What’s the Difference Between Being Cheap and Thrifty?

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 What’s the Difference Between Being Cheap and Thrifty?

When we call someone “cheap,” it can create a negative connotation with this person’s attitude toward money. There is, of course, a distinction betwee

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When we call someone “cheap,” it can create a negative connotation with this person’s attitude toward money. There is, of course, a distinction between being cheap — typically a choice one can afford — and not being able to afford things. On the other hand, the word “thrifty” implies a much healthier worldview despite the similar meaning. 

If both words apply to someone who is very conscious of their spending, then how do they differ? To answer, here are some saving-related considerations and how a “thrifty” person might see them differently from a “cheap” one.

Contemplating Short-Term Cost and Long-Term Value

The difference between cost and value lies in how the two are established. Cost is a measurable, objective quantity set by a provider while value is subjective yet arguably more important.

Being Cheap: Cost Over Value

Someone who is cheap more often than not focuses on immediate costs when considering purchases. If they need a hammer for a project, a cheap person might consider buying one at the lowest price. While this saves them money in the short term, it also disregards the quality of the tool in question. A cheap person tends to focus on what’s in their wallet now without consideration for the future.

Because of this, the low-priced hammer might last a month instead of the years a costlier yet stronger one would. Those who are cheap are less inclined to re-buy an item later (which they would need to do here). Convenience isn’t as much of a factor, so they might continue to use this broken tool despite the difficulty. Those few dollars saved are more important to a cheap person than a more permanent solution to their hammering needs.

Being Thrifty: Value Over Cost

A thrifty person, in contrast, is mindful of more of the necessary considerations for their spending. They might choose to get a debit card with round-up saving so they don’t have to worry about doing so. In the same situation, this person might take a few minutes to research what product fits their needs the best. This includes looking into prices, quality, reviews, forums, and other sources of information to learn where to find value. 

In the end, they might decide to buy a $30 hammer (which will last for years) over a $5 one. Say the $30 hammer lasts one year and the $5 one lasts a month (with both being used consistently). If the cheap person purchases a hammer each month, they are spending $60 a year — double what the thrifty person spent! A thrifty person would dig deeper to consider this value before making their purchase.

Placing Importance on Saving and Overall Quality of Life

While money undoubtedly affects the quality of life, the two are not bound together. Because of this, it’s important to balance them.

Being Cheap: Money Over Quality of Life

A cheap person, for instance, might be too fixated on money to consider the necessity of a good quality of life. It’s easy to get caught up in numbers, but doing so can make your life unnecessarily stale. You might turn down a night out with friends to save money, but then realize you’re missing out on the fun. These choices can have collective effects on your mental health and negatively influence your attitude toward the world.

Ultimately, being cheap in this regard boils down to sacrificing one’s day-to-day well-being to save when it is unnecessary. Cheapness may look like avoiding desirable or healthy foods that may be slightly costlier than inferior alternatives. Or you might abandon hobbies if you deem them too pricey or worthless, depriving you of healthy outlets.

Being Thrifty: A Healthy Balance

Thrifty people are also very conscious of their wallets, but they have more of a balance when it comes to spending. Being thrifty isn’t about spending less or only buying at lower prices, but rather spending smarter. Thrifty people consider quality of life, while cheap people often do not. Instead of avoiding all gratuitous spending, they might factor a certain amount into a monthly “fun” budget.

Being thrifty holds a positive connotation compared to being cheap because it is often, frankly, quite enjoyable. Rather than buying a flower pot, a thrifty person might buy a cheaper (but cuter!) teapot from a thrift store. The key to being thrifty is mindfulness of what you need and want, and how they can both be satisfied. Being cheap is only focusing on what you think you need, and it involves less introspection.

Spending on Oneself and Others

Cheapness is inherently more self-focused than thriftiness; money for a cheap person is almost always the priority. For thrifty people, their healthy balance means a higher regard for others where money is involved.

Being Cheap: One’s Needs Over Others

It is already clear that being cheap brings with it a detriment to the quality of one’s life. When cheapness is the dominating sense in a person, they already shirk their own needs. As a result, these habits can affect their considerations and actions regarding others’ needs. After a cheap person dines out at a restaurant, for example, they may not leave a tip for their server.

This is not, to them, an unfriendly act; they are simply saving where they can. But the need to save is harming others who may have less opportunity and money than them. Another’s situation is less likely to be of concern where money is involved — which builds a lack of empathy. Cheapness, in the end, develops into problematic levels of greed and makes it harder to understand why this is so.

Being Thrifty: One’s Needs and Consideration of Those of Others

While a thrifty person needs to know how their money is being spent, they also take the human element into account. Tipping their server is surely a no-brainer and, as they were thinking ahead, already budgeted for! That hammer they bought earlier may cost the same at a big-box chain. But the thrifty buyer may decide to support a small business instead.

Similarly, this person, even if financially unstable, might want to get gifts for friends. A cheap person is less likely to even consider this; a thrifty person might buy small, meaningful things. If they can’t do that, they might make something instead — thriftiness implies creative financial problem-solving without unnecessary sacrifice. This way, their friends will have a lovely birthday, and they will be satisfied knowing they put the effort in.

At this point, the difference between being cheap and being thrifty is clear. Being cheap means prioritizing money over healthy experience, and being thrifty means finding the perfect balance. Next time you manage your finances, look for places you’re underspending that need a bit more love. You can find a thrifty way to still have a great quality of life. 

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