At the risk of beginning an article with a semantic argument, let me say this: frugality is a positive quality, whereas cheapness is the exact opposite. Unfortunately, many folks tend to lump the two together. This is a mistake -- one that sticks a nasty label on the budget conscious while making excuses for the full-fledged stingy.
Let's define our terms. To be frugal is to be prudent and economical. Frugal folks often have a budget in mind, and are legitimately concerned about compromising their finances. Do you have kids? A mortgage? Car payments? Unless you're rolling in old money, lottery winnings or one heck of a high-end day job, frugality is encouraged. When you're frugal, you choose to take on short-term frustration and suffering for the sake of long-term financial stability. Some examples:
- Taking lunch to work as a money saving measure.
- Taking advantage of coupons and promotional offers when purchasing goods or services.
- Limiting social outings such as getaways, vacations, concerts, and live sporting events.
- Limiting unnecessarily expensive purchases.
Finding a great deal on web hosting or WiFi? That's frugal. Asking your neighbor for access to their web hosting or wifi accounts? That's cheap. 'Borrowing' their Netflix or Hulu password? Even cheaper.
Frugality is about prioritizing expenditures for the sake of financial responsibility. Frugal people are smart, resourceful, and innovative with their money. They have long-term wants and desires, and have the patience to work toward them.
Cheapness is an entirely different animal. When you're cheap, this aforementioned frustration and suffering is passed on -- sometimes partially, sometimes entirely -- to those around you. Friends, family members, co-workers, casual associates. Heck, even total strangers. As character traits go, it's the furthest thing from commendable or responsible. Some examples:
Leaving a paltry tip for a server, bartender, or someone else in the service industry. Unless they've treated you like crap, gratuities are part of the process.
Nickel and diming the folks splitting a bill with you. Yes, everyone should pay their fair share, but grilling your tablemates over the exact amount of food and beverages they've ordered makes you look like an ass. Equally bad: being the one who lets others foot the bill while never reciprocating.
Sidestepping social convention at important events. Going home for Christmas and telling the family, "Oh, I'm not doing gifts this year" is a cheap-arse move, especially when they've already splurged on getting you something. Invited to a friend's wedding? A $25 iTunes gift card ain't gonna cut it.
Bottom line: cheapness is about spending less, regardless of who's affected by your actions. This isn't a goal-driven characteristic -- it's an obnoxious personality trait that promotes immediate financial gain at the expense of others. Keep in mind, although those around you are negatively affected by your cheapness, you are too. Sure, you're not losing money, but you're losing the respect of your peers, and that's one heck of a trade-off, hombre. Just sayin'.
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