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Are You Frugal or Just Plain Cheap?

There’s a great revolution going on in our country lately, a revolution of frugality. Spurred on by high unemployment, lackluster investment performance and the global credit crisis many people are increasing savings and looking for better ways to spend what money they have and keep as much as possible for themselves.

This is all to the good, but is there a point at which frugality becomes just plain cheapness? defines frugal like this:

economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful

Cheap on the other hand is defined as:

stingy; miserly

I think we can all agree that none of us want to be thought of as stingy and miserly; words that bring up images of the Grinch and Mr. Scrooge. And yet in an effort to be prudent with our spending I think that may be where some of us are headed.

As an example, a family making $40,000 a year would be considered frugal if they planted a garden to grow their own vegetables. They would have great fresh vegetables, maybe even some fruits and would be able to save hundreds of dollars on their grocery bills yearly. One could easily say they were economical with their use of time and their land and that growing the vegetables was a prudent way to save money.

On the other hand, a family making $120,000 a year would actually be more frugal if they bought their vegetables in the grocery store. The reason I say this is that the second families time has more value doing something other than growing their own vegetables. Using their time to grow vegetables would be an expensive proposition all things considered. The neighbors might even think of them as cheap since using their time in such a way is not really economical.

I know the example might be a bit far fetched, but the idea is to make you think about your own behavior. Are there cases where it might make sense for you to actually spend money rather than saving it or doing a task yourself? Do you think of your time as a resource with a value? You should because your time most certainly has value. Otherwise why would your employer pay you a salary? They are simply exchanging money for time. One resource for another.

We all need to make wise choices about how we allocate our resources, whether that be time, money or some other tangible or intangible resource. If you’re not currently putting a value on your own time then you may be less frugal than you initially thought. Sure you might think you’re being economical and prudent when you make your own clothes or when you grow your own vegetables, but the truth could be that you’re being cheap with your time.

I know I’ve been guilty of doing this myself and am still guilty in some respects. There are many tasks that I do in my own business that would probably be better outsourced so that I had more time to do other, more profitable tasks. I have trouble fully valuing my own time and may even be holding back the growth of my business and my potential earnings because of it.

Going forward I will be taking a conscious look at how I spend my time and deciding if I am really the best person to be doing a given task or if I’m just being a cheap Charlie in the name of frugality.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself doing something because you thought it was the frugal thing to do when in reality you would have been better off paying someone else and using your time more profitably?

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