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What’s the Difference Between Frugal and Cheapskate?

Growing up I knew a guy who was the epitome of cheap. Everyone knew him to be a penny pincher, so when you encountered him and his girlfriend eating from the same plate at a restaurant, you figured he was just up to his usual habits. I agree there’s nothing wrong with sharing a meal. The problem is that when you put that example in the greater context of his habitual lunacy, well, you had to feel sorry for the girl.

No, they did not get married.

Trent over at The Simple Dollar draws this distinction between a frugal person and a cheapskate:

“A cheap person cuts every pleasure from his or her life in order to maximize every cent. A frugal person cuts back on the less important areas of his or her life in order to sustain the areas that are meaningful while still balancing the books financially and putting aside money for the future.”

Cheapskates give frugal people a bad name. It’s like the fundamental LDS who make the public think all Mormons are into polygamy. Cheapskates would you have you believe it is blasphemy to enjoy things that make you happy.

Even worse, cheapskates work hard at imposing their tyranny on others!
I forget the name of the reality TV show now, but apparently there are families who don’t even bother putting out toilet paper for guests, insisting they use a spray bottle. If you’re that way, and I come to visit, please do let me know in advance. I’ll bring my own dang toilet paper.

Frugality, at least the way I’ve been practicing it, is setting priorities so I can enjoy more of the things that make me happy later.

One day I’d like to go into the office because I want to and not because I need to. Therefore, I do not feel compelled to retire my iPhone 6S just to get my hands on the latest gadget. I’ve had this phone for five years and hope to squeeze one more year out of it. If my phone were behaving stupid, we’d be having a different conversation, but so far it is more than up to the task of running with what I throw at it.

Am I miserable for setting financial priorities? Not at all, but that has a lot to do with not depriving myself of those things that make me happy. If I’m getting up at 5 AM to go to work, I had better damn well come home to a few things that make me feel good. So, yes, I suppose I could cut my Internet, sell some of my electronics, and stop eating out completely in the name of future investment, but doing so could make me resent saving money. To a point, you have to enjoy the here and now. If I get hit by a bus and die tomorrow, I won’t be taking any of my savings with me.

One way you can be frugal, and not skate into cheapskate territory, is by forcing your money to work harder for you. Park your money in a savings account, or money market account, that actually yields good interest, or interest better than the low average we’re currently experiencing.

Where do you draw the line? Are there things you could probably cut out and still be fine? Or, Heaven help you, are you the cheapskate who makes the rest of us look silly?

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