Frugal? Or Just Plain Cheap?

by Debra Karplus

For some, it is a very fine line between being frugal and being cheap. Consider the following dilemmas when manners and ethics collide with frugality. stated that “It can be hard to do the right thing when no one is watching and doing the wrong thing will get you short term gain.”

You have probably already figured out that being frugal can be one of the best ways to better yourself financially, but with the apparent decline in good manners in American culture, sometimes being frugal can conflict with being considerate and thoughtful of others. Sometimes it might feel like you are living your life as if a camera is watching you! It seems that these days, there are no secrets in this world! Yes, one can, in fact, remain frugal and still look out for the other guy or gal and go to sleep each night with a clear conscience.

There are many dilemmas that people encounter in their everyday lives. Here are just a few conflicts and some solutions that will make everyone happy. You probably could add a few of your own.

Frugal vs. Cheap: Store Samplings

That trail mix at the natural food store or supermarket that’s sold in bulk from a bin looks delicious. But you’ve never tried it before and don’t even recognize the name of some of the ingredients. Nobody is likely to notice if you dip your hand into the bin and sample some before buying it. But, there are many reasons not to do this, not to mention that it is extremely unsanitary.

Win-win solution:

Ask a store employee if it is okay to have a small sample before buying it. Ice cream stores frequently offer small samples and other places do, too. This assures high customer satisfaction, as you, the customer, is more likely to end up with a product that you are certain to enjoy. The store probably has some safe and sanitary way to provide you with a sample or two, such as a small spoon or cup, a napkin, a small plastic bag, or a toothpick. So don’t be shy about asking for a sample before you buy; there is a high probability that you will be given one, and with a smile.

Frugal vs. Cheap: Bad Buys

You have purchased a new item at a store such as clothing or a folding table to use at your next party. You used it only once with the idea that you would keep it forever. But you quickly discover after just one use that it really was a bad fit, damaged in some way, or just not what you thought you were buying for one reason or another.

Win-win solution:

Retailers want their customers to be happy with the product or service that they bought. If you are disappointed in something you bought and have not done anything unreasonable to it, bring it back to the store with all the packaging and tags and your receipt. By the way, you should never be in too big of a hurry to discard that packaging in case there is some legitimate reason to return the item.

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Frugal vs. Cheap: First Time Discounts

A salon, such as for a haircut, manicure or pedicure, or a massage offers a generous discount if you are a first-time customer. You really liked the service when you went there as a first-time customer, not to mention that great price. You’d like to return there, but you wish you could still get the discount. What to do? There is a place across town that offers those great prices, but you’ve heard that they don’t have such a great reputation.

Win-win solution:

Call the place you like and tell them about the great deal at the other place. Often retailers will match the price of a competitor. It happens more often that you might think and is worth at least asking.

Frugal vs. Cheap: Coupon Capers

You have been able to save money at home on newspaper delivery by reading the local paper at the public library. The Sunday paper is loaded with valuable coupons, many of which are for products that your family frequently uses. Though it may be tempting to clip those out of the newspaper, it may not be fair to other library patrons.

Win-win solution:

Ask the librarian if they could save the paper for you and you will come back to pick it up at a time most convenient for the library. And if that doesn’t work, splurge just a bit and just buy the Sunday paper and skip those days that don’t have coupons inserted. Or try looking online. Some retailers have coupons online using sites like Check it out!

Reviewed April 2019

Where do you draw the line between being frugal or just plain cheap?

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1 Comment
  1. I would like to add a comment about the Sunday paper. We have Dollar Stores that sell the paper on Sunday for $1.00. It comes with the coupons, and all of the store’s ads. That’s 50% off the regular price.

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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