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Cheap Kids vs Frugal Kids

In this blog we talk about the difference between CHEAP and FRUGAL.

This is a bit like Rich vs Wealthy. Most people don’t fully appreciate the difference but the difference is massive.

Until recently, I would have been offended if someone had called me FRUGAL. I would have thought they meant I was CHEAP. It’s only now that I know the difference. I’m happy to say that I am frugal and I’m certainly not cheap!

Do you know the difference between Frugal and Cheap?

Frugal is spending money on things that you really value and can afford to buy, even if they are not the cheapest. For example, you might save up to buy a pair of high-quality jeans as you know they look better and will last longer than cheap jeans. You might still eat out at nice restaurants but maybe only eat out once or twice a month.

Cheap is spending money based solely on things being low cost. Cheap could mean only being willing to buy fast food rather than ever going to a nice restaurant. It could mean not tipping to save money. It could mean buying things you don't really want or need but just because they are discounted.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with looking for a discount but someone who is cheap will buy things only because they are discounted.

This is a really important topic as being good with money means developing good spending habits. This is tricky as it’s a bit like balancing in the middle of a seesaw. If you spend too much then the seesaw tips down on one side might not be able to save money. If you spend too little then it will tip down on the other side i.e. you could miss out on the joys of life and/or be considered ‘cheap’.

Frugal vs cheap is getting the right balance when spending

Helping kids learn about being Frugal is a way of helping them develop this balance. As with many important topics, I have created a story which I hope you share with your kids to help them appreciate the difference between being FRUGAL and being CHEAP.

Nam Goes Learns To Be Frugal Story

Three friends, Nam, Suki and Ang had just started working at the local clothes shop to earn some seeds at the weekends and after school. It was the first time that any of them had earned any seeds. Without thinking about it, they would take all the seeds they earned and would spend them all on clothes or eating out.

After working for a few months, the three friends realised that they had been working hard but had nothing to show for it. They talked about going on a holiday after school was over but none of them had any seeds left. It was then that Suki mentioned a story her grandmother had told her about a man named Jack. She met Jack many years ago on a faraway island called Pucha-Pucha. He didn’t have much to start with but would plant one out of every 10 seeds he ever received. Over time he managed to grow a massive forest which grew bigger (and produced more seeds) whilst he slept.

All the friends thought this sounded amazing and decided they would follow in his footsteps and plant one out of every ten seeds they received before going to the shops. They wanted to grow their own forests.

Suki and Ang decided to eat out a bit less often than before and not buy as many new clothes. They loved planting their seeds each week and seeing their trees starting to sprout up. After a few weeks, they passed the area where Nam was planting his seeds. They noticed that he had quite a lot more trees than they both did. They couldn’t understand why. They were all working the same amount and he wouldn’t have time to have another job to earn more seeds.

They thought he must just be eating at home all the time or not buying any clothes. However, they both realised he was usually wearing new clothes. He was also not at home much when they called him in the evenings. It was a mystery where the extra seeds had come from.

At the shop the next day, they decided to ask Nam about where the extra seeds came from. He said that he had just been spending much less than before.

“Don’t you hate never eating out?” asked Ang.

“I eat out almost all the time!” replied Nam.

“Then how do you save so many seeds?” asked a confused-looking Suki.

“I eat at the fried chicken shop - it’s only 1 seed for a whole meal which comes with a coke” replied a smug-looking Nam.

“Do you realise how unhealthy it is to eat fried chicken every day? You might be saving some of your seeds but you’re certainly not looking after your body” replied a now worried Suki.

“Why don’t you eat at home for a few days and then meet us at the noodle restaurant that’s just opened for dinner on Friday?” said Ang.

Nam didn’t like the thought of eating at home most of the week but agreed to meet them there.

Going to the restaurant …

When they met Nam he was wearing a new t-shirt. However, they noticed it had a small hole in it which Suki pointed out. “Don’t worry, I can just get a new one as I got 5 new t-shirts for 3 seeds at the discount store down the road”. Suki couldn’t believe it, she had paid 3 seeds for the shirt she was wearing but it had lasted for nearly 2 years and it didn’t have any holes.

As they approached the restaurant, they saw it was up a flight of stairs.

Out of nowhere, Ang said, “I don’t trust stairs!”

Both Nam and Suki knew this was going to be followed by a cheesy punchline.

“I don’t trust stairs …. They’re always up to something!”

Nam and Suki couldn’t help but smile as they rolled their eyes at Ang’s attempt at a joke.

As they entered the restaurant and looked at the menu, Nam started going on about how expensive the restaurant was compared to the fried chicken place he went to. “I could get three chicken meals for the same price as one of these meals”. He ended up buying the cheapest item and complaining about how he was still hungry. When it came to the end of the meal, Nam didn’t leave a tip. “It’s optional and I’d prefer to plant more of my seeds.”

Suki and Ang both thought Nam had ruined their one meal out for the week with his complaining and not leaving a tip. They were starting to think they needed to say something as they wouldn’t want to go with him again. They used to love going out for their meals as it was more than just nice food, it was a chance to laugh and share stories.

Suki’s Grandmother …

Suki told her Grandmother about what Nam did at the restaurant. She immediately realised what he was doing. He was being CHEAP. Whilst it was great Nam wanted to plant more of his seeds, he needed to learn that being cheap can mean missing out on fun opportunities and it can alienate people.

The next day, Suki invited Ang and Nam for dinner. She cooked a super tasty and healthy meal for them. As they were eating, Suki’s grandmother told the friends about how she grew her forest after meeting her friend Jack. “My goal was always to save one out of every ten seeds I received. I then would think about all the things that made me happy and write them down. This included going for nice meals with my friends, travelling and, a bit of shopping for new clothes. To make sure I had enough seeds to do this I had to be FRUGAL!”

“What does Frugal mean?” asked Nam.

“Let me just google ‘frugal’!” laughed Ang.

Suki’s grandmother smiled and replied “Frugal is where you look after your seeds and focus on making sure you spend your seeds on the things that make you happy. Rather than eating at the cheapest restaurants, you eat out less often but go to the restaurants you enjoy with people who make you happy. It can mean shopping around for clothes that will last a long time rather than just buying the cheapest clothes you see as you might end up spending a lot more replacing them.”

She continued “Being Frugal means you can still plant some of your seeds and spend your remaining seeds on the things that really make you happy. There’s no point in having a forest if you can’t enjoy yourself whilst growing it.”

Suki’s grandmother made one last, and important point “If there are opportunities to do the things that make me happy for fewer seeds, I would do that. Sometimes I wait until the sales are on before buying some of my clothes which means I save a few more seeds which I then plant so my forest grows even more.”

Nam becomes frugal ...

“I’m going to start being FRUGAL so I can grow my forest and do the things that make me happy,” said Nam.

As Nam and Ang left Suki’s grandmother’s house, Suki noticed Nam had left a seed on the table. Suki ran after him to give it back.

“It’s a tip for your grandmother for the meal. I don’t want to be seen as CHEAP anymore.”

“That’s a nice gesture but you don’t need to leave a tip when having meals at the homes of your friends and family. Just make sure you leave one when we meet for dinner at the restaurant at the end of next week” smiled Suki.

The end!

The Frugal vs Cheap Quiz

Read out the below statements to see if your kids can see the difference between being CHEAP and FRUGAL:

  1. “Not giving a tip at a restaurant” Cheap or Frugal?

  2. “Buying 3 footballs because they are on sale now?” Cheap or Frugal?

  3. “Waiting until the sales are on to buy the new tablet you want” Cheap or Frugal?

  4. “Spending more on a jumper as it will last longer” Cheap or Frugal?

  5. “Avoid going out with friends to save money” Cheap or Frugal?


  1. Cheap

  2. Cheap

  3. Frugal

  4. Frugal

  5. Cheap (although, if friends have a lot more money, you might have to avoid going out if it means spending all your money. In this situation, hopefully, your friends will understand and consider places which don’t require spending as much money).


Spending money (seeds) wisely is a skill. We need to help our kids find the right balance between not spending too much and not spending too little.

Teaching kids to follow the first rule of wealth, “Save one out of every ten seeds you receive” is a key step to ensuring they are saving but still have plenty left to spend. The next step is to teach them to be Frugal with the money they have left over. Use this money to buy the things that make them happy or will last a long time.

If they find discounts or ways to save some more seeds without missing out on experiences and opportunities, then that is great. The key is that they never spend or only buy cheap things just to save their money.

I love sharing these stories with you - I hope you love sharing them with your kids and other families.

If you enjoyed this blog, you are likely to enjoy my blog Rich Kids vs Wealthy Kids.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. Want to learn more about Jack from Pucha-Pucha who was mentioned in the story above? If so, make sure you get a copy (or copies) of Grandpa’s Fortune Fables which includes 13 fun money stories for kids to learn about money.


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