Cheap and Frugal are often used interchangeably, but I see them as vastly different ways of living and spending. One increases the size and quality of your life, the other makes life smaller and lonelier. How do we find more value in every area of our life? Is it EVER a good thing to be a Spendthrift?

Let’s look at the assumptions that underpin all three, and see what the difference is. And if there is ever a time and place for them?

Cheap Motto:

I won’t spend, even on the things I value.


When something adds value, people will exchange cold hard cash for that. But not cheap people. Because at the core, they don’t want to spend money, even on things they say they value.

This is super sad to me. An overall cheapness in life makes life smaller and smaller until it’s just one person sitting alone in a room.

I think, if we aren’t careful, cheapness can creep into important areas of life:

Marriage:  “I would never spend money on growing and thriving with my partner. Dinners out, hiring a sitter, weekends away, or meeting for a cup of coffee during the work day is a total waste! Marriage conference?! You have got to be joking me.”

Experiences: “I never spend money on a new or fun experience.” “Why go do things when we can just stay home. We’re already paying for cable TV.”

Education: “I would never spend money on books, classes, courses, coaching or consultants. I want this area of my life to be better, but there’s no way I’m investing money to see that happen.

Household items: “I’ll just go without or buy the absolute cheapest version, no matter how much it makes my life suck.” (I recently bought a $1 can opener, I speak from experience! After 3 weeks, we found the best rated one Amazon had to offer and bought it instantly.)

Relationships: “Getting together with friends, traveling for family, having kids – they’re all money pits.”

Health: “Why waste money on vegetables, a gym membership or heaven forbid personal trainer! I haven’t even been to a doctor in a decade. The quality and quantity of life is just luck anyway.”

Happiness: “I never spend money on things that would make me happy. Look at me! I haven’t been happy in a decade and I’m doing just fine!”

When to be cheap:

If something holds NO value to you, go cheap. Avoid spending the money or spend the absolute least amount of money possible. There are LOTS of things I go cheap on, like sunglasses! (with 5 little kids, they have a short life span!) And about a million things I just skip altogether. Because something is “the norm” doesn’t mean I need it.


Spendthrift Motto:

Low expectations of value for the money

The opposite side of that coin are the Spendthrifts.

noun 1.a person who spends possessions or money extravagantly or wastefully; prodigal.

Where the cheap person assumes that nothing has value, a Spendthrift has a low expectation of value for the money they spend.

Money seems to just flow out of their wallets like water from a strainer. If something is slightly more convenient, slightly nicer or just happens to be at the right place at the right time, they will easily part with their cash.

They are the folks who would pay and extra $80 a month for their TV channels just in case they might need it. They will buy milk from the corner store for 30% more instead of going without for a day. Money just doesn’t seem to hold much value to them and therefor they don’t require much value from the ways they spend it. Sure they might enjoy a $50 dinner about as much as a $80 dinner, but “meh” what’s $30 extra bucks?

Sometimes we can secretly admire the spendthrifts, because they seem utterly unconcerned about money. It comes, it goes. Life moves on.

Until things get tight. Then they are often the most confused about how exactly they ended up in a jam. They were just living life, right?

Almost sadder, Spendthrifts rarely get the things they really want.

The money slipped away on all the things they happen to see first, but that one big dream remains just that: a dream. Retiring early. Traveling the world. Starting a hobby farm.

This attitude can sneak into our lives as well in areas where we don’t want it.

Retirement Fund expenses: “1% isn’t that high of a fund fee, no need to worry about it.” (on $300,000 you are paying $3000 a year no matter if your stocks gain or lose money! How much value are you getting for that $3000?)

Insurance: “We have just always used this company. Sure, we might be able to find a cheaper plan, but is it really worth the hassle?” (You might save $200 a year on all your insurance x 10 years= $2000. Yes, it might take 3 hours of calls and a few days of follow up.)

Moving expenses: “Moving is stressful, and it’s just easier to pay someone to pack and haul the boxes.” Yeah, but it might set you back an extra $5000. Is it really $5000 easier?

When to be a Spendthrift:

I am trying more of a spendthrift when being a blessing to others. This is the one area I won’t go cheap. I am still frugal at times. But sometimes love and generosity ought to be extravagant. I think there is a time and a place for money to flow freely, almost like the money doesn’t matter. My mind is often still frugal to the core, but my heart is learning to be more of a spendthrift.


Frugal Motto:

Carefully consider the value in relation to price


Frugality sees the value in things.

Where Cheapness makes life smaller, and Spendthrifts often miss out on the most important things because of money frittered away, frugality expands life in the most important ways.

Life, happiness, relationships, health, education, adventures or celebrations get bigger and bigger. More and more good things get packed into each day and year without spending any more money.

Frugal seeks to increase the value while spending the same amount of money or to find the same value for less money.

Frugality is mindfulness and creativity.

How can we make life bigger, better and more awesome, all while spending less cash? How can we increase the things that are most important to us and forget about the rest?

How do we make sure we arrive at our biggest goals and dream, and not trade those away for things that don’t really matter to us?

For example:

The Spendthrift spends $80 on dinner.

Fancy dinners don’t add a ton of value for me. What I really crave is that time to connect with people I love. And something yummy.

So finding more value from that $80 might be:

  • Heading to the hot springs with a best friend with snacks (I cover the whole cost of gas, entry and snacks): $24
  • Grabbing coffee with my husband twice: $12 (with tip)
  • Meeting my mom for gourmet ice cream and a downtown walk (I do LOVE good ice cream! I pay for both of us, with tip): $8
  • Taking the kids out for .99 cent biscuits and gravy with a 1.29 monster donut: $20
  • Going out for $1 tacos on Tuesdays with 2 friends with fried ice cream (I seriously love ice cream!) (I pick up the tab for all of us): $16

Because I value time with family, my marriage, connecting with friends, tipping people for their work, fun experiences, and being generous: that is an amazing value for $80 spent….to me. The real trick is knowing what we each value and finding a way to get to that end, while spending less money.

That to me is frugality. Not being cheap and skipping all those amazing experiences. Not being a Spendthrift and getting a poor value for my $80. But finding ways to add more and more greatness into those times within the budgeted amount of money. Instead of 1 nice evening, that is a whole month of fun outings with people I care about.

When we go cheap on the things that matter to us, life can get smaller.

Spendthrift ways can dilute the focus on our spending so we end up spending a lot on everything, important or not.

 Frugality makes life bigger, more intentional, and more meaningful.


For Conversation:

1. Anything you go cheap on?

2. Have you found life getting bigger with frugality? Or does it feel like saving money is making life smaller?

3. What do you think about my Spendthrift with giving idea? Should we be super frugal in our giving as well? Making sure the person or organization is getting the very best value for our dollars? Is there a balance? I doubt any organization can out frugal me, so I worry it’s an unreasonable expectation.