A catering co-worker of mine called me cheap the other day. I guess the first time he said it it was to someone else in our catering company. ‘Kara’s too cheap. It’s getting out of control.’
As we all know, I am a fiend for catering leftovers and getting the most out of my side hustles. I unabashedly load up my reusable shopping bag at the end of each event with leftover food, condiments, even the plastic containers that they use to bring sauces or garnishes with. I take it all.
Hearing that someone called me cheap got me wondering though. Am I cheap rather than frugal?
First, let’s consider what the difference between cheap and frugal really is. I’m proud to declare myself frugal but hearing someone call me cheap makes me cringe.
Cheap carries a negative connotation with it. There are a million articles on the difference between cheap and frugal but what is really comes down to is that cheap people are focused on paying the absolute minimum for everything. Even things they value, even on people that they love, even to make their own life better and happier. Cheap people will go without things to save an extra dollar, at their own or other people’s expense. Cheap is stingy.
Frugal is weighing your options before spending your money. It’s doing research to find a good deal or using a coupon to lower costs. It’s investing in a well made item and using it until it falls apart. It’s learning to fix things rather than buy new but understanding that spending money isn’t the end of the world. Frugal people will spend their money and sometimes happily so, if it means more enjoyment in their lives, a show of affection or to provide themselves with something they need.
Personally I consider myself frugal. I’m more than happy to pay for a dinner out for my boyfriend and I occasionally because we love food and we have our favorite restaurants in town. I’m building my professional wardrobe and while thrift stores are my first stop I plan on dropping some serious cash on well made and classic items. I will buy a friend a drink at a bar, no problem. I will always bring a host gift when going to someone’s house. I think it’s disgusting to try and save money at a restaurant by skimping on the tip.
I will also always be big into the catering left overs. The way I see it is that the food is going to be thrown out anyway. I may as well take it and save myself some money. I’m not taking it from the mouths of other people. The extra non food things, like the plastic containers or the coffee creamers- yes I could pass those up. Oftentimes the containers get tossed in the trash too though and I hate to see waste like that.
I know my co-worker didn’t mean to offend me and I’m not mad. I’m glad to have taken this as a chance to reflect actually. Frugal can very easily turn into cheap if you don’t check in with yourself and your values from time to time.
I just also think my co-worker is wrong. I’m not cheap. I’m frugal as heck that’s for sure. I like to capitalize on opportunities that come my way. But I’m not cheap. I don’t try to get blood from a stone. I spend my money wisely and well. And I’m not going to stop taking home the left overs.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.