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?