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Being Cheap Vs. Being Frugal

It may be hard to tell whether you are putting money in a hole or a foundation. However, there is a difference between being frugal (not throwing money down the hole) and being cheap (not throwing money in the foundation). To determine which is which I think of how these may affect my loved ones.

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Just because you are being cheap does not mean you are being frugal. Frugality is about trying to save money and grow wealth. Being cheap is not only far from the best way to save money, but it can hinder your progress.

The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind. And this rings very true in many scenarios as listed below. Keep in mind, I am not saying that you should spend as much as you want. There is a certain point where you are no longer paying for quality, but paying for the brand. Either way, you should never settle for low quality when it comes to these things.

1) Shoes

Being cheap when it comes to shoes is a big mistake. I have purchased shoes that were cheap before, and in two months the soles were already worn and one day it was raining and water seeped into the bottom.

You do not need to buy shoes over $100 to get quality, but if you spend only around $10, you should not be surprised if either you slip, or if the bottom wears out within a month, a few top. Instead, you should be willing to spend a few extra bucks to make sure the shoes are high in quality. Usually, you should even go for name brands.

A certain pair of my shoes are Clarks. These are very high quality shoes in which I have been using frequently for the last four years, many shoes I use hardly last more than a year. But ever since I decided to part with a few more dollars I realized I have never come across a set of shoes that last less than a year.

2) Outerwear

As if the shivering and goosebumps aren’t bad enough from the cold there is still hypothermia and frostbite. Both can be severe medical conditions. You need good outerwear, coats, gloves, hats, etc. You do not want to rush to the hospital for hypothermia nor frostbite.

Make sure the outerwear is good in quality. Not only will wear and tear make you have to replace them more, but even the smallest holes and tears can lead to frostbite. I learned that in Boy Scouts (and not the easy way).

3) Car Maintenance

This is a weird one to bring up because there are many ways to save on potential maintenance. For example, many different cars require different levels of maintenance. I am not a particular car expert, and I do not want to give specific examples or brands. I do know that cars in which can be better maintained constantly changes year after year. So you should do your research to prevent buying a car that requires $2,000/year in maintenance.

However, once you have your car, you should be willing to part with your money to maintain it. If you need new tires, get new tires. Brakes, new brakes. Lights, new lights. You get the idea. And do not go cheap, and I highly recommend not to go used. You could be sued if you are in an accident and there is evidence you have not maintained your car. By signing up to be a driver on publicly owned roads, you have agreed to keep your car safe, not only for yourself, but others. So on top of potentially causing physical and mental damage to yourself and anyone else in the car, any accident caused by a lack of maintenance could damage your finances. Suddenly those new brakes sound more affordable.

Do not worry too much though. Many of these parts are not very costly. Shop around and you should get a good deal. In some situations I even see DIY being a frugal choice, but not in more sensitive situations. I will write a post about DIY in the future. is an excellent place to buy tires for your vehicle. Going to stores can be a hassle as there is no guarantee they will have your brand of tires much less size. For instance I drive on General G Max tires since they have excellent tread and are good year round tires that can handle snow and hot asphalt. From dirt bikes to commerical trucks, has you covered. not only allows you to find your tires, but they will ship them. In the continuous 48 states they will ground ship for free.

4) Food

“Wait, but did you not say that your should not overspend on food?” Yes I did audience, now let me also say that you should not be cheap either. There are many ways to save on food, most are very good and even healthful. However, there are numerous ways that are not healthful. I am a grad student, you have no idea of how much it sickens me that many of my fellow students eat only instant ramen. The carbs and salts are more than enough to turn away health advocates. I do not really believe the news, but I have even heard that many of the preservatives are carcinogenic. Let’s pretend that instant ramen is not carcinogenic, eating instant ramen even twice a week increases metabolic syndrome risks. The health risks are comparable to eating bacon regularly.

Even worse, I know many people who altogether skip meals. NEVER DO THIS! I have dragged students to the bathrooms and the nurse mostly for issues stemming in malnutrition while in the middle of class. In fact, it is a good semester if that does not happen at least once. Some of these students even went to the hospital and their insurance and parents had to pay for the hospital visits. Yes many of these situations were that bad, it is an epidemic.

I do not know if this is entirely because of money or if there are other factors, but this has to stop. I have heard of broke college students, but this is not just ridiculous, it is ridiculously dangerous.

Starving America

I wish I could say this is just a thing in academia and that it is thanks to diets of instant ramen and ice cream, but it is not entirely. Scurvy is well know as an old disease in which people believe does not happen anymore. It not only happens, it is common. Almost 10% of the US population has vitamin C levels that could cause scurvy. This is unacceptable, I know many of these people have limited access to food, but that just makes it even more unacceptable. This needs to change and at this point I do not care how, but everyone needs vitamin C.

You can afford fruit and vegetables, make sure you have those every day. “Yes, mom!” Are you trying to flatter me? Clearly your mother was an intelligent woman. All joking aside you will be more healthy and definitely avoid scurvy. Even eating the tomato sauce in pizza or ketchup with your fries will give you enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy. The risks to health by being cheap when it comes to food is not even remotely worth it. A single hospital visit will offset any savings. Besides, you are a valuable person, you deserve more than garbage, or worse, nothing in your belly.

5) Health Insurance

Speaking of hospital visits, those can be very expensive. In fact, almost a million bankruptcies occur annually because of medical issues. It is so common it transcended from tragedy to meme. One of the main reasons the Obama administration tried to pass the Affordable Health Care Act was to avoid this.

I know health insurance is not cheap. My wife and I spend a tenth of our income on our health insurance, easily our second largest expense just after rent. This is almost twice as much as the average 6% of income. However, I am glad I did not go on the cheap. This is a gold plan provided by my work and I am grateful for it. My wife recently injured herself and we went to the doctor four times. This costed less than $100. I know that if we stuck with something smaller we would have to pay what we would have saved on the smaller plan and more. Even if you never use it, it is good for peace of mind. Last thing you want to do is have your loved ones worry too much about the bills while you are being treated.

Multiple Types of Insurance

There are multiple forms of insurance, you do not need to go with the platinum plans, but do not be cheap with your insurance. And by being cheap I mean go without insurance at all. The minimum you should have is a catastrophic plan. This is the lowest form of health insurance with a very high deductible. I do not recommend this to be your go to at all, but at the very least this plan could be the difference between having costly hospital bills and hospital bills that will bankrupt you.

6) Bed

You will probably spend more time on your bed than literally any other spot on earth. Why have it lack quality?

There are many medical issues from sleep to back issues that can stem from your bed. The quality of the bed can ensure that you always wake up on the right side of the bed. Being cheap will ensure restless nights.

7) Personal Defense

I like to think the world is a peaceful place where no violence ever occurs and people at the very least tolerate each other. Reality says other wise. Everyone would like to pretend they will never be the victim of any crime nor violence, but that can be a foolish mindset.

Despite what many people claim, preparing for the worst is not encouragement for the worst to happen. Saving and investing would be among the worst things you could do if that was true. When my wife moved in with me (right after we were married just to be clear we were never separated after marriage) I bought mace for her. I still hope to this day she will never have to use it, but I feel better leaving her to be with that. In fact, it made me feel so much better I started carrying mace myself. I know people judge me because I am a man carrying mace, but I like to think I am a resourceful person so I
have no personal reservations carrying around a weapon that is the closest thing we have to non-lethal. If you feel uncomfortable carrying around weapons, or if there are laws preventing that, there are also alarms you could carry. As far as I know there are few if any laws restricting carrying around alarms. However, I know the laws in Pennsylvania are among the least restrictive and I see more students with mace than without, especially among the women.

Keep in mind, your life may lie in the performance of whatever you carry around if the worst happens. Do you want the quality of what your life depends on to be bad? Also, if you are attacked, do you have anything on you that you would depend on to save your life? If not, maybe you should get one of these things, and being cheap here would be unwise.

Should You Go Further?

I know people who take advanced combat lessons, carry other weapons with them, and even armor. I do not do any of these, but that is mostly because I am restricted from doing so in one way or another. First, if there are any laws or policies that restrict you from taking your personal defense further, you must obey these laws.

However, I have taken combat lessons in which make me far more comfortable walking around alone at 1 AM in Philadelphia. I feel like I need a refresher though. These lessons not only prepare you for the worst, but it disciplines you and can increase your fitness. Aside from my pepper spray I do own other weapons, but my University will not allow me to carry them or bring them on site (completely understood). There are fewer restrictions I have when it comes to armor as they are not weapons. And there are options for armor in which could cost less than $100.

Personal defense is a right, at least to some degree. You should take care of personal defense as far as your comfort and interpersonal policies allow and no further. If you do not want to learn combat, no one is forcing you to. Do other weapons make you uncomfortable? Don’t get other weapons. If you do not want to carry around armor, do not carry around armor. However, keep in mind that many things are out of your control and your life may be on the line for these situations.

8) Life Insurance

One of the most humbling thoughts you will ever have is that many things in your life are not in your control at all. Fact is, one day your loved ones may have to carry on without you. Don’t you want to make sure that they can carry on without you?

Life insurance is one of the most depressing things to think about, however it may be a necessity. Like health insurance, I believe this is something you should not go without. However, you do not need to go with the most costly option. I am currently in my twenties. I do not think of death much, but I do work with dangerous chemicals therefore, I know I may die earlier than expected. However, it is not likely that I will die from any of these in less than forty years or even at all. That is assuming I have been dangerously exposed, which all of the precautions and equipment is ensuring (and telling) will not and has not happened.

But let’s say worst case scenario happens. My wife is a capable and working woman and we have no children. I know she will be fine without me so my employer’s life insurance will do.

When Should You Get Better Life Insurance?

But what if there are more people who are dependent on your income? Get better life insurance. Even if there is some other income your loved ones can rely on, there will be strain. The average funeral will cost just shy of $10,000 and a life insurance policy is the only way you can have any say in the payment or responsibility of the costs. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure you have a policy that will cover these costs.

Furthermore, your loved ones will be shaken from your passing, you should make sure bills in the near future are not among them. I have given thought to life insurance, but I am far from an expert. Find out what type of policy you should have. No one likes to think about it and many believe they are too young. I am a twenty something with an aspiring career, a wife, and multiple future plans and have given it thought.

9) Treating Yourself

Sorry to bring up such melancholy topics. Despite what I have said in the last two topics there is far more good and happiness in life than sadness. That is why it is important to ensure you treat yourself and your loved ones.

Imagine a life where you are stuck in your home just meandering and living your life until you work and living off nothing but what you literally need? I know for a fact that at least most of you have lived lives beyond your home and your work. If you have not, then you need to.

While it is easy to just sit back and eat bland food, there is an entire world to explore, and I personally find enjoyment from being outdoors. Nature is beautiful, and I enjoy visiting state parks, which are not always free but are always worth it. I find little else more joyful in life than walking with my wife on a nature trail, kayaking on a lake, and sailing on a sunny yet breezy day. You must find joy in life. There are ways to entertain yourself for free or cheap, but sometimes, you just need a little extra.

Make sure to treat yourself and your loved ones. Keep in mind, both you and your loved ones are worth it, so don’t always be cheap about it.

Final Thoughts

Life is unpredictable, which is why being cheap about the important things in life should not be done. Most of what I have brought up can scare and even depress people, but life is a beautiful and complex thing. I am a biochemist, you have no idea of how miraculous it is. Therefore, preparing for the worst in life will allow you to enjoy the best of life, and there is more of the latter than the former.

In my previous post about what you should spend less money on, I have never said you should not spend any money on any of them (except maybe the nutrient supplements). The reason for that is that you can find joy in many things, but you do not have to spend too much to obtain that happiness. Make sure that you put your hard earned money towards the things that matter to help you forge your wealth.

Author: Papa Foxtrot

Most of my life I was careful with money and learned where I should invest it. I was very lucky to have parents who taught me financial literacy when I was young. Unfortunately, I am very lucky because many people lack the financial literacy I know. The purpose of Forge Your Wealth is to teach people who are just starting out in life how to obtain their wealth or anyone who just realized they may need to learn more to handle their finances. I currently have a PhD in biochemistry, just started a job in industry (will not disclose where exactly for personal and professional reasons) and am currently married to the love of my life. I am one of the lucky few people in America who graduated with no student debts, my wife was not. Over the series of a little over 3 years we paid for our wedding with no debt and paid off her federal student loans.

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