I love muffins and part of my daily routine includes picking up a tasty corn muffin from a little café near my home. Of course, anyone watching my daily trek to the muffin shop might wonder about my commitment to thrift. Shouldn’t that muffin money be saved?
But here’s my secret: I believe in living well. I believe in delicious corn muffins. I love luxurious spas. And I love spending money on the things and people I enjoy. I just don’t believe in wasting limited resources (time, money and the environment). Quite simply: I’m frugal, not cheap.
The differences between the terms thrifty, cheap, and frugal and other tightwad words represent more than just word play. Just ask Bob Collins, a reader who recently asked me to define my terms. He recently debated the topic of thrift with a group of his friends, who are in their late sixties.
“One of my friends said that a ‘cheap’ person is someone who is stingy and will only go ‘third’ class, whether it be clothes, vacations, restaurants, cars, etc.,” Collins wrote in a recent email. “Another friend says that a frugal person will live a "quality" life BUT only when it goes on sale…They will go to a fine restaurant, BUT only for the early bird. They will go to the latest show BUT sit in the balcony with binoculars….There is no right or wrong. I just want to know you thought of the difference, if any between Frugal and Cheap.”
Coincidentally, his questions about the subtle differences in the layers of thrift were on the menu last week when I picked up my daily muffin. The owners of the muffin café, Harry and Linda, were asking me about my next column. But as I fumbled to come up with a cute answer, Linda shook her head and bemoaned her expensive tastes. Without fail—even at a sale rack—she inevitably targets the most expensive item on display.
To her surprise I empathized. Faced with a red-ticket rack of skirts, I will — without looking at the price tag — usually select the triple-digit garment ($150 and up), while bypassing the $19 bargains. Linda, the fashionable, muffin lady, nodded.
“So what do you do?” she asked.
“I save up for the things I really want and cut back on other things.”
For instance, I’ll buy the muffin — but I’ll make French press gourmet coffee at home. I’ll purchase the expensive skirt — ideally at a deep discount — but I’ll cutback on the use of our central air conditioner when I’m home alone. Other frugal people, as Bob Collins pointed out, will wash out baggies or recycle plastic cutlery. It’s all about choice and values. And I’ll choice muffins everyday. What’s your definition of thrift?