Frugal to Cheap?

Lately I’ve been wondering: Where exactly is the line between frugal and cheap? Is the line the same for everyone? Or does it sometimes depend on your social status, job, neighborhood, etc?

My life is slowly becoming more and more relaxed. I’ve been in the same job for almost 2 years, and the atmosphere is fairly relaxed. I’ve been in a relationship for over a year with a man who likes his woman low maintenance. Long hair, jeans and a T-shirt, minimal makeup. Socially I spend most of my time with people who prefer to sit back and relax on the patio, rather than hitting the town. It’s an easy, low-cost lifestyle. But then lately I’ve started to wonder: Am I letting easy fade into lazy? Am I letting my drive to save money make me cheap?

It all started with my hair. I’ve been coloring my hair since college, although I’ve never actually settled on a color. Usually darker in the Fall, lighter in the Spring. Always trying out different colors and styles, looking for the “perfect” fit. After a few color mishaps, I decided to stop coloring for a while. The BF liked the more natural look, and even preferred me with a few gray strands (there’s a considerable age difference, so I think the bit of gray helped put him at ease). I was already growing it longer, and started growing out the layers as well. Long and straight; Wash and go made my busy mornings much easier.

Easy hair led to easy hair care, which lead to cheaper products. Why pay more than $2 for shampoo and conditioner? I’ve never been much of a shopper, and my drive to save fueled that on. Why did I need new clothes? The clothes I had were comfortable! And besides, who really cared what I was wearing?

I think in the back of my mind, I saw it coming. I was already starting to wonder: Was I being frugal, or becoming cheap? Then this weekend, I went to get my haircut. Just a quick, straight cut, someplace cheap that I could walk right in. The first thing out of the stylists mouth: What is going on with your hair?

It wasn’t the style, or even the color. It was the damage. My already thin, fragile hair was breaking off like crazy. I wasn’t using chemicals anymore, or heat styling/blow-drying in the morning. But even still, my hair was suffering. And getting worse by the day. The fuzzy, split ends stuck out like a halo around my head.

I’ve never been one to spend lots of money on hair care/skin care. Anything over $10 seems a bit extreme. But it was time to admit that the really cheap stuff just wasn’t cutting it for me. Worse, the damage was obvious, and yet I continued to ignore it.

My damaged locks made me start to question other things about my appearance. Was I really being natural and frugal, or just cheap and lazy? I’ve never been one to wear heavy makeup, but my routine had become increasingly minimal. Was that really the best workday look for me? Were my clothes just comfortable, or crossing the line into frumpy and unprofessional? I’m wanting to advance in my career. Was I really putting my best, most professional foot forward?

No, I didn’t go out on a shopping spree. However, I did make some small changes. I bought better shampoo and conditioner. I made minor changes to my hairstyle and makeup routine. I’m paying more attention to my clothing choices, and recognizing that I need to start purchasing some new pieces for my wardrobe.

Some people will say that looks don’t matter in business. But then the saying goes, if you want to advance in a career, you always dress the part you want, so people have an easier time picturing you in that position. In a professional environment, even a casual one, appearances are important. And while it shouldn’t bust the bank, it might serve me well to remember this.

What do you think? Is how you look important in a career? Where’s the line between frugal and lazy, or frugal and cheap?

– Cindy W.

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