Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are You Frugal or Downright Cheap? - Guest Post

If there is one positive that has come out of the Great Recession and the sputtering economy, it’s that people have become much more mindful of how they spend their money. People have discovered that they have far less control over how much money comes in, than they do over how much money goes out. Budgeting and belt-tightening have become the watchwords for families of all economic stripes, unleashing everyone’s inner-frugalness. It wasn’t long ago when you would have been scorned for being cheap. Now you’re praised for being frugal. Who knew?

If you’re still struggling with the concept of frugality for fear of appearing cheap, you need to understand the difference and why one is considered to be urbanely smart while the other one is considered to be, well, cheap.

Frugality requires a sophisticated approach to finding ways to stretch your dollars. Saving money is not necessarily the primary goal; rather it’s realizing more value for your money. In doing so, your money goes further. Isn’t that the same thing as saving money, you ask? Maybe, but what we’re really talking about is a mindset. No one wants to appear cheap, but if you are able to acquire roughly the same accoutrements of life as you did before you watched your money, that’s being smart, not cheap.

Being cheap, however, is simply another form of greed that pits you and your money against everyone else in the world. It’s not about how much money you can save; rather it’s more about how much you can keep from others. Cheapskates aren’t looking for more value; they’re looking for more victims.

A prime definition of a cheapskate is the character of Alan Harper, from the show Two and a Half Men. Here are some examples of his extreme cheapness:
  • He lives for free in his friend’s beach house, and never offers to pay rent.
  • He always leaves the table at a restaurant just as the check arrives, so that he can avoid paying the tab.
  • He sneaks deviled eggs in to the movies instead of buying snacks. Cheap and smelly!
  • He only puts $5 worth of gas in his car at a time in the hopes of being able to use someone else’s car to travel.
The airwaves are overrun with shows, blogs, books, and newsletters on living the frugal life. Some people have even elevated (or denigrated depending on your viewpoint) it to a sport (i.e. extreme couponing). Whole industries have launched to cater to the frugal lifestyle (Groupon, Restaurant.com) and some that were once spurned are suddenly en vogue (thrift stores, dollar stores).

There is no shortage of ideas, tips, and resources for living a frugal life style. But be careful. Some are impractical. Some are kind of weird. And some border on just being cheap. Here’s a smattering of ideas and tips taken from a number of blogs and articles on frugal living with our take on their frugalness.
  • Take your teen clothes shopping at a consignment store (Very smart – for $30 they walk out with a bunch of trendy and vintage shirts and jeans they pick out themselves)
  • Use Restaurant.com certificates to dine out. (Why wouldn’t you if you could save 50% for a dinner out?)
  • Re-use coffee grounds for a second or third pot. (Really?)
  • For fast food places that only allow one coupon per visit, send your kid in first to order with one coupon and then follow him in with a second coupon. (Sounds pathetic, but what the heck.)
  • Getting together with friends: Suggest a potluck and BYOB. Wine tasting gatherings are always popular. (Your friends will appreciate it)
  • Take old or stained t-shirts and fashion them into underwear (weird)
  • Designate a no-spend weekend. Plan activities at or near your home that won’t require one dime to be spent (smart)
  • Go dumpster diving. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. (weird, pathetic and probably illegal).
You get the picture. The bottom line is that anything you can do within your range of comfort to squeeze more value from your money and your time, is the smart thing to do. Frugalness is a state-of-mind that, when practiced regularly, can only improve your finances and your overall well-being.

Aubrey Clark is an editor and writer for DirectBanc.com, a website that provides low interest credit cards and credit card information.


Daisy @ Add Vodka said...

The Two and a Half Men example made me laugh.

An example of cheap vs. frugal to me is like this:

Cheap, like you mentioned, is somebody like Alan who only fills up his/her tank $5 at a time in hopes to use somebody elses method of travelling. Frugal is making sure your tank is full as much as possible to avoid having to pay for a fuel pump replacement sooner than you should have to. But that's just me.

Christa said...

Recycling tee shirts into underwear?! Agreed -- very wierd!

Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter said...

I am definitely frugal. I save on things that don't matter and spend on the things that do. I definitely will invest in quality to make something last a long time.

LifeInTransition said...

Being frugal require you to think long term. Being cheap is like instant gratification: there's short-term satisfaction in saving a few bucks, but the satisfaction never lasts