Interesting topic-frugal vs cheapskate vs tightwad

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-25-2008
Interesting topic-frugal vs cheapskate vs tightwad
Thu, 12-27-2012 - 1:10pm

My mother and I were discussing the differences between being frugal, being a cheapskate, or just tight.  I asked her how she viewed me and why.  She said that she looks at me as being a frugal person based on what I say about money and how I behave with it.  I consider myself to be frugal...with most things.  But I have had people think that I am poor and have no money.  Comments have been made over the years that I am too poor to do or buy things when in actuality I just choose not to.  It is interesting how I am viewed by different people.  I have also offended people by not spending and I think it is because they feel out of control with their own money issues.  The people who get offended are always the ones who cry about their debt and troubles.

My mom told a story about how at work everyone was to donate a dollar to purchase coffee every week.  If you donated then you could have as much as  you wanted all week long.  Her friend, whom she described as tight, would not contribute saying that if he was going to be the one making the coffee each day for everyone then doing this job should be the same as if he contributed the dollar.  My mom says that made her so mad because its just a dollar.  But I see where he is coming from also.  People at my work contribute money every month for a water cooler to be filled.  If you donate you get as much water as you like. (The water from the tap at work is undrinkable)  I choose not to because I can bring my own water from home from the tap.  I think that is just more practical and yes, frugal.  She also said that the same person would only give change if an envelope came around work to donate to help someone or to donate for a group baby gift or something like that.  I am guilty of the same thing.  I don't like giving money like that.  One reason is that I have seen it abused.  My mom says that she would give 10-20 dollars for things like that and it made her mad that he didn't.  One thing though is that my mom had a handle on here money-no debt, lots of savings.  She could afford to give without it hurting her finances.

I think people have viewed me as frugal, cheap, and tight at one time or another.  But I have watched others at work spend a few dollars here and a few dollars there.  That all adds up!  If I gave money or spent money on a wim like they do then I would lose control.  I mean, if someone can afford that kind of disposable income then ok, but if you are in money trouble then they have no business giving money here and there all the time.

I think some people use the terms interchangably and they look at them as meaning the same thing.  Others will use the term frugal positively, while cheap and tight are used in a negative way.  Thoughts?

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2008

In my book, cheap is saving money at other people's expense and frugal is saving money at one's own expense.  For exmaple, I tip very well - over 15% even for so-so service; and 30% for great service.  If I could not afford the tip, I don't eat out, but I would never short someone's earning because I don't have the money.

In the office I rarely contribute to the myriad of non-work related things.  There is a coffee thing where one either brings a pound of coffee to work each month or it is $0.50 per cup.  I did not participate because the quality of coffee people bring differs greatly.  Just before Christmas they passed along envelopes for one person's retirement, one person just had a (second) baby, and one person's father passed away.  I only contributed to the person's father.  It has nothing to do with whether I could afford to do it or not, but I consider retirement and having babies a choice.  If they want to do it, they can very well pay for it themselves.  Everyone, however, have parents who will eventually die.  It is a sad time and I am more than glad to be of a little help.  At the same time, I don't tell share personal details with my co-workers and have never accepted any "envelopes".

It is also a matter of priority.  Some people I work with have larger homes or fancier cars and cannot understand why I live in a bad part of town.  I am happy with my home (the "bad" part of town is actually quite interesting) and my car, especially they are all paid for.  (Earlier this year I paid up my mortgage).  On the other hand, I take frequent trips overseas.  To me, I get more enjoyment from being able to travel than living in a huge cookie-cutter MacMansion. 

At the end of the day, I know I have savings in the bank and no debt and really don't care about what other people think.  And sometimes I believe the attitude of not caring what others think is helpful to achieve financial security.  Set you own goals and priorities, and forget about keeping up with the Joneses.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-14-2008

I agree, cheap has a negative vibe and frugal has a positive one. Its really only important of how you think of yourself. I say this because people that try to save money don't care if they are given office gifts at all.

I often give my own gifts at the  office to my staff. They are decent gifts I think that are personal to the people I am giving them to specifically. I sell avon and shop all year at deep discount because I am a rep and have the opportunity.  I don't expect anything in return and give for the pleasure that I listen to them and know what might make them happy and I appreciate all the things they do at my store.

I don't like giving to everything. I think it takes away from when you do give. I like to support the things that matter to me. That is not how the world works however and I often give to things I don't really want to but try to limit it. I own a store in a small town where I am supported very well and try to keep that in mind. 

Charity was not brought up here and maybe it shouldn't be but I am trying to be more charitable. But I want to do it how I want to do it. I want to help with time and caring not money. I need money for my family and security. I am trying to make this work for me and it has in couple situations.

I like to be frugal with cooking and groceries. I hate throwing food out for many reasons and try to make things stretch. And often it has saved me in situations. example. I am now making my own bread for the time being. It doesn't always all get eaten before going bad so I am making croutons and bread crumbs with the left overs. It takes time but I keep those items in my freezer and use them for all sorts of things! Those are items I was buying before and didnt' think much about and often used crackers or something else less satisfactory. Now I always have this on hand and love it. Frugal in the bread making, probably .75 cents a loaf and now not buying croutons or bread crumbs or that kind of crackers and I'm not throwing food out which is great.

And I really like coffee. I would pay the money. However, our tap water here is good and we have really cool water bottles, so I would bring my own from the tap.

No one wants to be called cheap...because it is equated with not caring. Lets call people frugal because you never know what they have going on at home and it is none of our business anyway.

Very interesting post!

Avatar for turtleemom
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-25-2007

I do think of all these as different things.  Frugal to me means spending your money, but doing so wisely.  Cheap is always going by price never quality.  Tight would be just not spending money beyond basic needs although if you did it would not cause financial hardship.

Someone who is frugal and needs a new TV would read reviews to determine quality of brand and features, and then find a TV that has the features they want and then shop around maybe for a couple of months for a sale.  Result is a quality product at a decent price.  Cheap is someone who is shopping for a TV and just buys whatever brand because it is on sale with little/no thought about quality. Chances are they will be buying another TV in a year or 2.  Tight is someone who sits at home with their  black and white tube TV who goes on and on about how the prices for a new one are so outlandish-even though they could well afford to buy anew one and not go wihtout anything.

Or with food, Frugal is someone who plans out weekly meals based on meat and fresh produce sales and mixes it up for variety in diet for health and enjoyment while staying cost effective.  Cheap is someone who always buys the least expensive brand/product of food and gives little/no thought to variety or 5 food groups.  Tight is eating rice and beans 3-4 nights a week because they were bought in bulk and mac and chese the other nights. 

Or with gifts, Frugal is selecting gifts with the recipeient in mind and staying within a comfortable budget.  Cheap is buying a gift because it was low cost with no thought if the recipent would like it or not.  Tight is giving everyone the same gift that was bought in bulk and marked down very low-cheap wine, maybe?

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006

I think Turtle nailed it.  

There is a difference between how you choose to spend your money, and flat out not spending and hoarding your money, even if it is causing your family discomfort and possibly even harms.  

Also, I think in the mix of "cheap or tight" is the person who always seems to find a way for someone else to pay for things.  They can afford it and are passive about getting others to pay.  Someone who is frugal would be honest that "going out to lunch is not in my budget" versus cheap or tight would not be so honest and minipulate the situation to get what they want.  

I had a GF who was invited to coffee with a man who needed some professional advice.  He got there WAY early and had already purchased his own coffee and was already at a table.  Oh, she was not happy.  He invited her, was asking for free advice, and couldn't even pony up $4.00?  I mean, really????  No suprise, this guy's wedding was not only a pot luck (which in some circumstances may be acceptable), but the A-M, N-Z list was on the printed invitation.  

On that new TLC show on tightwads, one guy just asked for a bunch of ice cream sample and then never ordered any icecream.  His DW was so embarrased!  I mean, you want to live in raggedy clothes, then whatever.  But what is the point of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, if you children don't even have a couch to sit on?  I don't get that.  


I imagine I have been guilty at some point in my life of judging people in either direction.  

My sister stopped participating in the gift giving system at her work.  Nothing wrong or bad about the way the office did it or anything, but she went from an employee to contractor and it just seemed like the perfect time to bow out.  True, she not longer receives, but she doesn't have to put out, either.