The miser, poor fool, not only starves his body, but also his own soul.
— Theodore Parker
The distinction between frugality and cheapness can be subtle at times. In my mind frugality is about wise use of resources, getting value for money, and (less obviously) value for time. Cheapness, by contrast, is characterized by short-sightedness, and putting money before all other concerns, including manners, self-respect, or common decency.
This is best illustrated by example:
Frugal — Cooking at home.
Cheap — Eating out, but stiffing the waiter on the tip.
Frugal — Netflix.
Cheap — Pirating.
Frugal — Sending a hand-made greeting card for your mother’s birthday.
Cheap — Just saying “Happy Birthday!” on Facebook, and only because they emailed you a reminder.
Frugal — Hosting a dinner party at home.
Cheap — Never buying a round when out with friends.
Frugal — Getting bargains on food at local ethnic groceries.
Cheap — Waiting in line for hours for a “free” $6 bucket of chicken.
Frugal — Paying a premium for quality goods that last, then maintaining them.
Cheap — Buying second-rate goods that soon wear out and wind up in the landfill.
Frugal — Lowering your thermostat a few degrees to save energy.
Cheap — Leaving a burner going on your stove 24/7 to save matches, because the pilot light is out and the landlord pays your gas bill.
(That last one is from the brilliant graphic novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman. If you haven’t read it, you really should.)