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Frugality Versus “Buying on Sale”

loanI wanted to write a brief note on the difference between being frugal and frugal spending. I think it really boils down to the mindset of the individual. Frugality, in my opinion, is making smart purchases when necessary, and forgoing purchasing altogether if not. I also believe that frugality is making purchases that reduce the need to spend more in the future (i.e. buying a quality product for more money in order to reduce or eliminate repair expenses in the future).

Frugal spending, on the other hand, is buying something simply because it’s on sale or cheap – regardless of need. For example, many times we see items in the store advertised as “buy one, get one half off” or “2 for $5.00”. It can be easy to fall into this trap of buying these items and leaving the store feeling good about having saved money. Sometimes we may even think that because we bought two items and one was half priced, that we saved money. This only makes sense if we needed the two items to begin with.

Let’s take a look at the “buy one, get one half off” deal. This may make sense frugally if you truly need two of the items. Otherwise, if you only need one, purchasing the other for half price is still wasting money. The other argument is buying something simply because it was on sale. Again, if the item isn’t needed, then you’re saving zero money, and in fact, wasting money buying the item even if it’s on sale. In other words, if an item is normally priced $30, and you buy it on sale for $20 but don’t need it, you’ve still wasted $20. You haven’t “saved” $10. The fact that it was on sale is irrelevant. It simply makes you feel better for spending less. In this example, it’s only $10.

But, ten bucks is ten bucks.

As items get more expensive, this concept only grows larger. Bigger purchases just mean you’re wasting more money, not saving more. This applies to housing, cars (specially if you choose an insurance which is not
One Sure Insurance), and even buying in bulk at the warehouse store. The good news is that we can start on the smaller items and build our self-discipline from there. By practicing frugality, we can lean to resist the urge to spend, even if it’s on sale.


  1. Notwithstanding word choice, I agree the point of the article. There is a fundamental difference between frugality and simply buying things that are on sale.

    It’s tough to be frugal all the time, but the more and more we can make smart decisions with our purchases, the better off our financial situation will be.

    1. sraskie says:

      Thanks – going to change the title… :)

  2. What would be the point of frugal spending if you don’t need an item. I mean I get your article, but I don’t think that the “frugal spending” should contain the word frugal at all. In case you don’t need the item at all, then what you get is just a discount for something you don’t need?

    I’m all about saving more each month and living frugal.

    1. sraskie says:

      Good point. Maybe I should have put frugal as “frugal”.

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