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.
THINGS I CONSIDER NON-ESSENTIAL
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?
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.)
SO DOES IT ACTUALLY MATTER IN THE END?
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.
OH WAIT, BUT IT’S BECAUSE I’M A TRAVELING MINIMALIST, RIGHT?
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
MAYBE YOU WOULD FEEL BETTER ABOUT MY SPENDING IF I LIED
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.
SO WHAT’S THE DARN DIFFERENCE?
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?