Cheap vs. Frugal

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between being Cheap and being Frugal.

Both involve the mindset of saving money, but they are two totally different ways of doing it.  However, most people cannot see the difference – meaning, I guess that most people probably have a  ‘Cheap’ mindset, but are nowhere near being Frugal.

Having a ‘Cheap’ mindset means always being on the look out for a bargain – something that’s been heavily discounted, doesn’t really matter what it is but as long as it’s cheap, then I’ll buy it.

Having a frugal mindset on the other hand means only buying what is needed – but when deciding what to buy – a lot of energy and thought goes into getting the best value – best value doesn’t always mean cheapest.  It means the best quality for the best price.

I used to find myself doing that very often – if I was walking past a store and there’s a huge “SALE” sign, I would go in and browse – but inevitably, I’d just end up buying something that was on big discount but that I never ended up using, or that I just used once or twice.  Nowadays, if it’s a shop that I wouldn’t want anything from in the first place, even if it’s having a “HUGE CLEARANCE WE’RE SELLING OUR MAMA TOO!” sale, I won’t go in.

It isn’t easy to break from that mindset and to be a conscientious consumer.  But when I thought about it, I really want to support those manufacturers and suppliers who have put a lot of energy and thought into their product, and that includes the manufacturing process as well as how good the product is.  I’m not so easily swayed by advertising anymore – advertising just adds to the cost of an item which could have been spent on making the product better. Obviously there’s still a place for marketing, otherwise we would never hear of a new product at all – still there’s a delicate balance between just enough marketing and excessive marketing that promises the world but the product falls far from what’s represented.

So it often means that nowadays if Product A and Product B are available, and even if Product B is RM10 cheaper, I will still assess the 2 products to see  :

a) which is going to last longer

b) whether either of them have been made ethically and through fair trade

c) between the 2 products, which is more functional / looks better?

If chosen correctly, most consumer products should last us for years – what’s a few ringitt difference in a week? a month? a year? Most of us would not remember the extra RM10.

On the other hand, chosing the cheaper options often means recurring costs – because I’m not happy with the product quality compromise sometimes I’ll go and buy another product, or even the more expensive product I rejected initially.  So I did end up spending more in the long run anyway!

I remember I used to buy a lot of cheap handbags (those with no brands, made out of synthetic materials). Not the ones that were pirated of luxury bags, but just those mid-range brand bags.  However, after a few uses, they would already look tired – with the substandard materials wearing out, or tearing easily. So I ended up with a closet full of “not-quite perfect” handbags.

Finally I just “splurged” and bought a 100% leather handbag, that cost a lot of money – but a few years going on and it’s still going strong, and looking good.  On a use over time basis, the expensive handbag cost me less in the long run.

The other trend I don’t understand is the crazy rush for Vincci shoes here in Malaysia.  Yes, they’re really really cheap and constantly on sale – but their shoes just don’t last (not to mention they’re uncomfortable)!  All my female friends agree on this, but still everyone keeps going to buy. Why? “Because they’re cheap, it doesn’t matter if it breaks after a few uses only”.


This kind of mentality is just really bad for the environment with the waste we’re creating.  Barely 2 generations ago, our great-grandmothers would wear out maybe 2 or 3 pairs of leather shoes and only then consider buying a new pair.

So I try to remember this, and keep it in mind to only buy what I need.  Temptation is a hard mistress to master though!!

What about you? Do you find that your spending habits and how you look at products has changed over time?


6 thoughts on “Cheap vs. Frugal

  1. My spending habits DEFINITELY has changed..! More than 10 years ago, when still single, yes I was one of those crazy-for-Vincci-shoes people..eventho most of the time I ended up not wearing them more than 1 month. Now I mostly buy Clarks, not because of “eksyen” but because they are VERY comfortable, lasts long and have really cool designs now. I have one very comfortable Clarks wedges which I wore everyday while pregnant with Zuleyka till now!
    And less handbags now too 🙂

    • Good for you millie 🙂

      I think priorities change after kids too. Being comfortable is so important to me though, good thing i am not very vain so I don’t care about my legs looking short in flat shoes! lol…

  2. I don’t buy much, but I’d also go for good brand. Clarks, Scholl for shoes (since student) and I gave up buying Sembonia, CR. Buying an expensive 100% leather handbag is definitely worth it, as the Aigner still looks new even after 2yrs. I just started buying some new tudungs this year, after realising most are bought way back in 2003 (and I was wondering why it was ‘buruk’, 6 yrs! )

    I haven’t even bought a cheap CD, as it does cost at least half the price of the more well known brands.

  3. i buy stuff that i really.really like only. so, if my shoes has fallen apart, i still use it (or borrow my mom’s & sis’ who have a collection of them!) until i found a pair of shoes that i really.really like. because when i found one, it’ll last a long.long time. the price won’t be a priority if i know that we will be in the next decade that i’ll buy a new one!
    (hanim, some of my favourite tudungs are from 1998!! haha..)

  4. I’m proud of myself with my spending habit (self-compliment jer)…I’m not easily sway by SALE, I go for bargain price if I think it’s worth it, I’ll buy but definitely after considering quality most of the time, like you one time paid high but in the long run, it last! esp. shoes & sandal, I will go for brand like Scholl & Lewre..I don’t need to buy more often. Same goes with toys, I bought branded one like Fisher-Price because it last…we’re very happy with it as I bought it for my elder son, now his lil brother having the chance to play with the same toys. Frugal, right? Coz we don;t need to SPEND anymore for toys.

    I don’t know about others but my recent purchased of Malaysian-made product caused me grievance. Only being using it less than 6 months, one of the chiller punched, the seam from one side of the cooler bag torn & the recent announcement of price increase with this kind of quality really can put you off. Now, it got me thinking shall I go for Malaysian-made product again…I think I will again to be supportive but hope I did’nt have to encounter that situation again…not giving up yet for the sake of frugality I suppose

    • You should be proud!

      It’s really hard to resist the urge to keep buying… I think the more we are willing to support those good Malaysian made products, the better the quality will be. Right now most Malaysian products all try to compete on price only, not on quality, so we should all do our best to change that !

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