How To Be Frugal And Thrifty: Differences And Why It Matters

The words “frugal” and “thrifty” come loaded with quite a bit of baggage. A lot of people have strong feelings for or against those terms, but both can offer a lot to improve your lifestyle. Have you ever thought about what being frugal and thrifty really means and how they might differ? Let’s discuss this in more detail!

Being frugal and thrifty

If you look up both frugal and thrifty in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you’ll find that they’re pretty close in meaning. Their definitions are as follows:

Frugal: Characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.

Thrifty: Given to or marked by economy and good management.

So you can see that “economy”, or “being economical” is a primary focus of being frugal and thrifty. Both frugal people and thrifty people don’t like to spend money if it’s not necessary. 

However, for a lot of people, we tend to associate certain behaviors with being frugal and thrifty. You might believe frugality is living stingy or that someone who’s thrifty would never splurge on something just for fun. 

As an overall framework for comparing the two personalities, let’s say that “frugal” is more about getting the best value or deal for your money, while “thrifty” involves utilizing what you have.

That said, there’s a lot more to it, but that’s a good place to start. 

What does being frugal vs. being thrifty mean?

While thrifty and frugal aren’t terribly different (both have the goal of saving money), frugal and thrifty people may go about saving money in different ways.

Being frugal

For a lot of people, the art of being frugal means developing a mindset. To me, the word “frugal” has no negative connotations — in fact, it actually brings freedom from guilt because it means I’m mindfully deciding how to spend my money. 

Being frugal means determining what matters the most to you and being willing to spend more money to receive the most value. However, the flip side is that you try to minimize your spending on things that don’t matter. 

Living a frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to mean you never spend any money! You can be a frugal person on a $30,000 income or a six-figure salary. Being frugal largely comes down to how you prioritize spending. 

Being thrifty

I like to think of being thrifty as the ability and desire to make the most of what you already own. You might be someone who is crafty and can find creative uses for old items. Maybe you’ve learned how to stop buying clothes by shopping your closet first rather than hitting Amazon. 

When it comes to being frugal and thrifty, people often believe “thrifty” is closer to “stingy” or “cheap.” But being thrifty is really just another way of being frugal. 

Examples of being frugal and thrifty

One one hand we’re examining frugality from the lens of prioritizing yourself and your spending and sometimes paying more for a better value. On the other hand we are examining thrifty as “using what you have” before buying more.

That said, let’s take a look at some examples of how to live frugal and thrifty because, you can absolutely do both!

5 Ways to be more frugal with your finances

When it comes to being more frugal with your finances to make the most of your time and money, here are some key ideas:

1. Create a budget to prioritize spending

One of my favorite examples of living frugally is creating a budget by paycheck to follow. Budgets get a negative reputation at times, but they don’t have to be restrictive. 

When you use a budget, you’re telling your money where to go each and every month. A frugal person wants to know how much money they’re making and how much they’re spending on each category. Budgets work well for being frugal and thrifty.

Whether you focus on the advantages of zero based budgeting, the 50-30-20 rule, or another budgeting tactic, the key is awareness and focus. A frugal person can analyze their budget at the end of each month and decide where to cut expenses and where to dial up their spending. 

The fantastic thing about a budget is that it can give you permission to spend your money on what you love. As you meet your financial obligations, like paying your bills (including knowing the best way to get out of debt), you may also find you have room in the budget for luxuries. 

2. Do your research to get the best value

Here’s another common trait associated with frugal people: they tend to do a bit of research before buying. If you’re living frugally, you probably consider bigger expenses by doing price comparisons, checking multiple retailers, and reading customer reviews. 

When you’re being frugal, you don’t want to just spend money willy-nilly. You look up product reviews to find out whether that new treadmill will last for years or sputter to a halt in six months. You don’t want to start overspending, but you’re okay with paying more for a high-quality item instead of a junky one that will break instantly. 

Being frugal and thrifty may be fairly similar, but when I think of a frugal person, I think of someone who spends more sometimes. And that’s perfectly okay!

3. Know what matters to you and when to spend on it

Another characteristic associated with being frugal is an awareness of your priorities. Frugal people know when spending more money will yield a better experience, but they also know when to go the cheapest route. 

As financial educator Ramit Sethi explains in his I Will Teach You To Be Rich materials, you can turn up your spending in some areas while reducing spending in other areas. This usually has to fit within your budget, of course, but the beauty of it is that you are in control. You get to say what matters and what doesn’t. 

For example, if clothes don’t matter much to you, don’t bother spending more on designer brands. If you like to travel, then pour more of your budget into your next trip instead of on something that won’t bring you joy. 

If you’re living frugally, you may find you’re not sacrificing your needs and wants. Instead of a lack of contentment, you’ll find joy by refusing to spend money on what you don’t want.

4. Focus on the value of time as well as money

A key difference between being frugal and thrifty regarding time and money is that frugal people often value their time even more than their money. 

Living in frugal way centers on money, but frugal people can also recognize when spending money might be worth it to recapture time. This is the magic of outsourcing. It’s not free, but it can be worth much more than the expense for the time you get back. 

I’m not saying you should hire someone to handle all domestic skills from cooking to laundry, but if there’s one that’s taking up too much time, think it over. Could you use your time in a better way? Is it worth spending some cash?

Outsourcing is also a great tactic if you’re setting goals for a small business. You’ll need time to devote to building and growing it, so you might hire a virtual assistant to handle some of the administrative load. Or pay for childcare, especially if you’re creating a side hustle outside of your full-time job. 

5. Look at the long-term

Being frugal could mean you think more about the long-term consequences of your money choices. Not that a thrifty person doesn’t, but sometimes people adopt a frugal lifestyle in service of a larger goal. 

For example, people can choose to live more frugally in order to invest for an early retirement. That level of frugality may not continue after retirement, but it can help them get there. 

A frugal mindset could also mean spending money in order to reach higher earning potential (i.e., getting a degree for a better career). It’s not always the cheapest option today that holds the greatest long-term benefits.

6 Tips to be more thrifty with your finances

Now let’s get into how to maximize the use of the things you already have and spend your dollars in a way that allows you to repeat repurposing what you own!

1. Reuse items as much as possible

One of the first things that comes to my mind for thriftiness is reusing everything you can. When you’re living thrifty, you aim not to throw things away without trying to use them again. 

Those Depression-era values come to mind again: people learned to use up what they had, reuse items like clothing over and over, and not buy unless absolutely necessary. Although some items have their limits, it’s a great tactic to try. 

Next time you’re thinking of replacing an older item with a newer model, consider how necessary it is. Could you keep using your old blender for another year? Wear the same dress to multiple weddings? Save food packaging for other uses? 

Not only is reusing easier on your wallet, but it’s also much gentler on the planet. Reusing whatever you can helps you with how to live sustainably instead of being wasteful

2. Repurpose what you already own

A skill that goes hand-in-hand with reusing is the art of repurposing. A big part of being thrifty is using what you have, and often if something has outgrown its initial purpose, you can find a new purpose. 

For example, the blog SixDollarFamily suggests ways of repurposing old clothes you no longer wear. You might:

  • Create reusable fabric softener sheets
  • Turn them into cleaning rags
  • Make an upcycled scarf
  • Cut jeans into a DIY dog rope toy

Even if you don’t think you’re a creative person, the possibilities for repurposing are a lot of fun. Just search online for ways to repurpose whatever you have, and the internet will reward you with oodles of suggestions. 

3. Secondhand shop

I definitely associate secondhand shopping with thriftiness. After all, we don’t call them thrift stores for nothing! 

Whether you see this as being frugal or thrifty, shopping at thrift stores is a way to live a luxurious lifestyle on a budget.

Although you want to avoid overbuying just because items are cheaper, overall, it’s less expensive to buy secondhand than retail. 

You can get a ton of things at a bargain and give items a new life. Whether you love purchasing a pre-owned designer handbag, picking up kids’ sports equipment secondhand, or always buying used vehicles, these are all great examples of thriftiness. 

The flip side of secondhand shopping: it could lead you to find the best items to resell for extra cash! Some thrifty folks shop at consignment stores, where not only can they buy things for less, but they can also sell their own items. 

4. Enjoy the thrill of a deal

One of the hallmarks of thrifty people is that they tend to love a great deal. You might enjoy perusing the best coupon websites, checking out the dollar aisle at your favorite store, or visiting garage sales on the weekend. 

Getting something for less than its original value is always exciting. The thing thrifty people may want to watch out for is being blinded by the so-called discount. If you’re buying things only because the tag says they’re 50% off, not because you need them, that could be a problem. 

I love saving money, but I do catch myself sometimes, about to fork over my money for a “great deal” that I don’t even want.

A good example of how to be thrifty and smart is to use coupon websites but avoid buying items you wouldn’t normally buy. Be sure you’re getting good value. 

5. Maximize your budget

As a thrifty person, you work to maximize your budget, whether in terms of the cheapest grocery list, housing, entertainment, or other costs. This may involve figuring out what you can do without and then shopping mindfully. 

When being thrifty, you’re aware of your income and your expenses. That enables you to make wise choices about how to spend any extra money after bills are paid. 

6. Spend time to save money

Thriftiness often means taking time to clip coupons, repurpose your old things, and handle all of your home and work tasks yourself. For thrifty people on a bare bones budget, cost may be the most important factor. 

Being thrifty might look like putting a lot of time in to save as much money as possible. This can be great if you enjoy all of those tasks, but it can get tedious in the long term. 

Expert tip: Being frugal or thrifty means nurturing a good money mindset

Although many people consider being frugal and thrifty to be two sides of the same coin, one term or the other might bring up feelings of embarrassment or a cycle of shame

If you have a money mindset that thinks of frugal or thrifty as “stingy” or unable to spend money at all, it’s time to rethink that perspective.

Both frugality and thriftiness are positive qualities that can help you reach your financial goals. 

How can you use being frugal or thrifty to reach your financial goals?

Knowing how to be frugal or thrifty is good, but knowing how to use this knowledge for your finances is great. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Define which method you prefer: Being frugal or being thrifty

There’s not a very clear difference between someone who is frugal and someone who is thrifty, to be honest. Depending on how you interpret the terms, you might prefer one over the other. 

I’ve focused on “frugal” as being about setting priorities for your money and a willingness to spend more for better value. Then “thrifty” is maximizing what you already have and perhaps spending as little as possible. 

Decide if being frugal or thrifty aligns with your personality better. Maybe you’ll even adopt both. Neither “frugal” nor “thrifty” is inherently better since both philosophies could guide you to your own financial goals

Know why you want to save money and make it a habit

When you’re figuring out how to apply ideas of frugality and thriftiness to your finances, you should consider your reasoning.

Why do you want to be frugal or thrifty? Is it born of a financial need or a desire to “win” the game of finances? Are you aiming for an aggressive savings plan

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and therefore have to be thrifty or frugal to survive, that’s useful to know. Understanding why you are behaving a certain way with your money can make all the difference.

In addition, once you understand why you are being frugal or thrifty, make sure that you make it part of your daily life. Forming frugal and thrifty habits like repurposing items or being conscious of your spending can help you make real changes.

Are thrifty and frugal the same thing?

Frugal and thrifty can be very similar things. But for many people, thrifty means using up what you have, while frugal means spending money to get the best.

In other words, a thrifty person may avoid spending money unless it’s a clear “deal,” always wanting to save. But a frugal person often is thought to consider life priorities when spending money and may be willing to pay more for the best (or longest-lasting) value.

How can you be frugal and thrifty?

There are plenty of ways you can be frugal and thrifty every day, but you should focus on how to save and get the most value from your money.

You might make a budget each month and stick to your maximum spending for each category. Or maybe you’ll start walking to work to save on gas. Being frugal and thrifty might mean going on a shopping ban for a while and repurposing items in the meantime. 

However you choose to be frugal and thrifty, be sure it matches your financial goals. Remember that sometimes being frugal means forgoing fun things temporarily in order to save for short term savings goals

What is a thrifty person like?

When I picture a thrifty person in my mind, it’s someone much like my grandparents, who gained frugal living tips from the Great Depression. My paternal grandmother, for example, always saved wrapping paper to fold up nicely (for reuse) after opening holiday gifts—so thrifty!

In general, a thrifty person might be someone who hates to waste anything. When it comes to spending decisions, the bottom line is often the most important factor. 

In this way, being thrifty might mean having a scarcity mindset. If you view the world as having limited funds, you might be afraid to spend money. But thriftiness also has a lot of positive qualities.

If you liked learning about the differences between frugal and thrifty finances, you should check out these articles next!

Being frugal and thrifty are both good ways to save money!

Being frugal and thrifty may be pretty similar terms to a lot of us, and that’s okay. In current society, some people have negative feelings about both types of people, especially if they interfere with or judge other people’s money habits

Being frugal is an admirable trait, though—and so is being thrifty! You can make the most of the items you already have and avoid lifestyle inflation while also managing your money well to be able to spend on what matters most.

Next time anyone uses either “frugal” or “thrifty” in a negative way, you can share the positives that come from a money-conscious type of lifestyle!

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