9 Ways to Be Frugal Without Being Cheap

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Frugal vs cheap is a difficult balance for many. Here are 9 ways we’re frugal without being cheap so we can enjoy the life we want without being misers.

Being frugal and being cheap are commonly thought of as synonymous. I hear it regularly from family members. They know we tend to live frugally and accuse us of simply being cheap.

It can be easy to allow frugality to turn into cheapness. We’ve all seen or heard of the extreme frugality shows where people go to the level of reusing dental floss or some other ridiculous thing all in an attempt to save a few pennies.

That misses the point of frugality, which is really all about spending with a purpose. If you struggle to find the balance between trying to be frugal without being cheap, here are some ways to not be a miser and still enjoy some nice things in life.

Watch Those Drinks


We rarely go out for dinner as it can get quite expensive with a family of five. We typically go out around our anniversary and a few special occasions throughout the year, but it usually adds up to only a few times per year.

Like many, we enjoy a drink or two with that meal, but here’s the rub – markup. Retailers typically mark up glasses of wine or beer by as much as 300 percent or more and cocktails by 500 percent or more. You think that’s crazy; soda is way worse. Add in tax and tip on that purchase, and it gets more bloated.

Our frugal solution is to skip the drink. We buy something on the way home, or already have something at home. This allows us to enjoy a nice treat, without a crazy cost to the bill.

Hiring A Housekeeper


What does hiring a housekeeper have to do with frugality? The idea used to make every frugal bone in my body cringe, but I’ve come to love having someone come clean our house once a month.

The reason for my change of opinion? It frees my wife and I up to get more clients and make more money. We typically pay our housekeeper $125 – $150 per month to give our house a deep clean. She’s able to get the house done in 5-6 hours, and over that time we’re earning more money.

We do spot cleaning throughout the month, of course, but we buy back our time to focus on growing our business. Without that extra time, we’d lose time we need to grow our business. That makes paying for a housekeeper well worth the expense so we can focus on things that bring value to our business or income into our home.

In Source Hair Care


Getting a hair cut can be expensive. For a typical haircut for a man, the average is $28 per sheering and $44 for women. That can add up quickly when you have a family. The best way to save money on haircuts is to insource the expense.

*Related: Looking for extra ways to save money on clothing for your family? Check out our guide on how to get free children’s clothes online to keep more money in your budget.*

We’ve done this for years, and it has saved us loads of money. I use this simple Wahl haircut kit for my and my sons’ hair. My wife and daughter, who strangely enough don’t trust me to cut their hair, go to a local beauty school to get their hair cut. At about $12, including tip, it saves loads of money without being cheap.

Cut the Cable, But Still Watch TV


This is a great way to be frugal without being cheap. There are so many options today to cut cable and save money. We canceled DirecTV close to two years ago and save roughly $90 per month, yet still watch most of what we did in our DirecTV years.

There are many options to choose from including Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick and more. It simply doesn’t make sense to throw money out the window. The fun part is deciding what to do with all that extra money. We throw it into our vacation fund, so we have more money to travel.

Pay for Quality Products


A cheap person will always look for the cheapest product, thinking it’s saving them money. In some cases, it might actually work for them, but in most instances, it won’t.

It’s for one simple reason; the item is cheaply made and breaks in short order. This is a lesson I learned when I was paying off debt. Needing an item, I would pick the cheaper option because I had very little. Most times I’d need to replace the item again, which cost me more money in the long run.

A frugal person comparison shops and finds a product that will last longer. This costs more in the short-term, but in the long run, it saves money. It’s a no-brainer if you ask me.

Be Creative When Eating Out


Back to the restaurant for this one. How many times have you ordered a meal only to get enough food to feed a small Russian army? If you don’t take the leftover food home, then you’re wasting it – not to mention spending more than you ought.

We have two frugal solutions to this problem, we either just order an appetizer if we’re not that hungry or we split a meal. This lets still enjoy a meal out, but it cuts our cost in half, and we don’t feel the pressure to stuff ourselves.

Embrace Used Items


We live in a throwaway culture. A cheap person won’t throw anything away because they think anything can be used. This can easily lead to clutter, which is the last thing I want. A frugal person knows there are some used items that still have good life left in them and save money.

*Related: Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Read our exhaustive guide of free things to do this weekend to save money without sacrificing on the fun.*

This can range from used clothing, especially for growing children, to tools, to cars, pre-owned gift cards and more. You get to avoid the premium price you pay for a new item and still get something useful with value.

Wisely Use Coupons


A cheap person is always going to look for and use coupons. Coupons are often a waste of time, saving you little relative to the time spent and are simply not worth it. The best way to be frugal and take advantage of savings is to wisely use coupons to your advantage.

We don’t use coupons when shopping, but we do take advantage of cash back sites like Ebates and Swagbucks when shopping online. You don’t have to jump through any additional hoops or spend time looking for coupons but still save money. That’s a win-win in my book.

Do Your Math when trying to be frugal


A cheap person is going to assume the generic item is always a better deal. That may not always be the case. A frugal person, on the other hand, does some simple math to make sure the deal or generic item is really cheaper.

The best way to do this is to compare the per ounce, pound or item cost when looking at two similar items. You may be surprised at the number of times that the cheaper item actually has a higher per item cost and not be a deal.

It can be easy to confuse trying to be frugal with being cheap. Frugal living is about purposeful spending so you can enjoy the kind of life you want and not always to do with saving an extra few pennies.


What are some other ways you can be frugal without being cheap? How do you balance being frugal vs cheap? What’s one thing you spend money on that wouldn’t be considered frugal by most?

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I disagree with your assessment of coupons as we’ve saved an average of $100-$200 a month on things we would have bought anyway (make the list first – check coupons second) for the past few years. It really doesn’t take that much time considering how much you can save, and I think it’s a frugal thing to do and shouldn’t be criticized. My wife did cut my hair for a year or two but with her working full-time and grad school nearly full-time we decided it was one thing we’d drop to free up her time. Lots of other options to save money and be frugal, though I think being frugal and being cheap are mostly one in the same.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s great you use coupons to save money DC. I’d argue, however, that many food products that tend to have coupons are packaged foods and thus have their own drawbacks. I’d also argue that you could use your time spent looking for coupons more productively that can bring in more than the savings.

      That being said, I disagree with your assessment on being frugal vs being cheap. A cheap person is commonly only concerned with price and getting the cheapest price possible. A frugal person is going to spend towards value and doesn’t have a problem spending up to get quality or for something that’s important to them – that’s a key difference that separates the two in my opinion.

  • Cheryl says:

    I always check the weekly grocery flyers and buy the sale items, especially meats. We watch for whole chickens at $2.00 per pound, buy a few and freeze them, value packs of hamburger, divided up into smaller portions and freeze etc. One thing that really saves money is a bread maker. Bread consists of flour, salt, sugar, water, butter and yeast. I like to make the dough in the bread maker and then take it out and bake buns or loaves in a regular oven.

    • John Schmoll says:

      We did that as well to save money when we ate a lot of bread. Not only does it save you money, but you also get to control what’s in it.

  • Miguel @ The Rich Miser says:

    I agree with having a housekeeper, since doing it yourself is very time and labor-intensive. However, one way to stretch out housekeeping visits is to get a cleaning robot (like Roomba) and use it between housekeeping visits. Depending on the layout of the house and how dirty it gets, it can pay for itself over time.

    Also, I’ve had good results with using a housekeeping company. I can call them on-demand (rather than having them come regularly, whether the house is dirty or not), and don’t have to worry about legal stuff like workmen’s comp insurance. Also, they always send two people, so the job is done in half the time. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us.

  • Alejandra says:

    Somethings I agree and others not so much. For one I actually like cleaning because it lets me control what I clean instead and it is good to learn. Another thing is that at my local costco the 20 ounce sodas are 60 cents compared to the one dollar 12 ounce cans in the vending machine.

  • lisa says:

    I think that cheap means how low can the price tag go and quality of an item is an afterthought… Frugal means getting the most value from your dollar with quality in mind.
    I rarely use coupons as there aren’t any for meats, milk, flour, fruits and veg. I cook and bake a lot. From scratch. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to go out to eat because the food tastes like chemicals and I’m constantly thinking, “I can make better than this.” We stock up on meats when on sale and freeze it.
    We purchased quality furniture through the years and I have yet to replace any of it (24+ years and counting). It was on sale or discounted.
    Our vehicles are still running after 13 years and in good/great shape. It helps that our jobs are close to home now and the school is nearby. That saves us gas (big time) and wear/tear.
    We don’t change weight very much and have clothing that lasts a really long time. With the washing that we do, basics will need to be replaced every few years but that’s it.
    My attitude is that sometimes enough is truly enough. I have all that I need and very few wants. Reuse, repurpose and wear it out. Learn to make do or do without is my motto.

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