Home » The Risks that Can Come When Frugal Turns into Cheap

The Risks that Can Come When Frugal Turns into Cheap

I was reading another personal finance blog the other day and the writer was telling about how he had saved a LOT of money in a little bit of time. Several hundred thousand dollars in just five years.

It was a cool and inspiring post, but as I read deeper into his techniques for increasing his saving I realized via some photos he had shared that he had definitely crossed the line from “frugal” to “cheap” in his pursuit of wealth.Β 

While being cheap can have its benefits, the dangers far outweigh them, in my humble opinion. Let’s talk about some of the ways crossing that line from “frugal” to “cheap” can cause problems.

You Can Endanger Your Health

One area I see people abandoning frugal for cheap is in the area of health and health care. There are several ways “cheap” can play out here to cause you harm.

  • You could cause injury to yourself by not spending money on important safety items. For instance, if you wear your shoes until there’s no sole left you could cause injury to your foot, leg, hip or spine. Or if you refuse to spend money on a safe vehicle you could end up seriously hurt if an accident occurs.
  • You could exacerbate a health problem by refusing to go to a doctor.
  • You could endanger your health by refusing to spend money on vegetables and other quality foods and only buying cheap substitutes like ramen.

There are ways to eat healthy for cheap. I know because I’ve fed our family of six quality, healthy meals for less than $500 a month for nearly five years straight now.

Taking care of your health is vitally important to enjoying the wealth you are accumulating, so make sure to think big picture as you’re working to save money in this area.

You Can Offend Your Loved Ones

Sometimes cheapness can really tick off those around us. For instance, if your family is a gift giving family and you avoid spending money on a gift and give your nephew a used 1980’s t-shirt for his birthday, or your refuse to pay your share at a restaurant, you might start creating resentment in those close to you.

Now, there are ways you can be frugal in your discretionary spending and gift giving as well, and not come off like an uncaring, selfish cad.

As an example, how about a gift certificate for that nephew that involves spending the day with him. You could go to the park, have a movie night at your house or go rock hunting or geo-caching.

Or if your friends like to gather for restaurant meals frequently, why not suggest a potluck instead? Or if your family is planning a group vacation destination, why not do some research on some great vacation deals?

The fact of the matter is that sometimes you’re going to have to spend some cash to keep the family/friend peace, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with them to suggest more fiscally responsible options.

It’s okay to share that you’re working toward some financial goals and to put some limits on your spending, but sometimes you might have to pony up the cash for something that’s important, and that’s okay.

You Can Miss Out on Some Great Times

Those of us who are personal finance nerds can often get really tunnel-visioned when it comes to reaching money goals. I remember during our first year of debt payoff, I was on a serious roll. I had to be, given we had a DTI of 65%.

We had started in January of 2013 and for six months we were so frugal that we’d spent a total of $386 on entertainment for our family of six. That equals about $65 a month. I was still worried that this was much too much money given our situation and so when an opportunity to go to a classic car/plane show came up, I turned it down.

There was no cost to attend the event – I just didn’t want to spend the gas to drive the 15 miles there and back. Yep, I had become a serious cheap-arse. After some rebellion from my husband and kids, we went to the show.

It was SO much fun. We had three to four hours of complete bliss, oohing and ahhing at the hundreds of classic cars and planes. That event ended up being one of our best family members of 2013. And it taught me to not be such a tightwad that I lost sight of what our real goal was: being fiscally responsible without putting money above people.

One of the really cool planes we got to see at the car/plane show.









You Can End Up Costing Yourself More Money in the Long Run

Sometimes being cheap can end up costing you more money over the long haul. For instance, like when you avoid getting that minor roof problem repaired because you don’t want to spend the money and the ensuing water intrusion causes a whole lot more problems that need to be repaired as you put off fixing the roof.

Or when you refuse to spend money on new running shoes and end up with a massive doctor bill from an injury sustained from wearing less than optimal footwear.

Frugal, Absolutely. Cheap, No Way.

I’m a big believer in frugality, and I pride myself on cutting spending wherever I can in order that our family can reach its financial goals.

However, when you cross the line over into cheap, you can cause some serious problems. I remember watching an episode of extreme cheapskates where a middle-aged mom invited her son, daughter-in-law and toddler-aged grandchild over for dinner.

Among other not-so-inviting meal selections, she served a cake that she had snagged out of a dumpster behind the local grocery store – it was a day-old item the store staff had tossed.

While her creativeness was to be admired, it was clearly obvious that her family did NOT appreciate being offered dumpster finds for dinner.

If you’re looking for a cheap dessert to serve, forego the dumpster finds and cook up some cake or brownies from scratch. You can do that for under $2 if you find the right recipe. You’ll still be acting frugally, and avoid the risk of forever alienating your loved ones.


  1. I agree with everything you said. I especially resonate with not missing out on SOME fun and definitely taking care of your health. That’s one that can REALLY bite you in the ass later if you don’t pay attention up front.

  2. Mr. SSC says:

    Yep, there’s a fine line between frugal and cheap and going cheap can cost more in the long run. My BIL talks about how hard it was for him to break the habit of buying cheap items knowing they’d have to be replaced in a year rather than buying 1 quality thing that lasts way longer.

    I went that route too for a bit but found it easy to break the cheap cycle and become more frugal minded instead. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend the money, especially for experiences. Like our recent tank adventure, well worth it and it was something noone will forget anytime soon plus it was great family bonding time too. And free experiences, even better! I love classic car shows especially free ones. ????

    • Laurie says:

      Great comment, Mr. SSC. Yes, Rick had to learn about not buying cheap stuff you’ll have to replace in a year too. It’s tough, especially when frugality is so ingrained in one’s nature. πŸ™‚

  3. Absolutely agree with this Laurie. To me frugal is about value and priorities whereas cheap is purely about the number…less money the better. My dad goes over to the cheap side pretty often and it’s tough to change since it’s ingrained in his head. The biggest problem is when you are cheap when it comes to your health! How do you change a cheap person?!

  4. Mrs. Groovy says:

    I thought you might say the day at a free car show would also involve eating out, and you didn’t want to spend money on a restaurant. Gas money for 15 miles? Yahhh, that’s cheap.

    We went to a wedding this weekend, invited by the parents of the groom. The groom’s mom was wearing a knee support at breakfast. She explained that she “thinks” she has a torn meniscus, but it’s getting better. I asked her a few questions and it sounds serious. But when she said she has not been to a doctor I’m certain I did not hide the look of alarm on my face. I don’t know if it’s cheapness or stubbornness that’s preventing her from a doctor visit, but I hate to think it’s based on money.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I know, right?? So sad about your friend and her knee. I hear stories like that all of the time, thanks to the current medical care situation here. We really need to find a balance where people still have to pay to go but not to the extent that so many are afraid to go to the doctor. πŸ™

  5. This is such a critical issue that everyone, from already-frugal to way-too-cheap to just the FI-curious need to understand. Frugal is all about putting your money towards things that matter, and not towards things that don’t matter. Your health matters. Your relationships matter. Those things are OKAY to spend money on, and you in fact should. It isn’t always about just the final total cost number, you need to factor in values and impact too.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, BE. Great comment. Too often we lose sight of the big picture when it comes to dealing with money. It’s so important to have one’s priorities straight before making budget decisions. I appreciate you stopping by!

  6. Hi Laurie! It’s been quite a while since I have commented – and I am catching up on all of your posts! This one resonated quite deeply with me. I regularly use the phrase, “You get what you pay for.” We are currently renting a house owned by my in-laws while we hack away at our debt. They have gone the cheap route over the last 25 years and the temporary, half-ass, cheap fixes are literally falling onto our heads now. My FIL scoffed at my husband last weekend because he spent $250 on a pair of work boots and didn’t “just go to Wal-Mart and buy $20 boots”. He works in a gravel pit and is on his feet all day, in wet, muddy, cold conditions. These boots will last him about 18 months (he’s been buying the same brand for years) and to me, it’s a worthy investment. Rather than spending $20 on a pair of crap boots that will need replaced in two months – he’s got high quality footwear πŸ™‚ Hope all is well!

    • Laurie says:

      Hey girl! Good to see you!! Sounds like the in-laws haven’t quite learned that lesson yet. Good call on the boots too – it’s so important to take care of the body, Savannah!! Who knows what other problems could occur because of the cheap footwear!!

  7. Definitely, agree!

    I’ve noticed a huge emphasis on cheap clothing in the personal finance world to save money, but I find that depending on your career choice, buying quality clothes that last to display the image of the career path you choose, then it is much better to buy the high-quality clothing.

    They last longer and can lead to higher income in the future. Do I think your cleaning the house clothes should be quality? Not so much.

    Business attire for that next gig? For sure!

    Thanks for posting and love the reminder to flirt with the line but always stay on the frugal side :).

    • Laurie says:

      Great point, Chris. So many factors to consider. We are lucky that both of our work situations call for casual clothing, but that will be changing for me soon, and the plan is to buy just a few interchangeable quality pieces. We’ll see how that goes. πŸ™‚

  8. Well said, Laurie. I have developed a real respect for super-frugal types, but when people don’t pay their share at a restaurant or otherwise leach off of others … not so impressive. I remember you writing about the show you almost missed. I’m glad your family talked you out of that “frugal” move : )

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