Being Frugal Versus Cheap: There’s a Difference


I did something this week that astounded a lot of people.  I paid $80 for a gallon of maple syrup.  My kids said, “Wow!  I’m not using any of that stuff!” while friends said, “Why would you pay that much for maple syrup?  What happened to the Coupon Queen?”  I know this was a shocking move for me but it was done very intentionally and with lots of frugalness.

Being frugal doesn’t mean being cheap.  If I was cheap, I would only buy fake, corn syrup based, maple FLAVORED syrup on sale for around $1.99.  But I’m not cheap…I am frugal and I appreciate high quality food and other things in life.  The frugal part of me just makes sure that I am getting the best deal for whatever I am buying.

I recently saw a comment about being frugal vs. being cheap and it hit home with me.  It said, ‘”A cheap person is more concerned with the cost of something while the frugal person is concerned with the value of something.”  In previous blogs I have talked about this and tried to explain the difference between the two.  But this quote seems to sum it up nicely.

So, yes I spent $80 for maple syrup but it was a super deal!  Here let me explain:  It is REAL maple syrup direct from a farm in Wisconsin which practices ethical methods of extraction.   It is organic and pure.  Because it is pure, a little bit goes a long way so this gallon will last us a long time.

Frugal Versus CheapThere's a  Difference - Save It Missoula by Erin Turner

This maple syrup is pure, organic and a little bit goes a long way. Using less of something is frugal.

You may be thinking, “Wow, that is a lot of pancakes or waffles!” but I use maple syrup as a substitute for sugar in my baking and cooking.  It’s similar to using honey, which I also use frequently.  Reducing the amount of refined sugar in my family’s food is a wise and healthful choice.  So, this high-quality, real maple syrup is a valued commodity in my kitchen and worth every penny!

Now, I wouldn’t be the “Save-It Queen” if I didn’t shop for a great deal on this maple syrup.  I paid $80 for 128 oz of golden nectar.  I stopped by the Good Food Store and compared prices.  I found a similar quality syrup as the one I purchased: an organic, grade B syrup from Wisconsin.  It was $13 for a 12 oz bottle.  That means I would pay over $140 for one gallon of that syrup.  Did I get a screaming, great deal??  Heck, yeah…this was an ultimate score!  That is a savings of 57%!!  Once I explained this to the boys, they were all over that syrup and were anxious to try it out.  (Oh, and it tastes like nothing you get off a shelf!)

Do you see what I am getting at when I talk about frugal vs. cheap?  You’re not a frugal failure if you purchase something which seems expensive but it has high value and you get the best deal available.  A failure in frugality would be to purchase something which is not valued in your home at full price.

Frugal versus cheap - There's a difference by Erin Turner - Save It Missoula

I won’t pay more for quality socks when they’re obviously not valued in our household.

Clarification:  There are times when I am cheap and am only concerned about the cost and not the quality.  I have 3 rough-and-tumble boys who for some odd reason love to take off their shoes and run around the yard playing football and tag with only socks on their feet.   Eventually they make their way over to the sandbox and take off their socks which I end up finding a few days later wet and filled with sand.

I am NOT interested in paying for high quality socks when they aren’t valued in our home.  So, when I shop for socks I go the cheap route and am more concerned about the cost than the value or quality.  And I’m good with that!

And as I have often written, for some things, having a higher quality item requires less of that item, such as my maple syrup.  In the past, have stocked up on  “maple-flavored” syrup and have up to 6-10 bottles  on my pantry shelf.   We have gone through these bottles quickly because this syrup lacks the intensity and flavor of the real thing.  By purchasing a higher quality product I was able to reduce the amount we need while also freeing up lots of valued shelf space in the pantry!

As I move deeper into a frugal lifestyle, I am realizing the need to evaluate all the items I purchase and judge their value in our home.  Through discernment, I will be able to better determine what items AND what price I am willing to pay for them.  It’s really all about being aware and engaged in your buying habits.   Be a conscious consumer and understand where each penny of your budget is going and why!

Are you frugal, cheap, a combination of both or none of the above?


 Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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