Are You Frugal or Just Cheap? 10 Signs to Watch Out For

difference between being frugal and cheap – checking price tags on clothing

Being frugal means saving money but not at the expense of value. On the other hand, being cheap means saving money…period. However, there is a thin line that divides being frugal and being cheap. The goal is to make sure that you don’t cross that line.

Saving money shouldn’t rob you of your right to a satisfying and fulfilling life. Using resourcefulness and creativity to save money is being frugal. Cutting corners that harm you and those around you—just to save a few bucks—is being cheap. If after taking stock of your spending habits you find yourself leaning towards the cheap, step on the brake and reevaluate how you approach spending.

How Do You Know if You are Cheap?

Spotting the difference between being frugal and being cheap requires a healthy dose of honesty and realistic self-assessment. The most effective way to know if you are crossing the line is to know what is on the other side. Here are a few signs to watch out for.

1. You Constantly Complain About Price

Take heed, if your eyes are constantly drawn towards the price tag every time you shop, then you are in trouble. A more alarming sign—when you start to constantly complain about the price. You gripe at the price of gasoline; you complain to the store clerk about the price of products. Everything for you is just “too pricey.”

2. You Don’t Spend Money Even if the Purchase is Necessary

Your car tires badly need changing or your computer is constantly crashing while working on a project. When you are beginning to risk your safety or compromise efficiency, it’s time to readjust your spending habits.

3. Freeloading has Become Your New Sport

You crash wedding receptions and parties. You ask people to give you free services, such as an accountant friend doing your taxes for you, or suggesting an artist perform for free at your event. Being frugal does not mean saving money at the expense of other people.

4. You Skimp on the Tip

man skimping on tip to waitress - difference between being frugal and cheap

Restaurant servers usually receive a very low hourly wage. Most of their pay comes in the form of customer tips. Skimping on the tip is a major cheapskate indicator. When you tip unfairly, it is at the expense of someone working hard to earn a living.

5. You Go to Potluck Dinners Empty-Handed

No, dinner rolls and a bag of stale tortilla chips are not considered potluck contributions. Bringing these items to a potluck party screams that you’re being cheap not that you’re being frugal. But when you get a hefty serving of that nutty apple cherry slaw or a huge slab of barbecue baked ribs or gobbled down two slices of apple pie ala mode, you’ve just tattooed the word cheap on your forehead.

6. Your House is Full of Clutter

You have accumulated a stash of knick-knacks. You take pens, post-its, and staplers from the office; shampoo, body wash and shaving kits from hotels; and souvenirs from every place you visit. This stash may include broken things too. You have crossed the “cheap” line when you start taking things you don’t need or will never use or things that should really be paid for.

7. You Don’t Recognize that Time is Precious

A cheap person does not see the fact that time is precious. Being frugal means recognizing time as a resource that ought to be used wisely. The time spent on comparing prices, cutting coupons, looking for the best bargains may not be worth it, especially if you are not even saving that much.

8. Your Social Life is Absent

The absence of social life is a symptom that saving money has taken over your life. Foregoing connections and relationships just because you want to save a few bucks is a major red flag. Breaking out from this lifestyle is a must. Who says that you cannot save money while having a social life?

9. You Break the Rules Just to Save Money

The event explicitly states, “Outside food and drinks are not allowed”, yet you sneak in a bottle of water or some snacks. When you begin to break rules just to save money, you have officially crossed the cheap line. Worst, you may even be compromising your values.

10. You Make Unhealthy Food and Lifestyle Choices

A cheap person is more likely to make unhealthy food and lifestyle choices. In extreme cases, it may even put your health at risk. If you’re consuming food past expiration dates, refusing to go to a doctor, or doing unsafe DIY remedies, you’ve gone too far.

How to Free Oneself From Being Cheap

Start by looking at your motivations. Is there a reason why you have a deep-seated need to save money? It will also help if you could identify a specific goal for saving money. Do you want to pay off a loan or are you saving for a trip? Doing this will allow you to set a specific amount of time to reach your financial goals. As soon as you have paid your obligations and reached your goals, then you can start reallocating your resources. Lastly, dare to be kind to yourself. Compromising your health and safety for the sake of saving money will cost you a lot more in the long run.


No matter where you stand in the frugal versus cheap spectrum, how you use your resources or how much you are able to save, is not a measure of your worth. Saving money is a great habit. However, it is best to check in with yourself periodically to make sure you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.

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Imee Rabang is a blogger/writer and bilingual poet from Manila, Philippines. She is an advocate of Philippine culture and supports causes that promote language and national identity. She juggles her time between work, parenthood, and community outreach programs. She also dabbles in photography and graphic arts in her free time.

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