friends.
The "Spendy American" Factor
People here in the US (especially those who have never been to a poor country) lack perspective. A modern US-American definition of "poor" includes cell phones, new clothes, nearly $40 per week in food for ONE person and other niceties. Our definition of "safe" and "sanitary" would never fly on a dusty, dirty high-speed chicken bus in Guatemala... or even eating street chicken in Guatemala. You want unsanitary? How about throwing your poopy toilet paper in an open wastebaket with a pile of other people's poopy toilet paper? But yet somehow life goes on for the Guatemalans just like it does for us. This lady got run off of her blog by a bunch of cyber bullies who accused her of child abuse because she wanted to use sofa beds or other non-mattress options in her kids' room, and also because her family didn't have health insurance. They thought she was gross for eating apples that her kids had already taken a bite out of. Other bloggers thought she was being a cheapskate because she shopped at Walmart and didn't buy organic meat or vegetables. This lady, on the other hand, can feed her kids weeds and overripe produce, treat pinworms with pumpkin seeds, and use rags for toilet paper without the bullying, because she lives in a different country. Any kind of alternative lifestyle will bring criticism, and that includes frugality. If you don't want to be criticized, then don't advertise habits that fall outside cultural norms.
I don't have any problem with being a cheapskate in my own home. Not one little bit. I have no moral misgivings whatsoever about reusing plastic containers, using a tea bag twice or whatever you might call "gross". I'm too "cheap" to treat myself to a second car, subscribe to Netflix, keep nuts or avocados on my weekly grocery list or buy new books for myself. I'm too "cheap" to buy stuff I don't need in order to impress people, and I'm too cheap to buy stuff that I have the time, energy and skill to make myself. Yep, I''m a cheapskate. It's my home- I should be able to do whatever I want without worrying what other people think of me. If people are at my house I will respect their preferences, but I won't let their opinion control my entire life. Some ladies would get embarrassed if a friend came over to her house and had to sit on an old chair or eat anything less than organic filet mignon. Not me. There is no shame in a small home, simple furnishings, or boring food, clothing and education. If people think you are poor, so what? You may find that people are more comfortable in your home because they don't have to compete with you.
Debt is a huge problem here in the US. People buy a nice car, big house, TVs on credit cards, a degree that they don't use, and then they are forced to be "frugal" in order to pay off selfish, thoughtless debt. They must either cheat the neighbor of his yearly Christmas gift or go without dinner in order to make ends meet. For these people it's a little more difficult to discern between frugal and cheap, but they may just have to be honest with their friends ("sorry, we can't afford to spend a week with you in the Bahamas because we bought a new Mercedes for ourselves"). Selfish overspending may lead to selfish cheapness in the future. Frugality FIRST leads to generosity later.
Frugal People Can Afford Being Lavish Sometimes
If you are saving lots of money being frugal, you won't ever need to be cheap. You can afford to spend more on giving expensive gifts, eating out with friends, going to church camp for a week if you aren't spending as much on yourself- food, clothes, housing, transportation. Being frugal (not cheap) will give you some breathing room and help you make better long-term decisions; enable you to buy good tools and pay for relevant education. It will help you KEEP friends and not alienate them, embarrass them or offend them.
You may even be able to afford a luxurious brand-new zero-turn mower that will last many years and make mowing a massive lawn every week a little more enjoyable. ;)
Here's to being FRUGAL!