Is Frugal Cheap? Is Cheap Frugal?

On a message board I frequent, someone linked to this article on "frugality", which ended up getting lots of responses. Some of the people ridiculed the author for being "less than frugal" by purchasing really expensive bags, and other people ridiculed the author for missing the point of frugality, because frugal doesn't mean cheap.
Does it?
Does frugal mean cheap?
Is cheap frugal?

I was asked to weigh in on the topic.

To put it simply, the answer is yes. And no.
Cheap can be frugal. Cheap can be the anti-frugal.
What does that mean?

To be able to really explain that, frugality really needs to be defined well. Frugality doesn't necessarily mean spending as little money as possible. That's just "being cheap" or "being miserly" or "being stingy".

In my terms, frugality means living within your means AND getting the most value for the money you spend.

Sometimes, in order to live within your means, you do need to spend money on cheapo things; if you have no money for anything more expensive at the time and you need to have the item immediately, its better to get something cheap, even if not good quality, than to spend above your means and go into debt to get a better quality, more expensive product.

Better quality though, often can be frugal as well. But to a limit.
Some people mistakenly think that if something is more expensive, it's obviously better quality, and that it is worth more money. Other people think that if something is cheap, it's the better deal, and that buying it is the frugal move.

To truly be frugal, you have to do research. You have to weigh in the options, and not just look at price as a measure of quality.
You want to get the most value for your money. Not the most money spent. Not the least money spent. Because, in the long run, if you get something cheap, you may need to replace it many times, but if you get something more expensive, it'll last longer and you won't spend money as frequently on that item.

When I got married, I wanted to buy a laptop. I didn't have much money to spend, so I looked for the absolute cheapest laptop I could find. I got one with very little memory, very little disk space, very cheap quality. Why? Because I mistakenly assumed that if it was cheap, it was a good deal.
Less than 5 years later and my laptop no longer gets used anymore. It's the biggest hassle to use. I don't use my laptop for fun and games (mostly, anyhow). I use my laptop to work. But my laptop was a pain in the neck to work on, because the lack of memory and space on the hard drive made it go so insanely slowly that I would often bring a book to read while I was waiting for pages to open and programs to load.
My friend, on the other hand, bought her more expensive laptop 5 years ago, and it is in tip top working condition.
My cheap laptop was not exactly cheap. Less than 5 years later, I needed to replace it, as I needed a well functioning computer for work. It would have been more frugal for me to spend a little more money then, than to spend money on replacing my computer so soon.

Another thing I did was buy my strollers second hand. Two kids later, and aside for my double stroller, all my other strollers are not working. Two of them (one inherited, one dumpster dived) completely bit the dust and are now in the trash, and the one I bought second hand now collapses every time I bounce it down the stairs- certainly not safe to use with a new baby.
Was buying that stroller second hand really such a good deal? I'm not sure. I am really rough on my strollers because I live without a car, but I have a feeling that if I either bought a spanking new stroller, or got a more expensive, better quality stroller second hand, I wouldn't need to buy a new stroller for the new kid I'll be adding to our family this coming winter.

Cheap toys also usually end up in the garbage, making them just wasted money, as the items don't last enough.

So those cheap things certainly aren't frugal.

But that doesn't mean you have to go overboard the other way either. Just because something is more expensive doesn't make it the better deal necessarily. With food especially, sometimes name brand products are the same exact products as the generic brand; they're just printed with a fancier label and then charge you more money, but many times they're manufactured at the same plant, on the same lines as the cheaper product. One isn't inferior just because it is cheaper.

I grew up on Payless Shoes. Everyone always used to tell me how Payless shoes are such a rip off, that they're such bad quality that I might as well spend a little more money on better products, because those cheap shoes will get ruined quite quickly, and I'll end up spending more money in the long run.
News flash- my Payless shoes usually lasted me a long time. Emphasis on long. I usually changed sizes or tastes long before the shoes got old and unusable.
When I couldn't find anything else, I actually spent 100 dollars on a pair of shoes my size. Better quality. Sure. Within 3 months, those shoes were complete garbage. My Payless shoes never, ever, ever got trashed that quickly.

Some things, specifically because they're more expensive, are actually inferior in many ways, as they're more prone to breaking. My friends husband is a washing machine repairman. He strongly advises against people getting any digitalized electronics, from digitalized washing machines to refrigerators to ovens. The fancier something is, the more prone it is to breaking, and the more frequently it needs repairs. He suggests buying good quality but non fancy, non digitalized appliances, as they are cheaper to begin with, and end up being better quality.

When trying to decide how to spend your money, don't automatically assume that cheap=frugal, and don't either assume that expensive=frugal. There generally is a middle ground, and there often are exceptions to the rules. Judge each thing on a case by case basis, do your own research about the actual quality of an item, and don't just assume either that cheap is the better deal, or that expensive things are high quality, and hence the better deal.
It all depends.

What do you say? Do you think its frugal to buy something cheap? Is it more frugal to buy something more expensive? How do you decide whether or not something is actually frugal? 
Have you ever bought something cheap and regretted it, because it was a non frugal purchase? What was it, and why did you regret it? Did you ever buy something more expensive, thinking it was high quality and hence a more frugal purchase, and then regret it? Why?

Linking up to Frugal Friday

Penniless Parenting

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


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  1. I gotta agree with the computer thing! Uhg..... I want to shatter mine all over the floor right now!

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