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Being Frugal vs Being Cheap

When I sat down to write my first post, it was just me and a google doc.  I had no idea I would share my story with anyone but my dog. Never did I think I would start writing regularly.  But, out the first article came.  I had to do something with it, so I decided to start a blog so I could publish it.  

How I Became The Frugal Physician

Branding is an interesting thing.  You have to find a catchy name.  Then, you have to make sure it’s available as a website domain and on all the social media platforms.  I started with “Money Matters with Dr. D.”  

I quickly realized my friend Taran Pate has a podcast named Doctor Money Matters (that’s probably why it was in the back of my psyche), so I scratched it.  Then, I happened upon “The Frugal Physician.”

“Excellent!”, I thought.  I adore alliteration!  Also, it more accurately represented my strength- being frugal and resourceful, rather than portraying that I was some kind of money expert (which I’m not).

But, a quick google search on the name brought up some negative comparisons with being cheap.  By the way, “The Cheap Physician” is still available if anyone is looking.

But I doubt anyone is going to own that because “cheap” is a judgment someone makes about you, rather than something you label yourself.  If someone called me cheap, it would be because a purchase decision I made caused them to feel less valued.

“Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Who said it?

Joe Freaking Biden.  

Can you believe that?  Whatever your political leaning, it’s hard not to like that guy.  

I love that quote. It means our purchase decisions show what we value.  If you’re mindful, you have a budget. If you’re not mindful, you blow your money on whatever shiny thing looks valuable at the moment.  But where you spend your money shows people around you who you are and what you value. If I buy things for people just because they cost the least, people may call me cheap.  My spending decisions would make them feel less valued. 

Frugal versus Cheap

Sure I’m on a budget right now, but I did not skimp when it comes to buying Christmas presents.  Did I like spending all that money on stuff… no. But, do I value my loved ones enough to know that spending that money on them would make them feel happy and valued… yes.  

There is a line here- If I spent too much too often, people would take it for granted and get spoiled. But, they wouldn’t call me cheap.  

They would call me cheap if I bought them a cheap $5 bandana so I could save money.  Now, if I took that bandana and spent the time and energy to embroider their name on it with a sweet message, they may not call me cheap.  The effort I would put in would show them I value them. People would only call me cheap as a derogatory term if the money decisions I was making were selfish all the time. 

Rich People Can Be Cheap, too.

So, in that sense, it is possible to be cheap, whether you are rich or poor;  it is possible to be cheap whether you are sitting on a large stash of cash or scrimping to save money to get out of debt.   

Think about Scrooge McDuck diving into his gold coins while being called a miserable miser by the masses (ahhh alliteration!).  “Miserly Physician” is another one that I don’t think will make primetime anytime soon. You can have a huge pile of cash.  If you buy things that are cheap (poorly made, in this sense) for other people, well then you are called “cheap.”

The Definition of Frugal

So rich and poor frugalists alike try to distance ourselves from descriptions such as cheap or miserly by calling ourselves valuists.  We spend on what we value. We spend on what has value. For example, when our old washing machine broke down, we could have bought a cheap $300 set that would have broken down on in a couple of years.  Instead, we purchased a well made $1000 set that has served us faithfully for many years. That $1000 provided a lot of value to us (especially since it has a sanitize mode… sanitizing poopy pants= priceless).

Let's Work Through Some Examples

Buying Clothes

Buying the least expensive t-shirt that will fade after the first wash and tear at the second wash= Cheap

Buying a well made, designer item used from a thrift store or from an online used items sale= Frugal

Buying a $50 T shirt while you’re still in debt= Dumb  (I totally did this in my pre-frugal days).

Buying A Car For Your Firstborn

Buying the oldest beater you can find that costs the least but may break down on him at any time= Cheap.

Buying a 4-5 year old Honda that will keep him safe and will retain its value down the line= Frugal.

Buying him a brand new Beemer= Dumb

Taking a Girl Out on a Date

Taking her out to fast food and insisting on only getting her water to drink= Cheap

Taking her out to a hole in the wall restaurant with amazing food and friendly staff where you can have a quiet and cozy corner= Frugal

Taking her out to a high class restaurant, buying her flowers and a dress=  Well, being a girl into fairytales, I wouldn’t call you dumb.  I would call you a frugality fixer-upper.  But, I would be very convinced that you were into her.

So, anyway, there are many ways to be cheap, and the risk doesn’t only apply to frugalistas.  The best way not to be cheap to others is by budgeting money wisely, knowing what you value, and spending your money there.  

In conclusion, I think you mindful money management moguls (yes!) are at the least risk of being cheap.

Stay Frugal, ya’ll!

Much love,

Dr. D

Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial advice.  Photos from            



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