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What a Backpack Taught Me About Cheap vs. Frugal

It was 2009, in the midst of the recession, and blogs full of bargains were all the rage.  I was pretty excited to read about how I could get a backpack for my little kindergartner for free!  

If I spent $10 on other items at this store, I could get him a free backpack with his favorite superhero splashed across the back.  No biggie, since I needed groceries anyway.  While we were there, he chose his backpack.  (Of course, we had to have the matching lunch box.)  

This cheap vs. frugal post was written by Jamie Jeffers, our incredibly talented staff writer!

What a Backpack Taught Me About Cheap vs. Frugal

…Before we even got to Christmas break, the straps were already broken.  We tried to tie them up the best we could, but it was also wearing out at the bottom.

My free backpack wasn’t such a bargain after all.  And backpacks are harder to find in January…

But I did get one valuable thing from that experience.  I learned about the difference between being cheap and being frugal.

Some Mom friends told me about backpacks that actually stand the test of time (in fact, the companies even stand behind their work and will replace them if they break!).  I was shocked to learn that these good quality backpacks didn’t cost as much as I’d expected them to.

In fact, if I had just saved up a little more money, I could have had the quality backpack from the start and missed out on all the hassle.

The good news is that this lesson applies to most things in life.  

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for anything.  But grabbing the cheapest version at a big box store will usually costs you more in the long run.

Let’s look at some things you can do to get the most bang for your buck.

cheap vs. frugalPatience and Savings

The first, and most obvious, way to save more money is to…well, save more money.  Let’s say you’ve got your eye on some patio furniture.  You got a bonus check and it will nearly cover the cost of the set you saw on the cover of a store ad.

But when you went to look at it, the set didn’t seem well made.  In fact, one of the display chairs was already broken.

You could:

  • Buy it anyway and hope for the best.
  • Decide you need a better set and just put the difference on credit.
  • Figure that you need to learn more about patio furniture brands while you save up enough money to cover the full price.

I’ve done each of these at different points in my life, and I can tell you that you’ll live with the least regret if you choose the last option.

Which brings me to…

Research and Guarantees

Don’t buy anything that costs much money without doing your research first.  The simplest way to start is asking friends and family for recommendations.  Ask your Facebook friends for opinions or recommendations.  You’ll often get stories and real opinions from people you trust.

Other ways to learn more is Amazon reviews or Google “[your product] reviews”.  Read through several to get a good feel for what the product really is.  

Remember that angry people will fire off a nasty review in a heartbeat, while happy people are slower to find the time to write a glowing report.  Don’t let one or two bad reviews throw you off.  But if there are pages of angry people, run the other way.

Something that’s often overlooked is guarantees.  If a company has been around for years and they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee, you should give that product an extra check-mark in the pro column.  

Sometimes Older Is Better

It’s easy to fall into the trap that a more expensive product is the best product.  That’s just not always the case.  Which is why research and recommendations are so important.

In fact, sometimes I’ve found the best deals at yard sales or flea markets for pennies on the dollar!  Older items were often made with to a better standard than today’s mass produced products.

Once I picked up an old pitch fork at a flea market for a few dollars.  The man told me it would look pretty in the yard with some flowers as part of a garden.  I laughed and told him it was going in my barn and we’d be using it right away.  He looked a little baffled…

Unlike many of the plastic tools you find these days, this pitch fork was made to last for years.  

  • Just like the cast iron skillets I picked up at a yard sale, or
  • the cake pans I found that are decades old. 

They don’t look shabby and they work better than the things I’d been using before.  Because they’re quality items that have already proven they’ll stand the test of time.

Saving the most money doesn’t always mean finding the lowest price.

Follow these steps and you’ll save tons of money over time.

Are you good when it comes to cheap vs. frugal?

Battle of the Mind Money Save Money


My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. I have been buying used clothes such as pants, shirts and even nearly new shoes in my size at a nearby Church thrift shop that my wife donates to. I was skeptical at first, but they regularly have Brooks Brothers, Gap, etc. for $3 pants, shirts and even shoes. Compare that to a Brooks Brothers new shirt at $75 or even more.

    • Yup, you can definitely buy quality stuff for less money, and then it’ll probably last way longer! Great point, WTD!

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