Monday, June 23, 2014

Cheap versus Frugal Living

When I first started this blog, I caught a lot of flack for my seemingly conflicted new year's resolutions. I had goals for myself that included, among other things, adhering to a strict budget and eating more quality foods.

“I guess Whole Foods is off limits!” people would smirk. Because I was putting myself on a budget, they assumed there was no way I would be able to meet my food goal, which admittedly would require me to spend a little more on my sustenance. (Even in my own family, Whole Foods is sometimes referred to as "Whole Paycheck.")

But it didn’t have to be that way: My goal of sticking to my budget and eating quality were not mutually exclusive. You see, the people who made comments about my inability to buy quality foods were overlooking something really important: the difference between being frugal and being cheap.

Hi. My name is Abby and I try to be really, really frugal. (Hi, Abby.) I live in a small apartment, I almost never buy clothes, and I stick to a list when I shop at places like the grocery store and Target. I also use every little dollop of soap before I buy more, and I freeze herbs I don’t use so I don’t have to see them go to waste.

Eek! What a horrid life! You might say. Never buy new clothes?

And to that I say… I've decided on my priorities. By being frugal, last year I was able to travel to Israel, Turkey, New York (4x), San Francisco, and Oregon. I also shopped at Whole Foods and the famers market every week.

…And more than that, I saved 16 percent of my income.

My ability to do this came down to the difference between being frugal (me!) and cheap: A frugal person saves money by eliminating waste and maximizing value. A cheap person saves money by not spending it or spending as little as possible, no matter the item.

This difference gives us frugal people a bad rap. As a frugal person, I don’t begrudge spending on the necessities for my health, like doctor’s appointments and a yoga studio I know I’ll use. I also prioritize my wants so that my money is maximized – I want to get the most happiness for my buck. In my case, my dollars are well spent when I buy high quality food and get to travel to fun places. 

And while I’m not going to lie – it would be great if I could by new clothes all the time – my money just doesn’t stretch that far. So I’ve prioritized! It's like a game - determining which thing matters more to me, so these dollars aren't wasted. And the unintended benefit - the best part  of this game - is that when you are forced to choose, you enjoy the heck out of what you've chosen.

Wondering whether you’re cheap or frugal? Here’s a chart to help:

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