A couple of weeks ago, I shared on some of the less obvious upsides of frugality. Basically, how it helps us to lead a more organised and clutter-free life and also how it can reduce the strains we exert on the environment. Yeah, frugality is a wonderful behaviour for all of us to adopt!
But like most things, frugality isn’t all that great when it’s taken to the extreme, especially when one only takes into consideration the financial aspect. Here, I am talking about being cheap.
Nobody admits to being cheap and even fewer likes to be labelled that way. And the differentiation between frugal and cheap tends to be subject to an individual’s discretion and values. In short, cheap is something that “I” am incapable of doing. “Washing and reusing dirty plastic bags? That’s no way to live life and you’re being an absolute cheapo!” Get it?
But then, if it’s a case of “I can’t imagine doing xxxx, so it’s cheap”, then this really isn’t useful for us to ascertain the qualities of frugality and cheapness. A similar case to “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” and “one man’s meat is another’s poison”?
Unfortunately, (at the risk of muddling into dangerous waters), I have distilled three universal characteristics/factors that I believe can help us to identify “cheap” behaviour and separate them from acts of frugality. To help with the illustration of the contrasts, I have also provided specific examples:
Taking unfair advantage of others
Frugal – Buying a copy of Football Manager every two seasons
Cheap – Downloading a pirated version
The key word here is “unfair”. When we’re downloading a pirated copy from the internet for free, we are undermining the work produced by a magnificent team which puts in tremendous amounts of effort and time to create an amazing and addictive game. Luckily, there are enough “carrot heads” like me. Otherwise, the “tragedy of the commons” could ensue in this case and Liverpool wouldn’t be able to win the league title even in reel life. =p
Frugal – Suggesting a cheaper dining venue and offering to treat your friend
Cheap – Always ordering expensive dishes & expecting the bill to be split equally
Luckily, most of my friends don’t practise this “cheap” behaviour. Actually, that’s why they are even considered friends, right?. However, I have seen and heard enough examples of how some people would consistently short-change friends who kindly volunteered to foot the bill with their credit cards. Not including GST/Service charges, rounding down to the nearest dollar or never suggesting to split the bill equally when they ordered less costly dishes. There’s a much better way of dining out with friends if one is on a tighter budget.
Short-term financial myopia
Frugal – Buying a $90 pair of shoes that lasts 3 years
Cheap – Buying a $30 pair of shoes that lasts half a year
Besides the fact that 6 pairs of cheaper shoes costs twice as much as a $90 pair over the period of 3 years, the latter pair is also likely to be much more comfortable for walking. Another similar example below which shows that the “cheap” option incurs higher indirect costs in the long run.
Frugal – Staying in a flat and investing in a quality mattress for sleep
Cheap – Staying in a condominium but sleeping on a cheap “tilam” that costs backache
Lack of environmental considerations
Frugal – Going to flea markets (like those found in Tanglin on alternate Sats) to source for items/clothes
Cheap – Queuing for hours to obtain “new” freebies that one has plenty of and already no use for
Chinese new year is approaching and to set an example of helping to conserve our environment, I am going to get my new year clothes from a flea market. When we purchase 2nd hand goods, we are reducing the demand for new products and as a result, helps to lower the amount of resources pulled out from the ground. On the other hand, it’s time to rethink whether we should queue for hours at the customer service counter just to receive another useless plastic trinket.
Frugal – Buying a $120 pair of shoes that lasts 3 years
Cheap – Buying a $20 pair of shoes that lasts half a year
Back to this example but I have tweaked the numbers slightly to show that the long run finanical costs are the same. Some people believe that the latter option is better since one gets to own new shoes every half a year. I disagree since I am really happy with this pair of Hush Puppies shoes that has been around for more than 2 years. I wear it 4 days a week and I am glad that I haven’t added to the amount of trash in the landfills with 4 other pairs of poorly made shoes.
Don’t feel bad if some of your actions are classified as “cheap” as yours truly has and still continues to suffer from the temptations of being a cheapskate. I am calling out for stronger participation since it would be interesting to hear your views on this constantly debated topic and it would be great if you can offer other concrete examples of Frugal vs Cheap too!