Defining Cheap: Cheap Vs. Frugal

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I can remember a time in my life when I sought out the cheapest price on any product that I bought. I was under the impression, as I’m sure many of you are, that the cheaper product always equaled the better deal, that the more money I could save on something, the better it was.  What I didn’t take the time to realize was that a lot of the time I was actually costing myself more money by going with the cheapest item possible. Did you realize that there is a difference between being cheap and being frugal? Most people do but they never make the connection to their own lives.  Defining cheap and the difference between cheap and frugal is one of the biggest ways to make a difference in your personal finances. You just don’t realize it yet.

Do you know the difference between cheap and frugal? You might be surprised to know that NOT knowing the difference can cost you money!

Learning the difference between what is cheap and what is frugal can be hard. It requires research. It requires knowledge of whatever you’re looking to spend money on. If it’s a product, it requires comparing that product to others. If it is a service, it requires doing hardy research of competitors. You won’t learn it right off of the bat and yes, you will make a few budget mistakes along the way. Cheap items and services are easy to find. In fact they’re everywhere you look. It is the job of stores and retailers to sell you the cheaper price. The signs are all over the stores and websites. “Sale!” “Closeout!” “Clearance!” They’re meant to draw you in and snag you with a price tag that is lower than anywhere else. Price matching proves it. Stores that price match are so desperate for you to buy from them that they will meet a lower price…even to the point of taking a possible loss themselves. Don’t get me wrong. Sales, markdowns and even price matching all have their place in saving money. They can help you cut your grocery bill A LOT, but if you’re not careful they can help cause your budget to fail.

Defining Cheap: Cheap Vs. Frugal

How many times have you bought your kids a toy only to have it break? How many times have you replaced that toy? How many times have you bought anything that broke within just a few uses and had to be replaced? How much money have you spent replacing those items? If you’re like most families, the answer is simple. A lot. Cheap items are identified by not only their price but how well they are made. They are the things that you buy that break often forcing you to replace them. A frugal buy on the other hand, might cost a few dollars extra but will last long enough to get your money back.

Whether we want to admit it to ourselves, cheap isn’t always the better deal. If it is cheap in cost and cheaply made it can actually cost you more in the long run. How? Because those items will generally have to be replaced long before you’ve fully gotten your money back out of it. You’ll find these items in ever area of your life. They span from food to toys to electronics and even cars. The cheaper price tag is used as a draw to people who generally can’t afford to pay much more than what they already will. That, my friends, is a budget killer many times over.

Getting the best deal possible isn’t always glaring. Take my most recent shopping trip for example. I was specifically shopping with 2 things in mind. First that I needed to do our regular monthly shopping, but also that I needed to pick up a good deal on a turkey for Thanksgiving. I also was looking at buying 2-3 other turkeys to have on hand for later so that I could use them to help save later on after chicken and turkey prices have gone back up.

My shopping trip was two stores; Aldi and Kroger. Aldi had turkeys for $0.99/lb, but Kroger had 2 deals that I took a look at since I was already heading to Kroger to buy some other sale items they had.

The first sale was “buy a spiral cut ham at $2.99/lb and get a free turkey up to 14lbs.” The second was turkey that was priced at $0.59/lb when you buy another $20.00 in groceries.

Since I knew that I would be spending at least $100 on other groceries, I counted that out of the equation for us. They were a moot point since they would be bought whether I bought the $0.59/lb turkey or the BOGO deal. On the surface, the BOGO deal screamed to me since I really wanted to get a ham too if I could, but I’ve been saving money long enough to know that I needed to do the math before I made my decision.

$2.99 * a 10lb ham = $29.99. Divide that by 2 (for the turkey and the ham) and you get roughly $15.00 each.

$0.59/lb * a 14lb turkey = $8.26.

Needless to say, it was cheaper for me to buy the turkeys outright than to mess with the BOGO deal. $8.26 per turkey is better than $15.00 for turkey and ham. In fact that’s exactly what I did. I also managed to find a much better deal (for us anyhow) on hams.

All in all, I ended up buying 3 turkeys and 1 ham. My cost? $34.06. 

In our case, the deal that looked “cheap” turned out not to be. In reality, I would have paid much more had I bought the ham and gotten the turkey free.


The plain and simple truth is this: Sometimes the cheaper price (or in the case of my turkeys, the price that appears cheaper), isn’t always the best price or the best buy. In fact, it often isn’t. Cheap items break more often or don’t work the way they’re supposed to meaning you’ll have to replace it more often spending more in the long run.


So how do you tell the difference between the two? I can’t tell you that because it will honestly vary from item to item. The best way to prevent yourself from wasting money though is to do your research. Do things like:

  • Look at reviews not only on the site you’re buying it from but on other sites as well.
  • Check what the item is made out of. If it is something that needs to be made of metal but is made of plastic instead? There’s a good chance it will break.
  • Go with trusted names especially if you’re purchasing a big ticket item.
  • Ask your friends and family for recommendations. If an item has lasted or broken for them, they will let you know.
  • Don’t rush the purchase. Rushing out to buy something is a good way to get a bad deal.
  • Be willing to pay the extra money to buy a quality item versus a cheap one.
  • Do the math.



It’s easy to buy the cheap deal. It’s easy to just not think about it. Easy won’t help build your finances though.


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Stacy Williams

Stacy Williams is a 37-year old wife to a USAF Gulf War Veteran, mother of two teen girls and fur-mamma to a rescued pit bull. The face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family, she also owns and manages Long Haul Wife, Republic Preparedness, The Genealogy Queen and a handful of others sites. By the age of 30, Stacy had overcome a drinking problem, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence, and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Stacy is passionate about homeless advocacy and addiction education.  Her first book, also called Six Dollar Family is available on Amazon.

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