Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I'm frugal, she's cheap...

(Knitting is still on hold; non-knitting rambling ahead)

I ran into an acquaintance the other day who had given herself a very bad home hair-dye.

"She was always cheap," I thought to myself.  "It doesn't look like she's even bought a decent home hair-dye kit."

Later I thought, "Who am I to talk?  I go to the hairdressers maybe twice a year.  Doesn't that make me as cheap as her?"

The answer, I think, is no, because there is a very big difference between being frugal or thrifty and being cheap.  At least when I go to the hairdresser, I go to a good one who puts in quality colour 'tips' (which last longer than an overall hair-dye job) and cuts my hair in a style that will last for months, rather than weeks.

When you are cheap, you buy things specifically because they are low in price, without necessarily much consideration of quality.  You sometimes avoid buying things you really do need or you buy a lower quality version than you really should because you can't bare to spend the money on what you really need.

When you are frugal, however, you carefully consider whether you really need to spend money on an item.  You question whether you really need it or if there is some way of adapting what you already have for what you need.  But then if you decide you do truly need an item, you buy the best value version that you can afford, which is not necessarily the one with the lowest price tag.  You consider quality and longevity over showiness and brand name.

Cheapness and frugality are attitudes and not necessarily linked to income.  And it can come out in the most unexpected ways.

We aren't the wealthiest people but whenever we visit a certain family, we always buy them a decent-quality bottle of wine for dinner, bought with their specific tastes and preferences in mind, rather than our own.  A few months ago they visited our place for dinner and as a hostess gift brought two little packets of Twinings tea.  The sort that are picked up in the supermarket for less than $2/packet.  Now I know it is the thought that counts, but given their income is at least four times ours, I thought it was, well, a bit cheap.

Later that evening I discovered just how much thought had gone into the gift.  I was making cups of tea and coffee and offered them the blackcurrant tea they had brought, thinking maybe they had brought it because they had a specific preference for this drink and thought we wouldn't have it in the house.

"Oh no, I really don't like fruit teas myself but I know a lot of people like them, that's why we got them for you. Tee-hee-hee."

"Bullshit! " I didn't say, but thought. "This was some unwanted tea in the back off your kitchen cupboard that you figured you could pawn off as a gift to your poorer acquaintances because we weren't worth the effort for you to go one miserly little step out of the way to buy something we might actually like."

Now that is really, really cheap.

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