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Frugal and Cheap are Not the Same

Frugality has come a long way recently. It’s become more main stream given the challenges of the economy. Many people are searching for ways to stretch their hard earned dollars to get by. Obviously frugality is nothing new (ask anyone who survived the Great Depression). Given the challenges of current times there has been a resurgence of people embracing all things frugal.

It occurred to me recently, after a conversation with a friend, that a lot of people are a little confused by what frugality really means. Some people think frugality is about being cheap or buying cheap things. Some people cringe at the words and feel deprived by even the thought of them. Some people even feel like they are forms of cruel punishment!

But bear with me a bit here as I don my homeschool mom glasses to take a closer look at these words (I do this on occasion so please don’t let it put you off!). Words are pretty powerful stuff. So let’s take a closer look at the actual word FRUGAL as it appears in the Merriam Webster Dictionary  and to round out our definitions and for the sake of thoroughness I’m adding the definition, from the same source, of the word ECONOMY:

Definition: Frugal: characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources

Origin: Frugal: Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin frugalis virtuous, frugal, from frug-, frux fruit, value; akin to Latinfrui to enjoy

Definition: Economy: 1. archaic : the management of household or private affairs and especially expenses 2. a : thrifty and efficient use of material resources : frugality in expenditures; also : an instance or a means of

Now let’s take a look at the word CHEAP (again from the same source for consistencies’ sake):

Definition: Cheap:adj. 1 a : purchasable below the going price or the real value b:charging or obtainable at a low price <a good cheap hotel> <cheap tickets>c : depreciated in value (as by currency inflation) <cheap dollars: gained or done with little effort <a cheap victory> <talk ischeap>.3a : of inferior quality or worth :tawdry, sleazy  <cheapworkmanship>b : contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities <feeling cheap>c :stingy <my cheap uncle>

Looking at what these words actually mean, it becomes pretty clear that frugality is about how we use our actual resources (our income, our time, our skills, etc.). Economy is about management and efficiency. It is about how we choose to use what we have to make it most cost effective to our situation. There is nothing coarse or detrimental in the definitions of these words. They are positive words. Constructive words. But when you look at the word cheap you find some not so pleasant or constructive things in the definition. No wonder cheap seems to be a word most of us don’t want to closely associate with!

Unfortunately frugal and cheap have been, far too often, put on the same playing field when, really, they aren’t  even in the same ballpark! I think because words have power it can hold us back from some positive changes in our lives. We are a frugal family. And frugality and economy are about making wise choices with our resources not necessarily about the cheapest item we can get (though don’t get me wrong-I love a darn good bargain!!). But because frugality is about choices and resources our frugality will likely look different from yours. Our resources and needs and wants are probably different from yours! Frugality is mindset and an approach. Frugality is not the same as cheap.

So do yourself a favor and kick the word “cheap” to the curb where it belongs. Be frugal. Be cost effective. Be bargain happy. Be economical. Be resourceful. Be thrifty. Be wise. Be Rice and Beans. But you don’t need to be “cheap.”


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