Ah, it’s the frugal vs. cheap debate.
Frankly, I think the whole exercise is stupid with a side dish of dumb. Arguing about whether you’re frugal or cheap is kind of like arguing whether you like cheeseburgers or hamburger sandwiches with cheese better. They’re the same damn sandwich. Likewise, frugal and cheap people share a lot of the same characteristics.
The big difference between the two, I’m told, is that frugal people are willing to spend money on things that are worth it, while cheap people don’t even spend on the necessities. As an example, a frugal person is willing to spend on a nice meal out, while the cheapskate will barely shell out for value menu items at McDonald’s, content to eat grilled cheese sandwiches in his basement apartment in the dark.
Hey, fat cat, electric bulbs cost pennies each hour to use. What do you think I am, some sort of baller?
Essentially, frugal people will spend money on stuff they value, while cheap people don’t spend money on anything. So if you’re driving around in a Mustang (LADIES! PLEASE HAVE SEX WITH ME!) while eating boring beans and rice for every meal, you’re probably a frugal guy who’s going to get scurvy if he doesn’t mix in a damn orange every once in a while.
I find this difference to be spotty at best. Every person prioritizes certain things over others, it doesn’t matter if you’re Trent Hamm cheap or you’re a rapper making it rain $20s at the club. Even people like Warren Buffett with unlimited amounts of money still prioritize.
While I think this whole frugal vs. cheap argument is dumb, I’ll admit getting upset about it is 14 different kinds of useless. Time spent arguing about the meaning of frugal could be spent on any number of actual useful things, including showing your grandma how to use the computer or listening to your kid butcher Chopsticks at a piano recital.
There is, however, one reason why I think the frugal vs. cheap debate matters. Do you want to know what it is? OOOH I’M SUCH A TEASE.
Price ≠ Value
Teasing and fancy symbolizin’ in back-to-back sentences. I spoil you guys.
The perfect way to point out that price and value are two very different things is my MacBook Pro.
A little over three years ago, I was in the market for a new laptop. I asked a bunch of fellow bloggers and various homeless guys just for fun, and most told me the same thing. Go with a Mac. Yes, it would cost more day one, but it would come with a better user experience without suffering the same sharp drop-off in performance that afflicts PCs after a year or two.
So I paid $1,200 for a laptop even though comparable PC-branded machines sold for about $600. Hey, I was making the frugal choice.
Three years later I now truly realize just how wrong I was. It barely had enough computing power to be a good machine back in 2013. By the time 2016 rolled around it can barely handle having more than a few programs and a half dozen tabs open at once. And those aren’t even porn tabs.
I’ve already had to replace one power cord (at a cost of $99.99), and the second one is damn close to shredding into 159 pieces.
And finally, certain keys on the keyboard stop working at random points. When I troubleshoot this issue online, the solution suggested is take the machine back to Apple because the electrical circuits behind the keyboard are starting to crap out.
One of these days the connection will be lost foever and I’ll have to connect an external keyboard if I want to do complex things like compose an email or go on Twitter. That’s just friggin’ outstanding.
What I neglected to realize when I was buying this laptop was exactly what I was looking for. Macs are heavy on looking good and offering a more user-friendly experience. I care very little about certain Mac efficiencies and even less about impressing some random hipster in a Starbucks in Omaha.
I didn’t need what a Mac offered. All I needed was a machine I could use to write, go online, and so on. I’m no graphic designer and I couldn’t care less what brand is on the outside of my machine. Hell, I’d sell advertising space if I could convince anyone to pay for it.
Like a lot of people, I made the mistake of assuming the more expensive machine would be the better value. It hasn’t been the case. Yeah, my MacBook is going to last longer than the Gateway $349 laptop I bought before it, but not long enough to justify the $851 price difference. I might get a year longer, tops.
The bigger picture
Companies know we automatically equate higher priced things as being the better value, and so they price things accordingly. Apple gets this better than almost anyone. There’s a reason why it’s the world’s largest company.
The relationship between price and value isn’t as simple as you think. Even if you cook often, the difference between a $20 pot and a $400 one probably isn’t enough to justify the difference in price. If you can get 99% of the experience the $400 one offers for $50, wouldn’t you be smarter to buy the $50 one?
Besides, people aren’t smart enough to consistently make the best buying decisions. We let salespeople talk us into things. We’ll often make up our minds before we even go into a store or go onto Amazon. Opinions from friends we know are morons hold weight, for some reason.
And even if we make the wrong choice, we talk ourselves into believing we made the right one. How do you even know the $200 pot was worth it? You don’t have any basis for comparison.
The point of all this? Making the so-called “frugal” choice is a hell of a lot more complicated than just buying a more expensive item and declaring yourself done with the exercise. I’d be willing to bet that people who go the cheap route are happy more than the frugal people are willing to admit. And they end up with more cash in their wallets.