Frugal vs Stingy

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We frugal people get a bad rap. We get accused of being neglectful, controlling, abusive, and disgusting, to name but a few. Nothing smarts more, however, than the accusation that frugal people are stingy.
Come on, you've thought it yourself sometimes. Why can't we just loosen up, and stop being so tightfisted with our money? What is our problem? Why are we being so stingy?

Let me clarify this misconception once and for all.
Frugal does not mean stingy. At all.
After much contemplation and discussion with my husband, I've been able to expound upon this difference.

According to, frugal means "economical in use or expenditure; prudent saving or sparing; not wasteful". Stingy, on the other hand, is defined as "reluctant to give or spend; not generous; penurious".
In other words, frugal means using your wisdom to allocate the money you have, whereas stingy means being so tightfisted with your money that you're not willing to help others out.

Frugal vs Stingy

There are two types of people out there in the world (among others). There are those who are generous, giving people who don't have much money to pass around, but are willing to assist in whatever way they can afford. Then there are people who may or may not have money, but these people are cold hearted and self absorbed. The thought of taking away from themselves to give to others is simply more than they can bear.
The former are frugal, the latter stingy.

Penniless but Generous

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Some people are extremely kind and giving and would love to be able to help others monetarily and bestow them with lavish presents. Unfortunately, life has not been so kind to these people in fiscal matters so they don't have the ability to put their generosity of spirit to use.
Although there isn't money to spare, these people are still quick to help in whatever way they can. They volunteer to babysit for a friend free of charge so she can go out, watch a relative's children for a weekend to let the parents take a much needed break to recharge, prepare meals for a mom on bed rest, and invite new families in the neighborhood over for dinner to make them feel welcomed.
These people may not be spending much money on others, but they are being as giving as they can with the money that they have. Calling them stingy would be insulting and fallacious, to say the least.
(While I would like to include myself in this category, I can't yet. I'm not a saint and still have a ways to work on myself, but being completely like this is my goal.)

Stinginess- the Sickness

On the other end of the spectrum are the selfish, greedy people, the ones that are pained by the thought of giving. They believe that they deserve the world; by sharing with others, they feel that they will have less for themselves and can't stomach that thought.
Greedy people may or may not have money, but this is not relevant at all to their feelings. Even if they had enough money that they were literally tripping over their gold and jewels, if an emaciated beggar knocked at their door, asking for a bite to eat, these stingy people would not even be willing to give their stale old bread to keep the beggar from starving.

While not so common in its extreme form, stinginess is a sickness that is all to prevalent in the world at large. It can afflict the rich and the poor, the young and the old. It is an addiction to money, an unhealthy connection to money that you can't bear to see it go towards others.

Taking stinginess one step further is miserliness.'s definition of this word: "a person who lives in wretched circumstances in order to save and hoard money." (I'll be getting myself into trouble here because some people might think I fit this definition, but I'll deal with that a little further down.) Note the word hoard. It means saving but with an extremely negative connotation.
Miserly people are stingy to the nth degree. They are so addicted to money that they can't bear to spend a cent, not even on themselves, and hence live in wretched circumstances. They just want to watch the money pile up. They collect money the way some other people collect junk. It has no use to them; they just need to accumulate it and watch their collection grow. These people are obsessed with owning money and not even with the luxuries money can buy.

Frugal isn't Miserly

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Frugality is a completely different mindset. People are thrifty with a goal in mind, and that goal isn't accumulating money for the sake of  miserliness.
The goal of frugality usually is either to stretch a meager income to cover necessities, to save up for something important like buying a house or a car or paying for college, to build an emergency fund so you'll never be stuck if you lose your job, or to pay off existing debts.
Frugality isn't miserliness, because, as I mentioned once, if your frugality is making your life miserable, something has got to change. The goal of frugality isn't to live a wretched life. A miser lives a wretched life, while a thrifty person wisely spends his money on the important things and cuts back in places that he can handle.

Once a frugal person reaches his monetary goal, either by making more money so the cash doesn't need to stretch as far, or having saved up enough money for his purpose, the frugal person will change his money spending habits. Perhaps he'll get himself a few more splurges, perhaps he'll allow himself to spend money in areas that were important to him but were unaffordable before.
When a frugal person becomes wealthier, the frugal person will still use his discretion when spending money, as the frugal person lives below his means because he is thinking long term.

If a frugal person becomes wealthy but still lives in a decrepit hovel, doesn't take care of pressing health issues, and is eating the bare minimal for survival, then I think you can rest assure that he has, indeed, crossed the line from frugal to miser.

There are generous frugal people and there are more selfish frugal people, just as there are generous philanthropic wealthy people and tightfisted callous rich snobs. In general, though, I've found that frugal people are often just as generous, if not more so, than their wealthier, non frugal counterparts.

I'm Frugal, not Stingy

When someone tells me that they don't like frugality, that being thrifty is just another name for stinginess, I laugh it off.
I know the truth.
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I know that I'm generous with my time; I do people favors all the time. I babysit my neighbor's kids free of charge. I take less than my usual rate when cleaning a poor family's house and I purposely overpay my babysitter as she's short on money. I make meals for women in my community when they're sick, new in the neighborhood, or have just given birth. I have guests over for meals when I hear they need a place. And to top it all off, I also give a hefty sum to charity each month. All without much money to go around.

Frugal is definitely not stingy. Whoever thinks that is so... well, they really must not be seeing the whole picture.

Do you think frugal and stingy are the same thing? Do you know anyone that does? What do you think is the connection or difference between frugal and stingy? 

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Yeah...both my parents are stingy. My father had three big inheritances, but is still a total deadbeat dad and grandfather. No remorse at all. He's out of my life for good.

    My mother has been a decent mother, but actually jokes about donating money to worthy causes. Plus, has lost what few friends she has by expecting services with no giving in return.

    So, I try to share although I also have the "greedy gene".

  2. My mother had 2 parents who gave her cars, paid for my education and babysat for free my while life. I only had her, who was more interested in her goals (finding a man) than being a parent. She would give her bf's whatever they wanted, even supporting them for years at a time, while she never lifted a finger to help me, even though she has tried to take credit for my accomplishments. She never came to visit me when I lived in NY because she said "I've never had any desire to see NY". Um, your only daughter lives there, wouldn't that be a good enough reason? She stalked 2 of my bosses and tried to engage them when she found out they were single (without my knowledge or permission) but when she called my inlaws house on Christmas she didn't even ay hello to them. She inherited $80,000 and all my grandmas jewelry. She gave me a check for $2,000 and has never once mentioned the jewelry. Not one thing for me, though I was very close to my grandmother. I was grateful for the money, but after decades of struggle to educate myself, (forget about her ever offering to help with school or anything, ever) you'd think she could do a little better than that. My husband was horrified by her behavior on more than one occasion. My mother likes to say that I will get all her stuff when she dies and has tried to guilt me into engaging her. I don't talk to her much anymore, and couldn't care less about when she dies. She's a sad, bitter and very mean woman.

  3. There is another class of people in charge of large sums of inheritence money: Mothers who never had to make any major financial decisions their entire life and are insanely tight fisted with it
    out of inexperience and illogical fear.
    And while they might not be technically
    mentally insane; they could easily be
    deemed "financially insane". There are
    probably billions of dollars, in the U.S.
    right now, that is not going back into the economy any time soon because its sitting in Trusts controlled by people who are overwhelmed and literally frightened by the millions they were
    suddenly given control over. In my case,
    several of my friends', and I imagine
    hundreds of thousands of other cases;
    the money won't be passed on at an
    early enough age to allow the sons or daughters to make enjoyable use out of it until they are too old, themselves. In times of better economys, such scenarios were perhaps easier to accept... but, in such financially disparaging times as these, the access to money (just to have a middle class level existence) is much more relevant. The galling ironies that exist with inheritences due to antiquated laws and old world sensibilities can drive one insane, just on their own. Granted, the government has taken some steps to try and make certain aspects more reasonable, but it needs to take a look at the ability of the people given control of the family money by the spouse and ascertain if they can even handle it, before they simply take it over.

  4. I give money to charity on a regular basis. I help family out ANYTIME they need help. At the same time I am frugal. I refuse to waste hard earned money on what I consider nonsense. I will not buy a high end car (although I can afford one) because it's a waste of money in my opinion, when an economy car will get me from point A to point B. I won't buy name brands because they are no better (in most cases) than the store brand products. So, yes I'm frugal, but not at all stingy. Big difference.

  5. My parents-in-law are very wealthy. They rarely buy our three year old son (there only grandchild) any gifts. my mother in law shows up to family functions in the best clothing. Her hair and nails freshly done. She has tight, thin lips that never smile. my family does not have a ton of money. They scrimp any money they do have to buy our son cute gifts and toys on a daily basis.
    My husband has learned to not be so cheap with others. I have taught him that while it is good to be financially sensible, it is very tacky to be so cheap when it comes to giving gifts in general.
    But, having said that, a great many people give cheap and tacky gifts. There is almost never an appropriate time to do that. My uncle in law showed up at our wedding with four kids, ate all the food and then left. His gift was a 10.00 iron. You show how uneducated and ignorant you are by behaving in such an embarrassing manner.

  6. I was recently accused of being stingy by my mother. I am not well off financially and had a very long illness that left me in a deep financial hole.
    Fortunately, I recovered my health, but not much money. I am still trying to get out of the red.
    The fact that other more well off members of my family do not assist me is their choice.
    I do not call them stingy or cheap.
    So why is it necessary for them to label me, who is struggling financially, "stingy"?
    This is just mean spirited.

  7. I'm very generous. Poor, but when I have money I spend it wisely, but generously. I think the reason frugal people get a bad rap is all the "frugal" people I know just can't keep their mouths shut. They're so busy judging and criticizing those of us who are generous with our money, even when we don't have much. They are constantly saying, "That costs too much, you shouldn't be buying that," or otherwise telling people how to manage their money. If you didn't earn it and you're not someone's spouse, shut up. DO NOT TELL OTHERS how to to spend their money, or comment on what they're buying. It's NOT your money and NOT your responsibility. You're not helping. You're being an annoying Pain in the A**. I am so tired of my STINGY friends saying they're just trying to help when in reality they're just being controlling. THAT is why frugal people are seen as stingy. I had one stingy, greedy friend who was constantly harping about what I spent my money on, but when I took her to dinner she ordered the most expensive stuff on the menu. SHE didn't mind spending MY money, but she harped about how I spent it. I got the distinct feeling she wished she had my money to blow. She was one screwed up woman. She had a million dollar house, a six-figure income from investments her dead husband had made, and yet she felt this need to pinch every nickel until it screamed. Stingy people are mentally ill.

  8. I believe frugality is different from being stingy, and being frugal doesn't meant that you cant be a generous giver. Frugality is spending on necessary things.
    i have a friend while in school, if his uncle send him money, he will go to bar and begin to order drinks for himself and people around. He is seen as being generous by his friends and people around him in the bar, but the truth is that, that is not generosity. that is being extravagance.

    Sometimes, frugality may lead to stinginess, but that doesnt mean that frugality is stinginess. It is being economical. Spending wisely. helping people. giving out when necessary, not when to show off.

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