Cheap or Frugal – You Decide

I certainly consider myself to be a frugal person.  Not obsessively frugal, but my money and I are fairly close.  From time to time in my life I have been called cheap, a term which I have some dislike for.  My belief is that there is a difference between being cheap and being frugal.

Putting my personal ideas of “cheap” and “frugal” aside, I’d like your opinion on whether or not I crossed the line on this one.
In the interest of fairness, let’s visit Wikipedia to get neutral definitions for both terms.

Cheap: Wikipedia re-directs the word “cheap” to Miser

A miser is a person who is reluctant to spend money, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts. The term derives from the Latin miser, meaning “poor” or “wretched,” comparable to the modern word “miserable”.


Frugality includes the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, seeking efficiency, avoiding traps, defying expensive social norms, embracing free (as in gratis) options, using barter, and staying well-informed about local circumstances and both market and product/service realities.

The Scenario

Yesterday my office had a guest speaker in during lunch hour to discuss a product that we have been under utilizing in our office.  It was very apparent that the product provides the company with significant revenues and provides great value to a certain number of our clients.  One of the rare instances that these “learning” sessions provide significant value.

Due to this session being held over lunch hour, the company picked up the tab for lunch and had sandwiches and refreshments delivered to the board room for the meeting. We all enjoyed the food and refreshments as well as the information that was delivered during the meeting.

Honey, Supper Is On Me Tonight

At the end of the day I noticed a few sandwiches left over and asked our administrative assistant what she was planning to do with them. When she responded that they were likely going to be thrown away, I asked (maybe too quickly) if I could take them home.

To make a long story short, my wife and I enjoyed sandwiches (me for the second time that day) for supper yesterday evening.

It wasn’t until after we finished eating that I told her how I had obtained the sandwiches, to which she responded “you are soooooooo cheap”!
(Expletives have been removed in the interest of good taste)

I pose this question to you

Did I cross the line from being frugal to being cheap?

Tell me your cheap vs. Frugal stories or leave a comment and let me know if I crossed the line.


  1. I do think the term cheap is meant be more of an insult than the term frugal. But I don’t care much what people call me. When I retire and can live and travel without working and all those others that aren’t “cheap” are still holding down their jobs at Wal-Mart it won’t matter to me what I was called.

    Now because it is your wife you probably care more as would I so I guess it is different but I typically don’t care what people choose to label me.

    I do this sort of thing often. My company spring for lunch a lot. Even if I am not in the meeting that has lunch. I will wait till that meeting ends and then go in and get a sandwich. I don’t get to take them home often because a lot of others here do the same thing so the left overs are normally gone by the end of the day.

  2. No, you didn’t cross the line. In fact, you did the correct thing on two points. First, you asked if you could take the sandwiches and didn’t just help yourself to them. Secondly, since they were going to be disposed of anyway, you didn’t let them go to waste and made a second meal out of them.

    Before I retired, I worked for a major hotel company for 40 years. It is appalling the amount of food people waste in this country. I would walk thru the hotel kitchen on my way to my office and see all the room service trays with sometimes as much as a half meal untouched. Very sad.

    Your other option with those sandwiches is to give them to the homeless on your way home.

    Tyler, I am very proud of your decision.

  3. Thank you for the comments guys!

    @ Steven, I catch the bus right outside of my office building on the way home and don’t ususally see any homeless folks in the evening. I sometimes see them in the early morning on my way to work and they are often going through the dumpsters behind some of the “trendier” restaurants – which certainly makes your point.

  4. Coming from the wife of a frugal husband: nope, not cheap.

    Now, that being said, I can see where her instant reaction came from. I might have said the same thing to my husband, out of surprise or mild amusement. But I would have been fine with it. I was not frugal AT ALL before I met my hubby and I am coming around to realize the benefits of frugality. However, I draw the line at flat-out cheap-skate shenanigans.

    My mother-in-law is truly CHEAP. The woman won’t buy shampoo or soap because she can get it from free boxes at yard sales during the summer and make it last all year. Her idea of “new” shoes are ones that are “new to her.” She is especially thrilled with flip-flops that only have a slight dirty foot outline from the previous owners. Because that can often be cleaned off. With her free soap.

    So tell your wife it could be much, much worse!

  5. Lori,
    Thanks for the comment. Don’t get me started on flip=-flops…My wife has a huge Rubbermaid tub full of them in every color and variety/style imagineable.
    I guess men will really never understand the female pespective on footwear.

  6. I would like to say that you are cheap just for the contrarian side of it. But the issue is that i have done a similar thing. In one organization where i was a member in college we always had a guest speaker once per week. We had pizza at the time. The problem however is that not all members would eat pizza, since they had busy schedules. Thus the ones who stayed until the very last moment had the chance to bring some pizza home.
    Pretty cool – I did this once and I was happy 🙂

    I really wish myself that my dividend incoem increases significantly enough over time so that I won’t have to learn to eat cat food only on special occasions..

  7. Don’t forget that you saved that bit of food from going to the landfill. Why waste?

    Furthermore, my husband and I are both cheap, frugal, thrifty. Whatever you want to call it. We don’t like to spend more than we have to on anything. On the other hand, because we are cheap, we can afford to be generous with our charitable contributions.

    Bringing home leftover food is a long tradition in our household 😎

    When I worked at a law firm, we had fresh flowers delivered every Monday morning. Friday night (with the firm’s blessings) I would pick out what flowers still look good and take them home. Sometimes those flowers still had another week left in them. Might as well be decorating my home instead of the garbage can.

  8. It matters what your wife thinks more than what we think.

    That said, here’s another vote for not cheap. Cheap would be if you (or your wife!) were allergic to something in those sandwiches and you brought them home anyway. Or if a special dinner was planned, but you changed your mind at the last minute because you wanted to eat these sandwiches instead. Or if you had driven an hour out of the way to get them (negating the savings with gas costs plus adding extra air pollution into the world).

    To me, frugality is about using resources to maximize happiness. Because you both enjoyed the sandwiches and they would have gone to waste otherwise, I’d call that frugal.

  9. Tyler,

    Great little thing to notice and blog about it. I’m all for frugal thing but ofcourse not for cheap part. What you did is no way cheap even though some lavish people might look at it so.

  10. Another vote for frugal, not cheap.

    It’s a fine line, but different for everyone. My definition of cheap is when you make saving money the primary consideration to the exclusion of your comfort, while frugality involves a balance between saving money and increasing happiness, as DebbieM mentioned above.

    By the way, I’ve done this a couple times myself — except generally I just put the sandwich in our office fridge and have it the next day for lunch, instead of transporting it in my purse.

    Interesting post!

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