One of the tragic things about many Mormons is many are foolish with their money. They don’t like to spend money on things that will enhance their lives, but happily waste money on things that are low quality but have a low price tag. Sadly many members of the church do not know the difference between being frugal and cheap. Mormons need to know the difference between frugal and cheap.
About a decade ago one of my friends went to summer school at BYU. While spending a summer there he lived in the dorms. My friend likes to live well. He enjoys good food and good living. In Provo one restaurant stands out above all the others: Tucanos.
A decade ago a dinner at Tucanos cost about $20. One Friday night my friend decided that he wanted a great dinner, so he went and ate at Tucanos. After his great dinner he returned to his dorm, feeling greatly satisfied. As the evening wore on his various roommates returned to the dorm from their various Friday night activities.
My friend got talking with everybody in his dorm and the topic of what everybody did for their Friday night came up. Eventually one of the guys in his dorm asked my friend what he did. My friend told the group that he went and dinner at Tucanos. Immediately, somebody asked my friend, “how much did that cost?” My friend responded, “about 20 bucks.” The group began to moan. Somebody burst out, “how can you spend so much money on just dinner?,” in a rather accusatory tone. Then a very self righteous young man said, “I would never spend 20 dollars on dinner!”
If the attacks from the guys in the group weren’t surreal enough, my friend then watched the self righteous young man get up, and I kid you not, put $30 into a vending machine buying himself cheap, crappy, unhealthy, poor tasting processed food. On one hand, the self righteous young man would criticize my friend for eating a really tasty dinner for $20. While the self righteous young man would spend $30 on food that tasted worse and came out of a cheap package.
It’s sad to say, but let’s face it, Mormons have a reputation as being cheap. Many Mormons believe that their cheapness is a sign that they are “frugal” and responsible with money. Sadly for many cheap Mormons, their attitude toward money is not “frugal” but cheap. Look at the college graduates who would never spend $20 on dinner, but as soon as they get a job go out and buy a high end Audi. A year later, they have their car parked on Highland Drive with a “For Sale” sign on it trying to get out from under their stupid car loan.
Look at the Mormons who instead of buying quality clothes buy their clothing at Walmart. They refuse to buy quality clothing that makes them look good. Instead they buy cheap clothes that do not make them look good. Instead they look like cookie cutter humans all wearing the same plaid shirts.
When we think about the difference between cheap and frugal, the thing that sticks out is the concept of value. For example, if I pay $100 for a piece of furniture and it’s value is $200 then I made an excellent purchase. If I pay $10 for a piece of clothing that is worth $3 then I made a poor purchase. The idea of getting value for your money determines whether or not you are cheap or frugal. Let’s take my friend. For $20 he got an excellent dinner that filled up him and gave him good memories. His self righteous roommate spent $30 on crap food that didn’t satisfy him, probably made him sick, made him unhealthy and didn’t leave him any good memories. Which of them was more responsible with money? That’s right, my friend.
One of the best ways to become frugal, instead of cheap is first of all to stop purchasing substandard products because they cost less. On non luxury products these days the general rule is the lower cost, the poorer the product. If you spend less than about $50 on an article of clothing, then the general rule is the cheaper, the lower quality. When you start to get into designer brand clothing then things change.
Here are some ways that I am frugal with my money, while using my frugality to upgrade my lifestyle. I few months ago I had to buy a new car because I had to commute in heavy traffic to the office everyday. I don’t make a lot of money so my realistic car options were either to buy a small commuter type car or a used car. I shopped around on the internet and I found a really nice used BMW that was 6 years old with low miles. After doing more research I saw that the asking price for the car was very reasonable. I continued to do more research on the car and verified that it hadn’t been in any accidents and didn’t need any repairs.
I saw that the car was a good value. I went in and bought the car. A few days later I drove my new car to church. What did people in my ward say about me? They said that I must have gotten a promotion at work to be able to afford a high end car. I didn’t tell them the truth, that I just did my homework and got a good value. They just saw the BMW label and assumed that I spent a lot of money. They had no idea that I put in quite a bit of work to verify that my car was a good purchase and good value for my money.
Another way that I use frugality to improve my life is with my wardrobe. People think that I have a very large lifestyle because I always dress well. I like to wear designer clothes because I know that women view clothing labels, the way that men rate sports teams. To women, me wearing nice clothes is a good way of signaling that I am a desirable man. What my peers don’t know is how I go about affording my wardrobe. I buy all of my clothes from factory outlet stores. At factory outlet stores I can buy high end clothes for about 70% off of the retail price. Instead of paying $100 for a shirt, I pay $30. Instead of buying a crap shirt at Walmart for $15, I get a high quality shirt for not much more. In this way I look like a million bucks on a small budget.
As Mormons we are commanded to be responsible with our money. Being responsible with money means that we avoid being penny wise and pound stupid. Lots of members of the church mistake being cheap with being responsible. They are two very different things. Don’t get them confused.