Save. Spend. Splurge.

Should I be called out for not spending in “acceptable” categories?

Cheap = Someone who won’t spend money on anything. Period. It’s unthinkable for them to spend money.

Frugal = Someone who spends where it matters, but is careful with their money.

Those were the definitions that were ingrained in my brain, but apparently they’re not correct.

I’m being told that I am totally wrong about what “frugal” means.

Cheap is easy.

Think “Cheapskate”, or people who steal ketchup packets to squeeze them into large bottles, and take plastic cutlery from McDonald’s to use at home in lieu of real cutlery.

Sometimes, they even do home projects on the cheap that don’t work out because they’re TOO DAMN CHEAP to pay for a professional or the right tools to get the job done.

(Yes I am talking about someone in particular.. 😛 )

We all know those people. Heck, you might even be nodding along saying: That’s me!

Frugal? Not so easy.

Apparently, being “frugal” means being.. well, cheap.

Frankly, I don’t see the difference based on what people are telling me.

There is NO WORD out there for people like me who don’t spend on things that don’t matter to them, even though everyone thinks it’s a basic essential.

There is nothing for someone like me who likes to spend their money on things that matter but not on things that don’t.


A lot of people consider these things part of an normal budget:

  • TV = Don’t own one, sold it 7 years ago and the only TV I watch is if there’s one in a hotel
  • Internet = I have it, but it’s not really essential to my life, I could do without it if I had to
  • Cellphone = Don’t have a landline, but I share a cellphone with BF ($10 each person)

(No it’s not a smartphone either. That’s right up there with non-essential for me.)

  • Car = Don’t own one myself, I rent when I need to, but I prefer to walk or take the subway.
  • House = Don’t own one.
  • Commercial Cleaning Supplies = I have baking soda, vinegar, soap, water, elbow grease.
  • Commercial Hair Stuff = No shampoo (I use soap nuts), no conditioner, no hair dye or products.
  • Commercial Body Stuff = I use coconut oil now which has surprisingly cured my eczema.
  • Laundry Stuff = I don’t use detergent in my laundry, nor do I use dryer sheets (they hang dry).
  • Eating out = This is a treat and I always make my own lunch when I work.
  • Tea Lattes = This is also a treat. I don’t do it unless I have a meeting / social function.

Looking at that list above, wouldn’t you say that it seems so far, that I’m someone who would be conventionally “frugal”?

I can’t say “cheap” because I don’t eat $1 cans of food from Dollarama, but I don’t buy what people normally buy in a household.

Yet I’m not frugal at all to many, because I spent the one-time equivalent of what people would spend on their monthly car payment, on an underwear wardrobe to last me for 5 years ($600).

No one cares that their car payment will continue to take out $600 a month, and the car will continue to depreciate each year as well!

No matter that my underwear will last me 5 years, and is not Made in China… it is INCREDIBLY NOT FRUGAL to spend more than $1 – $10 on a single pair of underwear that doesn’t fall apart after 6 months or a year.

It’s simply unthinkable that we could pay fair wages for things that seem so ordinary?

It should be kept really.. really… cheap… because no one sees it on a regular basis, except for our partners, so therefore it has no value.

(Also we just don’t know what fair wages means any more for anything, having been spoiled by cheap Chinese labour.)

A car however?

Oh no.

No no no no.

“You can’t be seen in a secondhand, beat up car! You need to get something new to show that you’re successful and you’ve made it, even if you’re rocking $1 panties from Dollarama that stink of plastic fumes.

Yeah I’ve been (politely) told that before by family members and friends, about how a very old minivan was not a sign that I was a success.

When I donated the car to charity, I thought that was a good sign of success as I didn’t need to sell the car for even $500. But what the heck do I know?

So when I spend the equivalent of someone’s recurring bill of satellite TV, cable and telephone bill, on some makeup brushes in one month, but that’s not considered frugal.

What’s considered frugal, is if someone spends $200 or $280 (my parents & what these guys pay) on a Satellite TV / High-Speed Internet / Landline Telephone package, which comes out to $2400 to $3360 a year.


However if I take that same amount of money and spend it on irregular purchases that matter to me, I am not “frugal”, even if those expenses of $1000 were a one-time cost and don’t happen every month unlike their cable/telephone/internet bills or car payments.

Does anyone else see that as screwed up?

(Ignoring the fact that is it my money to spend and not yours, of course.

See, I don’t particularly care what you think about me as a person, I’m only interested in our discussion about money and spending.)


Let’s look at two scenarios of earners (assuming they’re both single):

If someone earning $50,000 a year (net), spends $30,000 of it on housing (a mortgage), food, and transportation, and someone else earns and spends the same amount of money, but it very little goes to housing (they rent a small studio), but they like to travel instead, doesn’t it equal out to be the same?

$50,000 – $30,000 = $20,000 saved each year

They’re both spending $30,000 and saving the same amounts $20,000.

Does it really matter where the money goes, if it means the same thing in the end?

Person A is seen as a paragon of frugal virtue, only spending $2500 a month on her house, eating ramen, and paying for transportation, because she’s “building equity” in her home, and saving $20K to boot.

Person B would be judged for NOT spending money on a home and transportation and WOULD be judged on traveling because really, it isn’t “frugal”.

Plus, who does he think he is? Some fancy boy, eating organic food instead of ramen to save money?

He could just live in his studio apartment, continue biking to work, and stop traveling (his passion), and save more money so that he too can buy a house with a huge mortgage payment later on and feel trapped.

“He could save SOOOO MUCH MORRRRRE!!!!”, moan all the people reading his transparent budget online, splayed out for the world to analyze and criticize without posting THEIR own numbers to see.

“WHAT A WASTE OF PERFECTLY GOOD MONEY!”, snipe the others who wish he would give the money to them instead to pay off their consumer debt that they spent on cheap clothing that didn’t even outlast the payments to their credit card.

Their priorities are different, but the net, end result is the same, financially speaking.

Although you could argue that Person A is building principal in her home in addition to saving $20,000, but I’d like to point out that she’s also eating ramen to afford it, whereas Person B is eating actual food.

I’d also argue that Person B is in a better shape for long-term longevity and health from the food he eats, because he’s also biking and walking instead of taking a car to boot.

Can’t enjoy your money if you’re sick and dying of a multitude of preventable diseases.


I’m more like Person B, although I don’t bike anywhere (too dangerous, especially in Toronto).

I don’t spend on stuff that I consider non-essential (recurring bills for cable TV for instance, don’t interest me in the slightest when there’s Hulu available), and my choices on where I decide to put that money instead, shouldn’t matter.

Instead, because I don’t have a mortgage where I can stick $1500 a month (and proudly call it “building equity”), when in fact I’ll end up paying double the original price of my house in the long-term just in interest charges alone and be worse off than investing in the stock market, I am not spending “frugally”.

For that, I’m considered a ‘minimalist’, which exempts me from trying to claim any credit for any financial sense or benefit to not owning that stuff or paying each month for it.

Oh wait. Let me correct myself.

I am an an overspending non-frugal minimalist, because I did just spend $600 on underwear not made in sweatshops. O_o


What if I hid $600 I spent on underwear as an expense under some random, conventionally-acceptable category?

Or maybe if I told you I owned a home (a fictitious one), and I put everything I didn’t want to admit publicly, under “Housing”? Or “Transportation”?

Maybe “Household Supplies”.

Yeah. Underwear and makeup brushes can go there, can’t it?

I mean I could technically use the makeup brushes to.. er.. dust my home. 😀

I don’t get it. I really don’t because from my point of view, it works out to be the same thing in the end, without the lies.

I’d rather spend that same amount of money elsewhere, where it actually matters to me and my life, and if that isn’t frugal (not cheap), I don’t know what is.

Or maybe frugal = cheap?

I’d rather spend the money on food, traveling, doing what I want, not having to work 100% of the year, and on products that aren’t made in sweatshops.

… but that isn’t frugal, because if I am able buy things in sweatshops or in factories that don’t even pay a living wage overseas, I should, just to save a buck to put it in my spreadsheet as my net worth increase.

I should be downright selfish and think only of me and my bank account (which is what I was definitely doing before).

Heaven forbid that I don’t save that buck, and pay it to keep companies and independent workers I support in business because that is NOT frugal to pay for fair wages, and I should be shamed for it, even if I, as a single-income earner, save a lot more money than others in my income bracket.

In that case, why don’t I just stop donating to charities altogether as well?

I should be a selfish brat and just keep all the money for myself, in my bank account, growing my net worth instead of giving it to people in need when I can afford to do so.

Can we just acknowledge the hypocrisy if I didn’t spend anything and donated my money to charities to help these Third World countries it would be rather two-faced and ironic to then turn around and support these same companies who exploit the very workers I am trying to help with my dollar?

Why don’t I donate to charity AND support businesses who don’t exploit them?

I’d like to help everyone in general with my money, including my countrymen by trying my best to support Canadian businesses, not just helping people in Third World countries or countries that were in need (like Japan).

Anyway, even if you buy “ethically”, we all know that some of those companies are full of crap these days.


Someone needs to explain to me the difference between frugal and cheap, more on the frugal side than the cheap.

Someone needs to also tell me what it is called when someone like me doesn’t spend on stuff people conventionally think is important for their life and home, and uses the money elsewhere instead.

Conscious spending, perhaps? Consender?

Priority spender? Prender?


  • Daniel

    This is a very good article but ai do want to say that a house is better than an apartment because that’s something you can pass down if you have children.

  • Helen


    Long time reader here, we’re talking back when you were using Blogspot. 🙂

    Buying quality items means saving money over the long run. Buying quality makes us socially and environmentally responsible consumers, especially with another deadly factory in Bangladesh making the news. Buying quality is a rejection of our disposible culture, where it’s all just accumulated stuff in the end.

    We live in a free society where people are allowed make their own buying choices. However, it’s also really easy to criticize those choices. I’d like to think that there is civility amongst all of us who are interested in personal finance, but the Internet makes it that much easier to criticize and then hide behind the screen.

    I say carry on with your quality mission, and strive towards Buy It for Life. Ignore the naysayers. I’ll continue reading.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Goodness me, you ARE a long-time reader if you remember Blogspot 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to hunt me down!!!

      I am somewhat open to criticism (I’ve done stupid money things in hindsight and it took some browbeating but I came around to see the point), but this is definitely one area I won’t back down on.

  • Aleksie

    I thought the issue was the princess-pauper analogy? And I understood your use of “pauper” was to be catchy, but I also understand how some folks were taken aback. It initially reminded me of people I know who think they’re poor and think I’m rich, but I’m also not spending $30-40 on alcohol per week. Approximately the same income, different priorities. It bristles me and when I see people talking about money like that, it does trigger a gut reaction. Not saying you’re like that (you seem prudent with your money and get the differences in privilege), but just trying to explain where people may be coming from.

    To me, cheapness and frugality are choices. The difference, though, is cheap people cut corners to the point of harming or causing displeasure in themselves or others. I think of someone who refuses to tip waitstaff, who buys something that kind of fills their needs but lacks important things (like buying overly processed food instead of healthy stuff). YMMV, but I always think of people who are being cheap are rather selfish.

    A frugal person would optimize his/her money to the best of their ability and get what they need/want but at the best price. So buying things that are on sale or buying used, buying food in season. Still high quality, just the person is prioritizing what’s most important and being thoughtful in how the money is spent.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Oh yes, cheap people are definitely selfish.

      I always think: Don’t go out to eat if you can’t afford to tip the waiter/waitress. It’s really unethical and RUDE, because it’s their job.

      I like your explanations, especially the bit about getting it at the best price. Perhaps that’s where I am not being clear enough or frugal enough. I suppose I could have gotten my things on sale, but things like underwear are more necessary and immediate than let’s say a down duvet.

  • Tania

    I’m baaacck. I just wanted to let you know you got me thinking, “where the hell are my panties made?!” I know where my bras are made but I had no clue about the stretch lace wonders I pay $20 to $29 a pop for. Made in the USA sista!

    They are hanky panky by the way. I’d like to say I bought them for their USA origin but quite honestly it’s because they don’t cut into my fat and they’re not too hot (it’s humid in Hawaii). Sadly they don’t last five years though, I restock once a year or every other year.

  • Bridget

    Again (and always) this is why you’re my favorite

  • Keenyn

    I think you are doing so well and you are such an inspiration! Thank you for this post, it’s exactly what I want to get too!

  • MelD

    Well, one word would be “old-fashioned”.
    Like me. Frugal is what all the older generation in our family were and great role models: when you need something, buy the best possible quality and look after it.

    Too many people today are cheap – usually “cheap and nasty” in my experience.
    Frugal is often sustainable, cheap is rarely so…

  • jeweliette23

    People always get judgmental about how other people spend their money. But I think as long as they’re not “cheaping” out on generosity, then it’s their business. Like I HATE people who are quick to spend money on themselves but then when it comes to their friends and family, they’re so selfish, if you know what I mean.

    As for the $600 underwear, are you planning on hand washing each week? Otherwise, I’m not sure how even expensive underwear can hold up beyond a year or two. I’ve also gradually become a BIFL but don’t consider underwear (or pantyhose) worth the money due to personal experience. I will spend $200 though on good flats since I wear them weekly and on a good winter coat being in the Northeast (love my $1000+ Burberry!).

  • Pauline

    I have a similar list of non essentials, except for internet since I am away from almost everything. In the city I could live with free wifi here and there. And the house, since I am not moving around anymore, I do have one. My mother always asks if I need money since I don’t have all that stuff…

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      My mom always tries to give me money because she thinks I need it. I keep handing it back to her.

      They think if I don’t own a huge house, have lots of cars and fancy things, I’m not successful and I’m struggling. They can’t understand that I don’t want a TV or a smartphone, it’s not that I don’t need one. I don’t want it.

  • Cassie

    Well, as a home owning, car driving, latte swilling PF blogger, I can only really say one thing about it:

    Their definition of frugal is F-ed up.


  • LAL

    I too am floored you expect $600 for 7 underwears and 2 bras to last 5 years. The cost doesn’t bother me underwear does costs, but if you gain any weight? Have kids? Breastfeed? Um don’t expect the bras to fit. I think that BIFL is not necessarily always the case. Did I mention for women during pregnancy often times feet go up in size because ligaments get loose? Or beer bellies get in the way of pants for men?

    But that aside, i don’t think people should judge. But frugal I think is more people who may grow their own food, do everything from scratch and really stretch their dollars. Travelling wouldn’t be on the radar because they are about saving every penny. Not eating unhealthy but rather expending energy to grow chickens, veggies, can veggies, etc.

    But I also don’t think that you are weird for your spending. Many people spend that way. I know a guy who lives cheaper than you so he can afford to fly as a hobby. Crazy to spend $100/hr flying when he makes $30k/year? Yeah so he spends as minimal as possibly to do it. He doens’t own a car, he rents, lives with roommates, etc. Everything he does is in terms of flying. I think he’s hilarious. But it’s about priorities.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      I am going to make it last, just you wait!!!!!!

      I actually lost weight, but I’m back down to my normal weight as I was back in high school. It’s hard to get me fat… As for having kids and breastfeeding, obviously I need bras for that, but I’ll be losing the weight from breastfeeding the kid, and I’ll more than likely go back down to my regular size (as my mom and grandmothers did).

      The feet of mine have already gone up in size from birth control pills. I’m now an 7.5 not a 7, so I’ve already been buying shoes in an 8, which means they’ll fit great after I have kids.

  • Amber

    May I recommend the term “financially disciplined”? 🙂

    And I was wondering if the amount of underwear you bought would really last 5 years; that seems a bit unrealistic unless you are doing something absolutely amazing with your laundry that helps it last that long. O_O

    Underwear, to me, is something you wear daily and so the increased wear and tear would lessen the longevity of the item no matter how well-made or how much you paid for it. I would think that $600 would be your initial investment, as you have already made, and then each year you might add one or two pairs/items of underwear so that you might consistently have a well-stocked underwear drawer. Or do you actually plan not to buy any new underwear at all for 5 years? In which case, kudos, but I’m still mind-boggled by it, haha..

    (I use the underwear as an example but I’m really curious as to how this would apply to anything in your life. Nothing is indestructible, after all, and you never know when you might take up a hobby or lifestyle change that would necessitate a material investment.)

  • Tania

    This is why I love reading your posts. You have an opinion (a strong one) and you’re not afraid to share it.

    In general, I see so many people on many PF sites commenting on how a story they read is not relatable to their life instead of focusing on what they can take away from an article, post or commentary. So, maybe they wouldn’t drop bucks on make-up brushes made in China but maybe, unlike you, they definitely need wheels. That’s okay, they can still learn a thing or two from you without being exactly like you. The lesson that could be taken away is, “what are my values and how do my purchases or spending reflect that?”. Or “what items in my life aren’t important that I could give up and what items could I buy at a higher quality but buy less of over time”. I think the focus should be less on what you spent on and more on the thought process you went through to make that decision.

    Just my two cents.

    I always try to take away something from everything I read. If I tried to only learn from someone exactly like me, I’d have no material, quite honestly. There are no FP writers that I’m aware of with financial day jobs, former shopaholic, blogs about design and minimalism, lives in Hawaii, without children, divorced, gained 40 lbs in one year and loves living in a small space. Seriously, find one for me, will ya.

  • SarahN

    Yeah I’m with Leslie. I get that you want discussion, I do, but it seems to be a bit of a fighting tone.

    I did just post on buying $300 shoes, so rest assured, I’m not on some high horse. However, I also value owning property (and paying the HUGE mortgage), as I know it may grow in value, I have stability in where I live and many other whims met (like, I like decorating and making the place my own). As such, I know I judge those who decide to rent forever. It’s just my lens. Everyone’s got one (including those you’re defending yourself to).

    Frugal, to me, would mean that you spend as little as practical on all categories by doing the non conventional – ie BYO shopping bags, or making your own shampoo. Cheap is not getting health insurance or not shouting a friend a coffee or a meal once in a while. That’s how I split it. I don’t think I’m either. I’m spend conscious, I don’t like to have no money, I like to have savings, and I like to plan for nice things (holidays, a good vacuum, a fancy meal out). I like to be ready for emergencies. I also like to be able to feel and be generous, despite wanting to save lump sums of money/pay off my mortgage. It’s a balancing act, it really is.

  • Leslie

    Some of your recent posts have been a bit defensive. I hope you don’t really take blog comments personally!

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Makes for good blog posting fodder actually, but what I’ve noticed is that if you don’t take blog comments somewhat personally then you aren’t writing anything worth arguing about or discussing.

      People who write bland posts, get bland comments or none at all and are better off not writing than writing something mediocre but uninspiring even if it is controversial.

  • Tracy

    I’ve been reading the past few posts you’ve written about this subject.

    While I do agree with you that you are entitled to spend your money the way you wish, I can’t help but notice that you don’t spend a lot of money on social activities and prefer to purchase ‘things’.

    For example, a lot of people spend money on dining out, not because of the food, but because it’s a way to socialize with company. Maybe you prefer to have people come over to your house so you can cook for them, but there has to be times when your girlfriends go out on the weekend and you say no because you don’t feel like spending the $40 on a dinner. (I could be completely wrong but this is the vibe I get)

    The same goes for things like movies, plays, the theatre, going to a bar or a concert. Maybe these things are not important to your interests, but they are for the majority of people in their 20’s. You don’t seem to spend any money on these activities … ?

    Perhaps that’s why people take your ‘frugality’ as cheapness. Cheap people prefer to spend only on themselves and not on others. (I know you donate to charity, which is great) Just my two cents here.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Actually my point was more that people don’t think I’m Cheap or Frugal.

      You’re arguing in the opposite direction!! 🙂

      I’m neither because even though I don’t spend on eating out and doing those things, it doesn’t count if it isn’t in acceptable categories of spending.

      I do already spend money on eating out with friends but I am SURE that people don’t just go out with friends to eat out, they do it just because they’re too lazy to cook.

      As for spending money on things my budget in the last year and a half has been over $20K in traveling plus taking about 2-ish years to do nothing but relax.

      If that isn’t an experience, I don’t know what is.

      My point has been more that I don’t spend in conventional categories but people don’t take that into account because where I do decide to prioritize my money and spend my cash on what I actually want, doesn’t matter.

      I also just blog about things I buy because people are interested but I will bet if people actually posted everything they bought the way I did, you’d be surprised at how much they do spend in a month when you see it in one post.

      It’s just that no one talks about it, it’s all hidden in categories and while they might spend $200 on an armuful of stuff from F21, I’m spending the same amount on a few makeup brushes.

      It works out to be the same thing.

  • Erin @ Red Debted Stepchild

    This. *applauds* Seriously, screw “acceptable categories”. These people are striving for the American/Canadian dream and can’t even fathom that other people might have different priorities. They are narrow-minded and perhaps a bit jealous.

    Haters gonna hate. (Jesus Christ, Erin, did you just say that? Yes, yes I did.)

  • Tim

    It is funny that a lot of people when they start blogging on PF do tend to think that ‘their way’ is the ‘right way’ after a while. Yet when you think about it the answer is ‘there is no right way’. Due to free will and personal preferences there are literally millions of ways to do things. Buy for life if you want, buy it cheap if you want, find what ever screwed up way you need to, but make sure it works for you.

    It’s hard not to judge others, but we really need to learn how. My five cents. 😉

  • nicoleandmaggie

    Or you could be like a lot of pf bloggers and just state that your choices are the best and only choices. Give it your own name, and trademark it. “The Mochimac approach”…. profit.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies

    Hard to say since I don’t know exactly what you’re buying, but it seems like you’re trying to follow a more BIFL (Buy It For Life) theme with your purchases. Buy It For Life usually means that whatever X you buy it will be the last X you buy for life (or some very long time).
    Mr. PoP is totally a BIFL person. Everything he wants is expensive, but it will literally be the LAST thing in that category he buys for decades (or longer).

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      BF is a BIFL person. He wants everything to last for years, which is why he dropped $500 on a pair of shoes recently. I’m turning into a BIFL person although I am realistic that things don’t last forever, and they need to be repaired 🙂

  • Vanessa

    I love this post so much. SO many people judge me for traveling but if I ever commented on someone’s FB photo of her riding to the club in a stretch limo *I* would be the one attacked by people. Whatevs.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Have you ever watched the series Departures? You’d love it. Scott and Justin travel the world and film the experience with Andre and it is right up your alley. Now they can’t stop traveling, they love it too much and I’m sure they don’t have anything significant saved beyond their earnings on the DVDs.

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