Frugal vs. Cheap

In the great transition from Clueless Consumer to Badass Mustachian, a person must first overcome a significant obstacle: the perception that Frugal, Cheap, Tightwad and various other words all mean the same thing, and that they are all nasty conditions that we should try to avoid.

So I’ve been meaning to lay down the law on this issue for some time. If you’ve read “Frugality is the New Fanciness“, you know that being frugal just means displaying some skill and good judgement in the way you spend your money – and thus it is a mark of status far greater than conspicuous consumption. Only about 1/300th of the US population has read that particular article so far, but once they do, our country’s desire to show off by making unnecessary purchases will be cured. No problem.

But that still leaves the issue of cheapness to be dealt with. What about Ebenezer Scrooge? What about the new reality TV series that a reader forwarded to me called “Extreme Cheapskates“?

Since you’re probably too busy to watch the actual video, I’ll give you the executive summary: In the linked episode, an unfortunate-looking man with really bad hair is profiled in his various money-saving adventures around town: scraping food off of the plates of other restaurant diners, asking for extra ketchup packets so he can refill his ketchup containers at home, and washing and reusing paper napkins, which he leaves hanging all over his kitchen.

Peppered throughout the show are voice-overs like “Roy estimates that over the last ten years, he has saved nearly $2000 by reusing paper towels”*.

Now, I’m not one of the standard douchebag consumers who derides any attempt to save money as pathetic. I’ve read plenty of misguided shit that internet commenters have made about my own lifestyle, and it is clear that the complainers do not get it. So I suspect that Roy is actually having a pretty good time with his little tricks, and whether his math is right or not, he’s doing pretty well overall.

But I would also guess that anyone who follows his lead might suffer severe social stigma for being “cheap”, and for many of us that is not an acceptable outcome.

Being cheap works perfectly well for many people. If you’re older, safely protected from the dating world from within the confines of a long-term relationship, and employed in a field where the cheapness doesn’t hold you back, you’re set. As your age and wealth grows, you may naturally give less of a shit about any irrational preferences of younger society.

But I’ve made the entire journey from teenager to greybeard with a strong appreciation for the value of money, but an even stronger desire to be part of society, to have friends, girlfriends, fancy jobs, and some social status. For better or for worse, I like being part of a social scene, and while I have no problem with doing things my own way, I try not to let my quirky preferences get in the way of these lifestyle goals.

Imagine a high-school or university student who is in a rich city and looking for love. In this situation, squeezing out ketchup packets, wearing stained green 1980s sweatpants from a thrift shop, or refusing to go out on the town with friends can seriously cramp your chances of success.

Or perhaps you’re a young professional worker in the financial industry. If your boss and coworkers wear crisply ironed blue shirts and suit jackets around the 54th floor office, while you insist on freebie conference t-shirts and Wal-mart jeans, your cheapness is not helping you get ahead.

Even in married life, canvassing the tables of the other restaurant diners to ask if you can take home their leftovers while your wife covers her eyes in shame, is an exercise in penny-wise and pound-foolish behavior.

But yet, there are other ways where frugality (rather than cheapness) is a win/win situation: the student who walks to campus instead of driving, or the finance professional who foregoes an expensive wine-collecting hobby, or the married Mustachian who lifts weights in his basement instead of joining the $200 per month health club downtown can save money with frugality without suffering any downside.

What makes the difference between frugal and cheap? Mr. Money Mustache has some guidelines to help you walk the fine line.

It’s (almost) all in your Mind:

Many of the worst spending addicts are buying things because of purely imaginary fantasies about the social status they will get. A specific brand of $400 purse or a Mercedes GL550. At this level, they are well beyond the lower threshold of what is required to fit in socially, and may even be popping out of the other end of normalcy, where people will wonder why the hell they buy such expensive stuff. I know several CEOs of multimillion dollar companies who are perfectly content to be seen in a Honda CR-V, and plenty of fashionable Los-Angelesy people who do not follow fashion brands at all. The key is that these people still understand social norms, but they are confident about not needing to stand out at the high end of them. And that confidence earns them far more respect than expensive products could ever attract.

Frugal does not mean Owning Mostly Crap:

A cheap person may live for decades with the sorriest old fridge he could find on Craigslist. A frugal person might have a relatively new and even rather luxurious fridge, and yet spend less money owning and operating it. Similarly, the frugal person might own a more expensive bike or pair of shoes. The key to this counter-intuitive trick is to factor in things like energy consumption, longevity, time saved by owning a more effective product, and even life satisfaction derived from having a few very good things that you use every day. Frugal people still get to own and enjoy top-quality assets, tools, and investments.

Don’t spend excessively on yourself, but don’t be afraid to spend on others: 

When you’re on a first date or out with friends, it may be perfectly appropriate to pick up the tab, spontaneously buy pitchers of beer, and otherwise burn off a week’s worth of grocery money in four hours. And do it without worrying a bit, because you know you can afford it in the long run. If you do it right, you’re buying experiences you’ll remember for a lifetime and building friendships of similar longevity.

The key is in what you do between these lifetime experiences. If you attempt to re-create them in the same way every weekend, you’re just building your career as an alcoholic. If you also pamper yourself with iPads, massages, and salon haircuts on the off days, you’re just creating a person who needs Pampers. So you can selectively spend to capture those fleeting Good Times… but live more like a spartan warrior when nobody’s around.

Make fun of Yourself, but don’t Embarrass Others:

On a typical day, I can be seen biking around town in a paint-splattered lumberjack shirt, patched jeans, and work boots, pulling a bike trailer full of groceries and/or power tools. To me, it feels more showy than a Mercedes, because I’m out riding in the sun while everyone else works. But the Mercedes drivers passing me may think I’m an unemployed hooligan. Occasionally, I’ll show up at the school to meet my son in this condition, and I find the other parents are dressed in their office worker or doctor or teacher clothing. Nobody seems to care at all, and I get a huge running hug from the boy when I arrive.

On the other hand, if I had a teenage daughter giving the valedictorian speech at the high school, I might not show up in my painting clothes. And at a restaurant, I never ask strangers for their leftovers, no matter how yummy they might look. It’s because these actions would embarrass others, and so my frugality would be inflicting pain on others even if I enjoyed it myself. It would become cheapness.

Use Social Responsibility as a Guide:

If you forego German SUV ownership, you’re not hurting society. In fact, you’re probably helping by eliminating a bunch of mining and fossil-fuel burning. On the other hand, if you dump your trash in the forest to avoid paying the city’s garbage fees, or haggle endlessly with the manager at the big-box store to get things for free, you’re not helping anyone but yourself.  Canceling TV service and taking up the more productive hobby of reading library books is Frugal. Saving the same amount of money by voting down property tax funding for your local school system is Cheap.

Physical fitness is a nice Substitute for style:

As a close companion to the first point about mental conditioning, comes the issue of your physical form. If you’re already so confident about yourself that you don’t care what the outside world thinks, good for you – you can skip this step. But for the rest of us who could benefit from a reassuring ally in life, solid physical fitness is a nice one.

Although it is a form of discrimination, fit people are considered more attractive in our culture, and attractive people get hugely unfair benefits in all areas of life. Dating, business hiring and promotion, and even presidential elections are strongly influenced not just by how competent people are, but also on the purely physical impression they make. You can totally game this system just by giving yourself a generally athletic form. The boost in self-confidence combined with the actual change in how other people view you can create a virtuous circle. You will earn more money, even as you can confidently get away with more Frugal tricks without taking shit from your friends and coworkers. And all this shallow appearance stuff is of course just the icing on the cake of living a longer and more energetic life in general!

Artsy-ness Makes Cheap Stuff Cool:

My mom is an artist and my younger brother is an indie rock musician. They’re creative and eccentric and great, but they don’t make a lot of money with that talent. So both of them have scraped by for many years on incomes that most people would consider inadequate. But when you visit them, there is not a sense of cheap deprivation in their homes… instead there is just really interesting coolness. Bizarre found objects get adopted and shaped into stylish pieces of artwork, unsightly nooks in an old brick wall get painted and become chic shelves you wish you had at home, and scribbly drawings and tour posters somehow work just right for the audience. I’ve seen my brother, wearing old thrift store discards and 1980s pinstriped suit pants, rock a packed venue of hipsters until tears streamed from their eyes. The lesson is that artistic expression is an excellent substitute for using money to be appreciated.

Choose Wise Friends, not Vacuous Consumer Drones:

Although these tips are designed to keep you on the good side of society as a whole, you can also fine-tune the crowd with whom you choose to hang. There are still some circles of people caught up hopelessly in consumer lifestyles – those who jet out for trips to the shopping mall between episodes of reality TV shows. But luckily, there are plenty of people who are not like this, and they want to be your friends too. The battle to maintain a better lifestyle will be much easier if you pick the right crowd.

So let’s draw a line between frugal and cheap. You can be as badass as you want about frugality, and yet you can still shed society’s scornful comments about what it means to be cheap, all while being confident that you are doing the Right Thing.

*which sounds like bad math to me. Would you really spend almost $200/year on paper towels? I probably spend less than $10.00, and that includes a few bucks for washing and replacing luxurious dish towels and cloth napkins as needed.

  • Spring October 24, 2012, 7:00 am

    Been reading your blog for a week or so now, from a link from Frugal Babe. Love the site! Love the fact that you talk common sense, swear and drink! Am planning to read all your posts and absorb the Mustachian Knowledge.
    Cheers from the U.K.

    • C October 24, 2012, 10:42 pm

      I’m from Hawaii and just happened upon this blog. I intend to retire by end of May next year. MMM has a lot of good points. Just make it a goal to reitre early and it can be achieved. BTW I intend to reitire @ 53 yrs. Not the best early retirement, but better than 65.

      • RetiredToWin Alex April 21, 2015, 11:57 am

        And one of MMM’s really good points that “C” is alluding to above has to be the concept of practicing frugality without sacrifice. Of finding smart ways to be frugal (thrifty) WITHOUT giving up any important features of one’s lifestyle.

        In MMM’s article, that guy scraping food off other people’s restaurant plates has — in my book, anyway — basically given up altogether on having a reasonably decent lifestyle. It certainly does not have to be that way. Following the concept of frugality without sacrifice, I’ve been able to reduce my basic living expenses by 42% and bring them down to $15,000 a year. And that enabled me to earlier retire at 53 (and, yes C, that’s a damn sight better than 65) and live job-free instead of punching a time clock for the last 14 years.

        Nowadays, instead of punching that time clock I spend my time hiking, writing articles for my blog, and enjoying a “rural gentry” lifestyle I sure as hell would not consider cheap. Just smartly frugal. ;)

  • Mia October 24, 2012, 7:09 am

    Wonderful read, MMM!!!
    On the early-retirement.org someone started a topic about childhood memories about money. Looks like people there are coming from different backgrounds but a LOT of them mentioned that they admired Scrooge Mcduck as children. And I remember being only one among my friends who liked him. Most thought that he is greedy and cheap.

    What about you , MMM?
    Wondering if frugality vs. cheapness is something that may have deep roots in the childhood.

    • Mrs. Pop October 24, 2012, 11:06 am

      I’ve always thought the of the dichotomy as between “cheap” and “value”, which is similar, but not exactly the same, I think.

      My parents always bought the cheapest stuff – no matter what, but Mr. PoP and I try to get the most value for our dollar no matter where we put it. If it’s dinner with friends, a leisurely meal held in our backyard can provide so much more enjoyment than a mid-priced meal out. If it’s buying a new tool, we try and buy the best one that we can that will last as long as we need it. (If it’s a one use project, we try to rent – but if we’re going to be using it for years, we try to buy what will last for years.)

      I think it has a LOT to do with how we grew up. For me, I constantly strive to be different from the “cheap” lifestyle that I felt my parents had filled with dollar store trinkets that were inexpensive, but also only added stress to the home by adding to the mountains of clutter.

      • Matt October 25, 2012, 5:09 am

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s more about value than how cheap something is, at least that’s what I took from it.

        I’ve had to repeatedly justify to my wife why I spent over £100 on a pair of quality shoes last October. I’m starting to win the argument now though, because one of us is still wearing the same pair of shoes every day 12 months on…

    • Emmers October 30, 2012, 8:37 am

      I think this may be partly generational? My grandmother grew up during the Depression, and she was a great one for Cheap. Her children saw that, and decided to be Frugal instead. You buy the higher quality stuff that lasts longer, and you buy less of it, and then you give it to your kids. It’s a much better system.

  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2012, 7:19 am

    When we have company over, we go out of the way to make nice food.
    It’s not like it costs more to have a delicious meal with a variety of international cuisines involved, but it does take more effort.
    So we’re frugal with our money, but not cheap with our time.
    That’s an important distinction, too.
    Sure, I’ll help you with your deck, or your backyard wedding party, or watch your kids one night now and then, but I won’t lavish you with expensive birthday gifts.

    • Nurse Frugal October 24, 2012, 5:03 pm

      That’s awesome! I think that those type of gifts are the best! Who cares about a new purse or pair of shoes….I need someone to come over and help me set up for a party or help my husband put the over-the-cab-camper on so I don’t have a heart attack!

      The other day I went out with my friends and some of them decided they wanted to eat out, it was about 10pm at this point. I try not to eat so late anymore and i had already eaten dinner earlier and I chose to abstain…..but i felt so CHEAP. Maybe because it was the first time in my life I ever didn’t dine out with my friends…..basically I was just sitting at the table with them, hanging out and talking to them, while they ate. I do feel good that I passed on the extra 1,000 calories from the burger and fries I would have ordered, and that I got to keep the extra $15 I would have spent. But…..I do feel cheap ;(

      • Matt October 28, 2012, 2:32 pm

        You’re fine! :D I don’t think that’s cheap at all. That’s just smart! :D

    • Headed Home October 25, 2012, 9:26 am

      Great line! “Frugal with our money but NOT cheap with our time!”

    • Sarah April 19, 2014, 10:07 am

      I like your take on this. Hubby and I are totally down for bartering. We just had a learning experience with a “friend” who valued his time painting our ceiling at 10-13 times what he valued my time watching his daughter. Note to self: get terms of barter in writing first. Thanks for the reminder that not everyone will take advantage!

  • Executioner October 24, 2012, 7:21 am

    I like the photo of the homemade Settlers of Catan board used on the home page for this article. Did you make that yourself?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 24, 2012, 8:55 am

      Thanks Executioner! Yeah, my son and I decided to make that homemade Catan set one day, after weighing the relative merits of the store-bought version (thin cardboard pieces) with a home-made version (thick pieces made of leftover blue-stain pine).

      It was pretty easy, once I figured out how to get my table saw to mass-produce the hexagons by the dozen without having to measure each one. And as a bonus, he spent a couple happy hours drawing all the resource pictures onto the wood.

      • John October 24, 2012, 11:57 am

        And I read through the whole post hoping that you were going to explain how you made all the hexagons out of plywood… do tell!

      • Kenoryn October 24, 2012, 11:59 am

        I had a friend who turned an old secondhand coffee table into a beautiful Risk board, routering out the oceans and a tile mosaic for the land. Very cool. A piece of glass over the whole thing when a coffee table, which you could take off to play Risk.

        Speaking of tile mosaic – I did a tile mosaic for my bathroom floor, which took way longer than I expected but looks great now that it’s done. When I told the woman at the tile store what I was doing, she eagerly brought me all the display tiles and samples for discontinued lines that were stored in the back, and said she’d call me when they had more – she had been instructed to throw them out but couldn’t bring herself to do it as it seemed like a waste. Voila, free bathroom floor (sans grout and mortar).

      • Quaglar November 3, 2012, 10:08 pm

        I think it’s awesome that you made a more durable Catan board! I’ve always had a lot of fun with that game, particularly whilst enjoying a few fine beers. Unfortunately I’ve had many a set go the way of sogginess after said fine beer were accidentally upended onto the tiles. I will have to use this tip in the future for sure.

        Please make sure to buy at least one copy of the game if you haven’t already though. These folks definitely deserve to have their ideas rewarded! Not doing so might be thought of as cheap :)

        Keep up all the great work and general awesomeness.

  • Thurston Howell iv October 24, 2012, 7:25 am

    Hey, I liked scrooge when I was a kid and still do… but I liked him because he had a giant bank vault full of his riches where he would take a leisurely swim. LOL

    MMM, I saw that show on the cheap folks… There’s more of those people than you think… Hey, if it’s his deal, fine. I can’t recycle paper towels or do without toilet paper but, I am becoming more and more frugal and your blogs and the forum have really opened my eyes… I thought I was on the right track. I wasn’t even on the right train!

    • Debbie M October 24, 2012, 8:34 am

      I know. Turns out you’re supposed to be on a bicycle.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 24, 2012, 8:58 am

      Uhh.. why is everyone talking about Disney’s Scrooge McDuck(tm)?

      When the name “Scrooge” comes up, you should be thinking about the 1843 novel by Charles Dickens. Or at least Bill Murray in “Scrooged”.

      • MoreKnown October 24, 2012, 9:06 am

        I was wondering the same thing. Disney has more clout than Dickens, I guess?

      • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2012, 9:11 am

        Sorry, man, popular culture is taking over ancient icons.
        Sometimes it’s good stuff, like Simpsons quotes replacing biblical references, and sometimes it’s bad stuff, like people thinking Anakin Skywalker is a whiny teenager.

        • Heather October 24, 2012, 10:01 am

          I learned famous opera and theatre tunes from Bugs Bunny and Gilligan’s Island.

          • L'Enginieuresse October 24, 2012, 9:09 pm


      • Dragline October 25, 2012, 8:48 am

        I go with Alastair Sim in the classic film version.

  • MoreKnown October 24, 2012, 7:32 am

    This article sums up the overall MMM worldview perfectly. Also, I love the term “Vacuous Consumer Drones” and will brandish it during verbal bouts (mustache v. VCD) moving forward.

    Any advice for finding other Mustachians in a big city?

    • gitstash October 24, 2012, 8:52 am

      On the forums, there’s an area for meetups. If your city isn’t listed, start up a new thread.

      • MoreKnown October 24, 2012, 8:58 am

        Thanks gitstash! It seems like hanging out with other mustashians is a big part of a growing a mustache.

  • fiveoh October 24, 2012, 7:52 am

    Great article! I especially like the part about “Physical fitness is a nice Substitute for style”. My wife likes to complain how a lot of the women at her work always are dressing in nice new name brand clothes and she wishes she had those etc etc… my usual response to that is they HAVE to do that to look halfway decent(most are very out of shape). She, on the other hand, looks good no matter what she wears since she is in good shape and they wish they could look as good as she does in target clothes.

    • Kenoryn October 24, 2012, 1:36 pm

      Consignment/secondhand stores are great because you can get better-quality clothing for less than you’d pay for cheap clothing at discount/department stores, and often the proceeds go to charities. Plus you avoid the environmental/social cost of cheap clothing. I get compliments regularly on how I dress or on particular pieces of clothing, and I enjoy people’s surprise when I tell them where I shop.

    • Fastbodyblast October 24, 2012, 3:28 pm

      Couldn’t agree more. In my job, I have seen more people in their underwear than I could possibly count. You can see it in peoples’s faces, once those designer clothes come off – there is no-where to hide. Keep encouraging people though because I have also seen a surprising number of people turn things around.

      Well I am off to work….on my bike!

  • Mr. Everyday Dollar October 24, 2012, 7:53 am

    You nailed this one, there is a big difference between being frugal and being cheap. I love being frugal but avoid being cheap at all costs (pun intended).

    In fact, I like owning nice things but here’s the thing: I buy quality stuff, not a lot and make it last. For instance, I like to buy Restoration Hardware towels and Garnet Hill sheets. They are more expensive than towels and sheets at a Walmart but these towels and sheets will last after years of continuous use and look brand new.

    The other benefit is that by buying quality goods, the companies that make them will stand behind them in case of failure. I just had a brand new kitchen faucet sent to me by Kohler for free because the old one developed a leak. And BMW footed the bill for some rust on my car that would have cost me $739.34 to fix. So I think by buying quality, you are being frugal, which is sometimes hard to wrap your mind around.

    • Matt October 25, 2012, 5:15 am

      I agree. In the long run quality often wins out financially too. Take snapon tools. If you manage to break one, you get a replacement free of charge, no questions. You only ever have to buy it once.
      Of course, having a decent tool kit saves you a lot of money too by enabling you to do the DIY, car repairs etc. Me Big Man! Me Fix Stuff!!

      • John Dyke January 11, 2014, 8:03 pm

        Actually I find that at funerals, estate sales, you can get snapon tools for next to nothing… TBH I took my grandfathers tools when he passed away

        • Dwreck June 29, 2014, 9:33 am

          Regarding the rust situation on your BMW, all most every manufacturer has a 10 year rust and perforation warranty. And to my experience (I work in the automotive industry) BMWs are one of the most unreliable vehicles especially once the free maintenance expires.

          Regarding Snap-on tools, sure they are quality but that same socket set you got from them for $350 you could get from Craftsman for $75 and the warranty is the same.

          Spending more for quality doesn’t always bring the best value.

  • BC October 24, 2012, 7:59 am

    My mom, 68 years old, has always been a frugal super woman, almost exactly as you’ve described it here. She raised 3 kids on her own on a secretary’s salary, is now retired with a healthy ‘stache and a cute condo. I’m very proud of her. So when she recently visited me and was appalled at my wardrobe I knew that I had taken things too far.

    She has always set a good example of saving and being responsible with money and knowing what things in life are worth a little splurge (in the most frugal fashion) for the experience. One of her main objectives in how she raised us was to give us exposure to a lot of different experiences so growing up I had ski lessons, summer camp, and art classes after school. To say that these things shaped who I am would be a gross understatement. Today she is able to get by on very little but her social calendar occasionally includes theater, dinner/dancing with friends, the symphony, and travel to see family.

    I have been wondering about the PF blogs lately because a lot doesn’t touch on the connection between frugality and enjoying some mainstream activities in life. Which is what being frugal allows you to do! Anyways, problem solved. Thanks MMM.

  • Jeff October 24, 2012, 8:02 am

    It drives me nuts when people use paper towels rather than the dish cloth! My wife’s parents are the worst. They use paper towels for everything, and they store all their leftovers in ziploc bags. I’ve taken to hiding the paper towels and the ziploc bags whenever they come, not because of the wasted money but because we have plenty of dish cloths and very nice glass pyrex dishes with sealable lids for leftovers. It’s the waste I can’t stand.

    Also, when you’re done with a paper towel, throw it in the compost!

    • Juli October 24, 2012, 1:45 pm

      I don’t even buy paper towels or napkins any more. I buy one big pack of napkins for our Super Bowl party every year, and then I hide them so I can get one out occasionally for gross things like cleaning out the dishwasher trap. My husband will use a roll of paper towels in three days, so instead of nagging him to use less I just stopped buying them. Now he uses a dish cloth without complaining!

      • Anne October 25, 2012, 3:52 pm

        Okay, that is hysterical! Did he even notice that you stopped buying the paper towels?

      • Amanda September 25, 2015, 7:23 pm

        Too funny! I do the same thing. Stopped buying, and no more arguments. I still don’t think he’s noticed I stopped buying.

    • Emmers October 30, 2012, 8:42 am

      Paper towels are good for the completely awful stuff, but yeah, for everything else, use cloth! I’ve never purchased paper napkins, as an adult – I just use cloth napkins.

      Even Tupperware, if not Pyrex, is better than ziplocs because it can be reused. (You can reuse ziplocs too, but it’s a bigger pain to clean them.)

    • Jenn August 28, 2023, 3:26 pm

      My parents use paper towels all the time and even for nose blowing. I didn’t feel I could argue about this with a parent so have huge packs for my mom when she moved in with us. Slowly getting them to her in the Nursing Home and may never need to buy any more in life. Now to hide them so the kids and spouse don’t give up the cloth rag/ towel habit.

  • Shawn October 24, 2012, 8:03 am

    Your pitcher of beer, it’s repetition and alcoholism is an excellent metaphor for many financial pitfalls.

  • Jimbo October 24, 2012, 8:40 am

    “Frugality is the new Fanciness” was already one of my favourites. This one is right up there as well.

    Nicely done MMM.

    Very hands-on, as well.

  • benj list October 24, 2012, 8:40 am

    Great, fun post MMM. I derive great personal pleasure from practicing frugality. Every time I hear; “your mortgage is HOW much?!” or “you got that car for HOW much?!” and many more similar, it’s a little adrenaline injection straight to my pride receptor. It takes a fair bit of work though, you have to filter out all the nonsensical bits of media screaming about 0% down and so much a month, constantly scanning and listening for the important tips and hints of value to be found. I enjoy the “kill” so much that the hunt becomes part of the fun. The greatest concept I have ever learned is that of “utility,” a succinct definition of which I have always sought to maximize :)

    In response to Mia, I too loved Scrooge McDuck, but by the time I encountered him, he was espousing concepts that were just common sense to me by the time I was 10. The two greatest things I get a rush from in life, are learning something new and people listening to what I have to say, and people tend to listen more, the more knowledge you have! The truly great thing is that both of these things are very nearly free! I attribute these tastes to my early childhood; Mom pushing me to read more complex tales and Pop talking about science and listening to my crazy Astronomical theories as we walked to Top Banana (discount vegetable retailer).

  • Freeze October 24, 2012, 8:48 am

    I just found this and really enjoy the articles and discussion.

    I think the third point is a big one and I think instead of “Don’t spend on yourself, but don’t be afraid to spend on others”, the way I would phrase it is “spend money on experiences, not material goods”.

    The ipad that you spent $500 and sits on your couch 99% of the time will never provide the same level of enjoyment as the $100 you spent doing crazy things with friends or going to that concert you will remember and tell people about the rest of your life. There’s been studies that show this is the best use of discretionary spending, as discussed here: http://www.thefrisky.com/2012-04-06/study-people-who-spend-their-money-on-experiences-are-happier/

  • Debbie M October 24, 2012, 8:51 am

    I’d add another thing to the list: Frugality does not mean theft. Your example had only one, and it’s a mild one (asking for extra ketchup packets he doesn’t need for that visit). Sneaking things out of an all-you-can-eat buffet, not tipping good restaurant service, and not paying your share of bills is theft, not frugality. A frugal person finds another way to acquire these things or does without. Or maybe theft doesn’t belong on the list because it’s not frugal or cheap.

    Your artiness remark reminds me of friends who had a section of their bathroom ceiling (in a rental) where they paint had peeled away from the center of a rather large spot. So they made a Godzilla foot to stick there, so it looked like Godzilla was stomping through.

    I love that you’ve categorized things rather than just given examples.

    • Eschewing Debt October 24, 2012, 9:10 am

      I’m SOOO glad you mentioned not tipping well! I HATE it when people don’t give a decent tip- that is just plain CHEAP. I was with a couple once who bought $50 of food, and tipped 3 bucks. Needless to say, I will never go with them to a restaurant again.

      I don’t think I could ever watch this show- just the thought of him asking for others leftovers makes me sick to my stomach, let alone watching it.

      • Macs October 24, 2012, 9:31 am

        Hmmm, coming from a different cultural background, what I find to be ‘cheap’ is paying serving staff a fraction of the minimum wage then expecting customers to fork out extra to pay the wages just so the eatery can make the menu prices look lower. The tip I like to offer is ‘Unionise!’

        • Jen October 24, 2012, 3:53 pm

          Agreed, but that is not the reality here so I tip because the situation is not my server’s fault.

        • Heather October 24, 2012, 5:46 pm

          I worked as a barmaid in the UK for a summer in my early twenties. It’s not customary to tip there but my wage was almost double what I’d be paid for the same job in Canada. A close friend of mine worked at a diner here in Toronto where the owners advertised alcohol on the menu but didn’t actually serve it. This enabled them to pay the staff less since the minimum wage is lower at establishments that serve alcohol. Tip your servers AND pay them a fair wage, I say.

          By the way, MMM, I heard you on CBC radio a few weeks ago and have since read just about every post. I am self employed and had been driving A LOT for work but made a conscious choice to start booking clients closer to home and biking to those appointments. I’ve cut my driving by about 75% and just yesterday I decided to bike to work in the rain even though it was miserable outside and felt totally badass when I got there. –and I had my pick of bike rack spots since there were no other bikes in sight.

          • Matt October 26, 2012, 2:20 am

            Yeah, we now actually have a minimum wage in the UK too, £6.19/hr, that’s just shy of $10/hr. The campaign is now on to raise that to a wage you can actually live on…

    • Dillon October 24, 2012, 11:17 am

      Sorry, asking for ketchup and not tipping do not meet theft criteria. Theft is illegal and these activities are not illegal. Social norms are not consistent with law. Tipping is a part of American culture but it is not required, only highly recommended. In Japan, it is an insult to tip. Double the hourly wages of American food servers and over the long run, tipping would probably only happen in times of exceptional service.

      • Angie October 24, 2012, 6:02 pm

        It’s true. Here in Australia severs make minimum wage ($18/hr) and no-one tips. The food looks a little more expensive, but no tips are paid (unless service is exceptional) & taxes are also included. So it generally turns out cheaper than when I lived in the US, and rids me of the moral dilemma of tipping for so-so service. (I don’t feel I should tip because the service was sub-par, but I’d feel bad if that person then couldn’t pay their bills.) And generally the service here is quite good – usually because it comes from foreign backpackers who are delighted to be making $18/hr while polishing up their English ;-)

      • Oh Yonghao November 5, 2014, 7:04 pm

        Many states already have gotten rid of minimum wage exceptions for servers. Washington and Oregon both pay at least minimum wage, but tips are still there. I get confused at which places I should tip at though, and it seems that every place is adding a tip line to receipts even though they don’t seem to be a place where I would tip. So far the long run doesn’t seem to have come.

  • Holly October 24, 2012, 8:52 am

    There is a big difference between frugal and cheap and I think that it all should boil down to what any individual person is happy with. For instance, some of my family and friends make fun of me for doing certain things that they find cheap….like giving my kids (nice) used toys for Christmas. I don’t feel cheap about it at all and in fact I am confident that I am doing something good because 1) my kids are too small to care, and 2) I dont like buying cheap foreign made toys because they are bad for the environment. 3) I feel secure enough in myself that I don’t really care what anyone thinks anymore.

    My point is that one person’s smart decision is another person’s cheapass decision and that is okay with me.

    • Jason B. November 26, 2012, 10:20 am

      Good idea. My kids (ages 8 and 17) love video games. They don’t have (and have never had) the latest and greatest system. By staying a generation (or more) behind the state of the art, they’re able to have just as much fun playing games, at a fraction of the cost.

  • Adrienne October 24, 2012, 9:17 am

    I agree with most things here except “don’t embarrass others”. This sounds like a fine rule (and I agree with the examples you give) but the problem with it is that it is dependant upon what “other people” find embarrassing. As we know most other people have crazy ideas about money. Should you not shop at a used clothing store because your teenage kids find it embarressing? Of course not. Many people get “embarrassed” by things they shouldn’t. I think we should consider others feelings but I’m not going to let my life be ruled by it.

  • Geek October 24, 2012, 9:19 am

    300k/20k = 15 (or 20 if you’re thinking we’re closer to 400k)
    At least give yourself 1/2000th of the population, MMM.

    • Kevin October 24, 2012, 10:52 am

      I think you might have your math mixed up:

      US Population (2011 Census): 311,591,917

      311,591,917 * (1/20,000) =
      15,580 unique visitors who read the article.

      • Geek October 24, 2012, 11:25 am

        Yes. Head is hanging in shame, I thought MMM lost some zeros, but it was me!

        And that’s why I don’t code for a living anymore!!!

        • BDub October 24, 2012, 4:26 pm

          This reminds me of Office Space:

          Michael Bolton: “I don’t know what happened, I must have missed a decimal point or something…”
          Peter Gibbons: “Well, corporate accounts is sure as hell gonna notice $305,326.13, Michael!”

  • M October 24, 2012, 9:34 am

    Personally, your comment about pampered people needed Pampers made me bust out laughing! Describes a sibling of mine perfectly. I’m still finding my cheap vs frugal threshold and maybe others are, too, on the show you mentioned. I suspect one of the guys on the show is Jeff Yeager. He has a mustache (for real) and advocates many ‘stache principles. But he also likes to mock himself while he enjoys the hell out of his FI life.

    • Dee October 24, 2012, 8:40 pm

      There is indeed an episode of Extreme Cheapskates featuring Jeff Yeager. He shows how he gets dinner for himself and his wife on the last day of a one-week spending fast.

  • Des October 24, 2012, 9:36 am

    I agree that frugality doesn’t mean theft. But I call BS on the rest of it. It all just sounds like a justification for how you choose to live. “People that spend more are wasteful, people that live at my level are Frugal, people who live lower are cheap.”

    Let’s take your fridge example. You’ve created a false dichotomy between someone running a shitty old inefficient fridge and someone running a beautiful new efficient fridge. Frugal or cheap – folks who are smart with money are going to choose the latter because it costs less in the long run. But a more realistic dilemma would be between two newer fridges, both equally efficient, but one costs more and looks nice while the other looks like hell and is a steal of a deal. Does a frugal person still pick the pretty one, even though now it is a net loss financially? Is it “cheap” now to not care what your fridge looks like? Or, can we just agree that Frugal is a spectrum – like Nice or Smart or Funny – and that not everyone is frugal all of the time?

    So much of this is going to be determined by your socio-economic class. I run into this a lot because I come from poverty, but have enjoyed some success career-wise. Its a strange thing to witness, how people who make/spend more think cheaper folks are doing it wrong, and visa versa. Why do people need to denigrate those who spend more or less to make themselves feel like they are “doing it right”?

    Fundamentally, choosing to spend an extra $100 on a nicer fridge because you care what other people think is no different than spending $400 on a nicer purse. The principle is the same. But that doesn’t make either of them bad or wrong or stupid. Can we just be self-aware enough to realize we are being a bit un-frugal in the name of obtaining a bit of status – and just own it? Or, do we loose to much status when we admit we care about status? ;)

    • Alex | Perfecting Dad October 24, 2012, 9:53 am

      Frugal and cheap sound the same to me :) I agree with you, they’re just words. I think MMM is saying that you can be strategic and take the wider view, then something that looks more expensive actually is a better investment.

      I always look to the third world for perspective. They aren’t trying to decide if they wear painter jeans or a suit to the valedicorian speech, they’re trying to decide if they should eat their last half a cup of food for breakfast so they have more energy to scrounge more, or save it until tomorrow because they still have enough energy to move for the moment.

      • Des October 24, 2012, 10:05 am

        “they’re trying to decide if they should eat their last half a cup of food for breakfast so they have more energy to scrounge more, or save it until tomorrow because they still have enough energy to move for the moment.”

        Ouch, that kills me. That is a really good (if uncomfortable) way to look at it.

        • Emmers October 30, 2012, 8:50 am

          That’s not just the Third World, either. And it *is* an excellent kick in the pants for perspective.

      • Bella October 24, 2012, 11:01 am

        Exactly, most of the whole Mustachian philosophy is about realizing that most of it is not a difference of wants and needs but of various levels of wants. None of it is TRULY needs. Once you realize that – your world opens up a whole lot wider to what you *could* be doing with your money – like being FI sooner…

        • C October 24, 2012, 10:32 pm

          Exactly. It’s a matter of needs versus wants. What does one really nead versus what do you want. I find that it’s true with our situation…Do we really need that new paddle for our paddle board, vs do we WANT that new paddle for our paddle boards. It can mean a difference of $450. Yikes!

    • C October 24, 2012, 4:45 pm

      I still liked the article. I guess it depends on your perspective and what you value. Your refrigerator example is a good one. We recently overhauled all of our appliances in favor of more energy efficent ones. Combined with line drying our laundry, our utility bill is now half of what it used to be. So our appliances will have paid for themselves in another year. The rest is bonus.

      And yes, not everyone is frugal all of the time. I can attest to that as the Mr. and I were quibbling about buying the roasted peanuts over the mixed nuts at Costco. The price difference was about $6. We opted for the roasted peanuts, thinking that was being frugal. But did we really need the peanuts at all?

    • Matt October 25, 2012, 7:52 am

      Maybe the fridge was a bad example, as I think MMM forgot to mention shitty fridges get replaced more often because they don’t work and hence cost more in the long run.

      Frugal vs cheap is more about value than the initial price.

      • Jamesqf October 25, 2012, 11:06 am

        This is just another example of the Vimes’ Boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/72745-the-reason-that-the-rich-were-so-rich-vimes-reasoned

        And of course the corollary: “He’d learned something new: the very very rich could afford to be poor. Sybil Ramkin lived in the kind of poverty that was only available to the very rich, a poverty approached from the other side. Women who were merely well-off saved up and bought dresses made of silk edged with lace and pearls, but Lady Ramkin was so rich she could afford to stomp around the place in rubber boots and a tweed skirt that had belonged to her mother.”

        • Emmers October 30, 2012, 9:02 am

          YES. Really, this whole post is *about* the Boots Theory.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 30, 2012, 9:22 am

          I’m not so sure if that old theory applies today: you don’t have to be rich to afford to use stuff that has an optimal cost-of-ownership.

          As an example very close to the “Boots” one, I have a 10-year-old pair of Timberland hiking/travel shoes with many miles on them. They still look and feel great. They cost about $100, or about 1-2 days’ wages at minimum wage. That’s ten times what the cheapest shoes would cost in Walmart, but still very affordable.

          The biggest source of poverty in the rich world today is a poverty of knowledge: people don’t KNOW how to prioritize spending in such a way as to become rich. It’s the mentality behind repeatedly buying disposable instead of rechargeable batteries, or driving a raised pickup truck from the construction site to McDonald’s drive-through instead of making yourself a peanut butter sandwich for 25 cents.

          Similarly, the cheapest car to drive is a 1991 Corolla you get for $1000 from an old lady on Craigslist – you don’t save money by getting a “quality” car like a new Mercedes.

          So no, the post is not about Boots Theory, and in fact I had never heard of it until you two brought it up. (And thanks for bringing it up!).

          It’s about mostly about taking the emotional impact your frugality decisions might have upon others into account, when deciding how to handle your spending.

          • Matt October 31, 2012, 10:41 am

            HAha! Those quality shoes I was talking about are Timberland too!
            I think Pratchett got the Vimes boots idea from somewhere serious though. I’m sure I read something similar before about living in victorian times

          • Emmers November 2, 2012, 11:13 am

            This article is about real poverty, not Mustachian-face-kickee-levels, but: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/17/AR2009051702053.html

            If you can’t afford to buy the better thing because it costs $X+N dollars, where N is an amount you don’t have, you buy the worse thing because you can’t *not* eat (or whatever).

            I read a different frugality forum, in which the general tone of questions is along the lines of “I have $15 left in my food budget for the next two weeks until I start a new job; how can I not starve?” (The answer is basically ramen and canned tuna, FWIW.) Mustachians should *generally* be able to skip that level of thought (the one where you’ve been busted all the way down to the bottom of Ellyn Sattler’s food pyramid, “Enough Food”).

            • CheerfulAdventurer September 26, 2014, 1:28 am

              “I read a different frugality forum, in which the general tone of questions is along the lines of ‘I have $15 left in my food budget for the next two weeks until I start a new job; how can I not starve?'”

              Well, first of all, immediately cancel your Internet subscription until at least your first salary. :-)

    • getagrip October 25, 2012, 11:15 am

      I agree that the frugal/cheap line for the vast majority of people is:

      those who spend more than me are wasteful
      those who spend like me are frugal
      those who spend less than me are cheap

      and it’s also dependant on what area we are talking about. It’s just like people generally feeling anyone making two times their salary is well off and those making five times or more are rich. It’s all a matter of perspective and desires, and those change as your life and priority changes.

      • Jamesqf October 25, 2012, 4:15 pm

        Nope, because I live the way I want to live, pretty much, yet spend a good bit less than what I earn. If I WANTED to wear expensive suits & ties, have a Rolex on my wrist, and drive around in an Escalade or big BMW, then if couldn’t afford them on my income, I’d be poor, regardless of what my income actually was. But as it happens, I don’t want those things – no, make it stronger: I postitively want NOT to have them – so not having them doesn’t make me poor.

  • Alex | Perfecting Dad October 24, 2012, 9:44 am

    You could have called this this “Smart vs Dumb” or “Responsible vs Impulsive” or “Those who live a good life vs those who are owned by the man!”

    Nice set of perspectives. It’s the art of living man! Cast your own shadow, use your own voice. I love it.

  • Darrow October 24, 2012, 10:19 am

    Excellent. This post hits all the key points. Two that have been especially helpful in my life: Being generous with others is always a good investment in happiness. And, buying “quality over quantity” keeps the emphasis on frugal, instead of cheap. Thanks MMM!

  • ENGirl October 24, 2012, 10:22 am

    Cheap is just a label that any frugal person has to get over. My own mother calls me cheap because I get my husband to cut my hair, we don’t own a TV, I bike to work, we spend time looking at prices when we grocery shop, we don’t own a dryer, etc. My husband and I are so satisfied with the life we have made together, that we could care less when someone throws the cheap word around. I don’t care if we are considered cheap by the rest of the world. We are happy in the present moment, and our future is financial secure. If that’s the definition of cheap, than I’m it!

  • CL October 24, 2012, 10:58 am

    I was reading yesterday about how to dress nicely. Apparently, in France it’s totally acceptable to wear the same outfit over and over again. The staples of a wardrobe are a few jackets, good heels, and a good bag. http://www.garancedore.fr/en/2012/10/24/on-9-to-5/

    • Kenoryn October 24, 2012, 12:55 pm

      I know, that’s a funny North American thing. It’s not just France. When I was in university we had a couple of exchange students from England who would wear the same outfit a few days in a row and then switch to something else. Thing is, North Americans wear clothing more than once between washing it, just not in a row. Wonder why we ended up doing that differently. It does allow for more variety.

  • Joe October 24, 2012, 10:59 am

    I fell like I’m straddling the fine line between frugal and cheap all the time. Just this weekend, I grabbed a bunch of paper napkins from Wendy’s to use in my car. I drove to pick up my mom from Seattle… That’s a bit too long to bike.
    Anyway, I’m starting to trend toward cheap now that I’m not working anymore.
    Rinsing paper towel seems a bit over the top though. Why not just use cloth towels then?

    • Emmers October 30, 2012, 9:09 am

      Plus, with cloth towels, you can **actually wash** them. Cloth towels (e.g. from Goodwill) are a way better deal than paper towels!

    • Matt (Semper Fi) November 13, 2016, 10:09 am

      Late reply, but were the napkins left over from what was given to you with the meal? If you just grabbed a bunch from the dispenser with the purpose of using them for something besides the meal, that appears to be cheap, and possibly enters the realm of “stealing”. If, however, the napkins were given to you, and some of them are leftover after the meal (unused) and you take them with you, I feel like that is frugal, since you know that the establishment will just throw the napkins away. When my wife and I go to a restaurant, we are usually given way too many napkins, so we take the leftover napkins with us. Better than having them go into the garbage, unused.

  • Eric Hansen October 24, 2012, 10:59 am

    A few months back I recorded an interview at my studio with a famous retired CEO. He arrived for the interview in a 25 year old rusty Civic wagon (remember those?), disheveled, looking like I interrupted his painting gig. He was about 2 hours late, on his way to a weekend camping trip in the mountains. Talk about someone who couldn’t give a damn about what society thought about how he lives. A very enlightening man. He was living life how he wanted to. He would probably be living the same way even if he hadn’t founded a company.

    • Emmers October 30, 2012, 9:21 am

      2 hours late to an appointment is pretty damn rude, regardless of the rest of the stuff…

  • Elizabeth October 24, 2012, 11:09 am

    LOVE this post! I think you’ve nicely summed up how to live well on less money — and how not to let frugality impact or hurt other people. (One of my pet peeves is people who save money by mooching off others!)

    • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 24, 2012, 12:04 pm

      My husband with to university with a guy who protested Gulf War Sr. by swearing of driving or otherwise buying gas. He then proceeded to beg rides off everybody he could to get anywhere. Hard to take his commitment to his cause very seriously, especially since they went to school in a very bike-friendly area.

      • Jamesqf October 24, 2012, 9:10 pm

        That’s even better than the “No Blood for Oil” bumpersticker I saw at the time – on a brand-new, still had temporary plates Cadillac Escalade.

  • rockycheated October 24, 2012, 11:37 am

    When thinking of Frugal vs. Cheap, I think its important to keep in mind the ultimate goal(s). Being Frugal is a lifestyle, and as such will save you much more money and will help you acheive FI. It also is good for the planet, primarily through lower consumption. (Amazing how connected being FI and being environmentally responsible are!). In contrast, being Cheap is more of a transaction-by-transaction mentality, not a lifestyle, and as such the amount of money being saved is small (and you typically spend more time trying to save 50 cents than is worth your time to do so). Being Cheap in my experience does not help achieve FI nearly as much as being Frugal, nor does it usually limit consumption.

    • Dee October 24, 2012, 8:47 pm

      Maybe in some cases, but the people who are featured on Extreme Cheapskates certainly appear to be espousing overall lifestyles and not just transaction by transaction cheapness. Maybe that’s the difference between a cheapskate and an extreme cheapskate?

  • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom October 24, 2012, 12:06 pm

    MMM it’s like we’re connected…. maybe growing up choking down the same smog had some sort of magical power.

    Last week we pick pears at the local park, and you post about neighborhood fruit.
    This weekend I was encouraging a friend she wasn’t cheap because she didn’t color her hair anymore, she just realigned her priorities and you rock out this awesome post.

    The mustachian mind is a beautiful thing

  • Joe October 24, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Perhaps the guy in the video invested the money he didn’t use to buy paper towels, in which case he only needed to have saved $140 per year, or about $12 / month… on paper towels… nevermind. Still a crazy amount to spend on paper towels. Get an old bath towel and cut it up to make reusable dish rags!

  • Kathleen @ Frugal Portland October 24, 2012, 1:23 pm

    I saw the title, and thought, “oh, no, not another article on this!” and read through anyway. Glad I did. You are so right, as usual, MMM.

  • john October 24, 2012, 4:30 pm

    I think the quality vs quantity argument has some flaws. I think the argument is about buying the best value.
    I can go to the appliance place and buy the best quality fridge. Or I can shop around and go to the discount barn and buy the same thing for 10% less. Or I can shop Kijiji or Craigs list and get the same model but 2 years old for 70% off. In this situation this is likely the best value-if and only if I need the top of the line. You can apply the money saved to savings or something you will enjoy more than a fridge.
    But based on my circumstances that best value may change – if I am a student I can buy an old fridge for $50.00 that will get me through school and I can sell it in 3 years for the same price. That would be my best value under that circumstance.
    It may also be that I don’t require or can’t afford a top of the line fridge, so a midline will do. Do I buy new without shopping for price, do I shop sales or again buy one a few years old.

    Quality based on on circumstance, need and best value for time and money..

  • Lucas Smith October 24, 2012, 4:50 pm

    Sending to my family for a good read! Luckily they typically don’t think i am “cheap”. Some people I work with do though (mostly related to not eating out and driving a gas efficient old car that doesn’t look the best). Most of the people I work directly with (at the moment) make ~1/3rd what I do, but spend >10 times more on cars then I do. Some guy making base pay of ~$30000, just dropped $50k on a new BMW and everyone thinks he is so cool. I like getting double the gas millage he does in my old nissan sentra that i bought 6 years ago for $2000 :-) Add that up for additional savings of being married and “off” the market :-)

  • pachipres October 24, 2012, 4:52 pm

    I loved this article especially the part about creating memories paying for your friends’ supper meals. I feel this way every time I take my older children to lunch. Yes it costs me nearly $30 but it is worth every penny because I am “building” these relationships. Often times it is the only time they get on a real personal level with me because there are no distractions such as their other siblings around. Anyways, appreciate your insight MMM.

  • Happy October 24, 2012, 8:44 pm

    Another great post: I’m becoming such an MMM groupie. There was a mild suggestion that “image” is less important if you are old. Its true some of us oldies get wiser, but there is just as much pressure, only its about different things. You are probably expected to be “established” (whatever that means), you can’t pretend you “just haven’t peaked yet”, older folks tend to be more “conservative” (read: set in their ways or judgemental), and aging baby boomers have had decades of practice in consumerism. If its not “my Winnebago is bigger than your Winnebago”, then status revolves around living vicariously through the kids : which prestigious university did you pay the fees for, what car did you buy them, what apartment did you subsidise, etc, etc. So while I’m sympathetic to the pressures of attracting a mate when you are young, please don’t get age-ist about this, nor naive, its still takes badassity to make your own path at any age.

    • Jenny October 26, 2012, 12:32 pm

      Happy, you make a lot of good points. I think it’s almost easier being younger as no one expects you to seem “established”. As you age, the comparisons between you and your peers are highlighted. I’m 28, and I think it’s socially acceptable for me to drive a beater because it can be assumed that I just don’t have many financial resources at this point. People assume that my husband and I are newlyweds and are in the just-building-a-nest-egg stage.

      I’ve wondered many times whether as I get older I will start to feel that it’s no longer ok to drive a beater because it may be assumed that a middle-aged woman has somehow failed in life to still be driving a crappy car. I’ve caught myself thinking this about folks in my parents’ generation, even though I am very aware that a vehicle isn’t an accurate representation of wealth. I guess I’m a little more brainwashed than I’d like to admit :\

      In some ways, it will take more badassity to maintain my frugality as I grow older than it does now. Let’s hope my mustache is up to the challenge!

      • Anne May 18, 2016, 2:23 am

        Hi Jenny,
        You wrote this many years(!!!) ago, however I just wanted to let you know that I am 46 and decided to sell the 5 years old Mazda CX9 for 27,000.00 to buy a new-to-me 20 years old Toyota Camry for 2,000.00, which functions incredibly well! Using the leftover money to complete a downpayment for a real estate rental apartment. Since I know how much that will pay me each month/year when I retire, I feel so proud of myself and laugh all the way to work, looking at the beautiful brand new very expensive cars that are losing thousands each year just because they’re new… If it was because that’s all you can afford, you might be envious of others with newer cars, but since you know it was your decision and you can see the freedom this will give you later, it is much easier to bear…

  • James @ Free in Ten Years October 25, 2012, 4:59 am

    The example I always use is that it’s cheaper to buy an $80 hammer once in your life than a $10 hammer ten times. Buying quality items, particularly tools that then lead to other savings by doing things yourself is normally a good idea. The obvious exception to this is if you know you’re only going to use the item once or twice.

    Some cheap people make poor financial decisions that frugal people don’t because being cheap tends to have a shortsightedness that frugality doesn’t.

  • Naomi October 25, 2012, 6:05 am

    I don’t think Roger realises that scraping food off of the plates of other restaurant diners could lead to hepatitis and other incurable diseases, yikes.

    Many reasons by being cheap hurts, for example spending more time and money trying to save money. I find by buying quality I buy less and appreciate more, some examples have been free range meat, good shoes, sheets and well made clothing.

  • Dragline October 25, 2012, 8:57 am

    Very nice advice, as usual, MMM. A truly self-confident person who is at peace with his or herself does not need to “broadcast” his or her particular lifestyle, whether through ostentacious consuming or socially distracting cheapness — i.e., purposefully engaging in attention-getting behavior is usually a sign of a general lack of maturity.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2012, 3:22 pm

      Thanks Dragline – Hopefully you grant an exception for someone who writes a blog about a lifestyle of frugality, even though that is an attention-getting activity? :-)

  • Jason October 25, 2012, 9:18 am

    I wrote a fairly funny post about going too far with frugality (in reality being cheap). I think my wife and I do a very good job of being frugal without being too cheap. Being frugal can be fun but many people take it way too far and spend countless hours saving pennies instead of focusing on value and what will truly pay off in the long run. It’s all about the best quality for your dollar at the end of the day.

  • George October 25, 2012, 4:12 pm

    This kind of goes back to one your early articles where you say theoretically someone could live under a bridge and eat out of dumpsters but that no amount of money is worth this, yet by simply spending 75% less than typical American you can enjoy practically the same lifestyle as a typically person without all the dumpsters and bridges.

    This kind of reminds of one guy I knew in my younger years who lived out of a van secretly in an urban, upscale area to avoid paying the steep rent. He slept in his van but would emerge each morning nicely groomed and wearing a fancy suit. Few people knew his secret, I would not want to be him but it was hilarious. He had no real expenses except food; he did have a gym membership which he used for their showers and he bummed free wifi off hotels and places like starbucks.

    He would just hang out in high end hotel lobbies for fun and talk and also drink their free coffee; he was very active in the young professional social scene and told everyone, including the girls, that he was a sophisticated up and coming businessman; he said he was an edgy entrepreneur or some crap like that, yet he never seemed to get anywhere; he could tell a good story and talk a big game though; I still remember him telling me about how he had to move his van around regularly each night so no locals or the cops would not notice it parked in one area for too long and get suspicious. He would take a dumb in a bucket in the van if he had to go in the middle of the night and would dump it out on the sidewalk outside before he drove away the next morning. He would probably qualify simultaneously as “cheap” and “shallow”. We lost touch about 4 years ago, I always wonder what happening to him … Hes probably moved up in the social ladder to a camper or make-shift hut by now.

    • BonzoGal October 26, 2012, 11:10 am

      LOL, great story! Did he look anything like Chris Farley? ;)

      Leaving your, um, excrement on the sidewalk outside your van constitutes pure assholery, I’d say. Anyone who leaves their garbage for someone else to deal with isn’t just cheap, they’re an asshole of the highest order.

      • George October 26, 2012, 12:09 pm

        yeah true BonzoGal, later on he upgraded his system such that he put a hole or some kind of trap door in the floor of van so that he dumped his wastes straight from the bucket onto the street below where his van was parked.

        Apparently, getting out of the van to dump the bucket in the middle of the night was too much effort for him; also it helped eliminate the smell more quickly;

        thus, he simply drove away in the morning leaving a terd under the spot where he was parked all night. One could say that was his “contribution” to society.

  • Long October 25, 2012, 6:40 pm

    I too believe in buying quality things that will last and spending on experiences. I still have a lot to do in terms of frugality, but thinking of others is a great way to reflect on it.

  • Mandi October 26, 2012, 7:46 am

    This came at a perfect time for me. I decided recently it was time to replace a pair of thrift store boots that I’d owned for 7 years and had paid a couple of dollars for. They were uncomfortable and hurt my feet. I decided that rather than look around a discount store, I would “splurge” on a pair of of beautiful leather boots from LL Bean. Although they cost over $100, they have a lifetime guarantee and with a classic style, I can wear them many years. I’ve never spent that amount of money on one pair of shoes, so I was feeling a little guilty. Thanks for the reminder that frugality doesn’t mean living with cheap products! (Now if only I could have found that same pair of high-quality boots at a secondhand store. Don’t think I didn’t try!)

    • BonzoGal October 26, 2012, 11:14 am

      I find it very difficult to find shoes at second-hand or thrift stores. Same with belts Maybe people wear those ’til they wear out?

      • Freeyourchains October 30, 2012, 10:30 am

        U.S. Military members who visit Africa on assignment, take loads of wornout shoes, shirts, shorts to africa and can barter for hand crafter masterpieces of pure talent! American trash is seen as pure riches and advance tools to other underdeveloped countries in the world..

  • Doug October 26, 2012, 8:21 am

    I couldn’t agree more that being frugal is better and more optimal than being cheap, but it appears in our “culture” of wasteful consumerism most people don’t know the difference. Being frugal is nothing more than being efficient. It’s also worth noting that in Victorian times being efficient (waste not, want not) was considered a virtue. It was even associated with being a better Christian. Wow, perceptions have changed in the 20th and 21st century!

  • Molly October 26, 2012, 9:26 am

    I definitely agree. As a 22-year-old in my first job, my social circle and I are transitioning from college spending to having a salary and it’s a tough transition. In college sure, it was OK to go out, order an appetizer and throw a $10 bill into the pile when the check comes or ask the waiter to separate out all the checks but now it seems cheap not to just split the one bill. I recently started a blog (not a financial one, just one documenting my transition from college life to adulthood) and I think this post just inspired me to write one about what was OK to be cheap about before, but now is not longer acceptable

    • Freeyourchains October 30, 2012, 10:23 am

      Very interesting! It’s amazing too how FI goals are similar to the experience of college life!

      I rather share knowledge and or physical labor for 3 hours a day with fellow classmates/co-workers and wise mentors/teachers in a big community, then play a physical game with friends, cook and clean a small apartment, then spend time with wife and family, then go play some music, games, or perform in the arts in the evenings, or read a book for hours at the library, while sleeping in till 9am to do it again! All within walking distance, and as a bigger community with enforced laws and respect in general.

      College/Community work would be self-sustaining to the College/Community, so no need for tuition if the fruit of your 3 hr a day labor benefits the College/Community.

  • Boss' Assistant October 26, 2012, 2:45 pm

    I had a friend who would only take dates to Applebees, and it had to be during happy hour so he could get half price drinks and appetizers. He would also take dates dancing only on ladies’ night so he wouldn’t have to pay for her. Cheap.

    • Freeyourchains October 30, 2012, 10:14 am

      Save the restaurant and take her to the local observatory to see the rings of Saturn.

  • Mortgage Free Mike October 27, 2012, 2:54 pm

    One of my favorite posts yet. Particuarly when you talk about improving your body. I don’t have a lot of fancy clothes, but I wear them well, so I get attention. No $150 jeans necessary. The $25 ones I got on clearance fit well and people notice. Make healthy eating and exercise habits a priority!

  • Freeyourchains October 30, 2012, 10:11 am

    Great post. To readers who think reusing plastic is “cheap”. It’s quite wise and efficient to reuse plastic. Plastic shouldn’t be thrown away after one use. Rinse and repeat it’s use, or be creative and come up with other uses after a few modifications. You can make a colorful shed out of 365 20oz soda bottles.

    Even a Spartan Shield can be made for fun out of thrown out plastics; better than floating out on the pacific ocean blocking sunlight from feeding the algea.

  • JP November 5, 2012, 7:07 pm

    My theory is that if I choose to not spend money on myself, I’m being frugel. If I choose to not pay my share when dealing with other people, I’m being a cheapskate.
    For example: If I want to drive and maintain a 15 year old Honda Civic, even if I could afford a fancy new car, I’m being frugal. I’m making a conscious decision to save money for other purposes.

    I will go out of my way to be generous to my friends and family for this reason. I value them, and I don’t want my frugal financial efforts to get in the way of that. I don’t want to be cheap with them.

    For example: Buying a few rounds of drinks for my friends is an extremely frugal splurge compared to buying myself a new car. It is more enjoyable too.

    Take care,


  • Tim November 6, 2012, 6:19 pm

    Boy that was a fantastic post. The part about frugality at various stages really made a lot of sense. Thanks for all the great content.

  • Jason B. November 26, 2012, 10:15 am

    Very thought-provoking post. To my mind, the difference between cheap and frugal is this: Someone who’s cheap refuses to spend money for that reason alone, regardless of what it might cost them in non-monetary aspects of their lives, whereas someone who’s frugal is careful in how they spend their money, not only because they want to accumulate money and eliminate debt, but also because they’re trying to spend their money in a way that maximizes their total quality of life.

    A case in point from my own life: I collect comic books. Not in a terribly big way (I spend $6-$15 per week, varying due to publishing schedules, adding up to less than $40 per month), but on a regular basis. Obviously I could save money by not doing this, but then I’d lose the enjoyment that it brings me: The trip to the comic shop after work every Wednesday to pick up my new books, the interaction with the guys at the shop while I’m there, the joy of reading the books, the anticipation of wondering what’s going to happen next month, and even the time spent figuring out which titles I want to buy or not (it’s like a puzzle, trying to maximize the amount of enjoyment I buy with my comics dollar). On the other hand, I don’t go out to bars, I rarely buy expensive coffee drinks, and I’m still driving a 12-year-old car which, while nothing special to look at, is perfectly adequate for my family’s transportation needs. I spend my money where it’s most beneficial for me to do so, and save where the spending would bring little if any enjoyment.


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