Frugal is not Cheap

I just came back from Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, my hometown, to give a talk to the existing and prospective clients of the new COL Laoag branch. Although I was born and raised in Manila, my parents taught us the language and so I am very fluent in Ilocano.

My Valentine talk together with my husband Marvin at the Java Hotel, Laoag City, for COL clients

My Valentine talk together with my husband Marvin at the Java Hotel, Laoag City, for COL clients


When one thinks of an Ilocano trait, what usually comes to mind is frugality. To make fun of this trait, people call us kuripot, which literally translates to miserly, stingy, niggardly, “Scrooge-like” and cheap. But excuse me, these are all wrong. Well, at least, in the sense of the word that I subscribe to.


Why are Ilocanos frugal?

If you ever wonder how Ilocanos developed this positive trait of being thrifty, it is good to take a look at history and geography. The Ilocos Region is situated in between barren lands of the Cordillera mountain ranges and the South China Sea. Add to this the harsh environmental conditions and the very long distance (10 hours or so) to Manila, the center of trade, making it difficult to make ends meet for the regular Ilocano family back then.

And so they made do with what they had. They conserved their resources, cooked simple dishes of pinakbet, dinengdeng, etc., dishes that can be recycled and mostly vegetables which were cheaper and better for one’s health. (Oh! But Ilocanos are also known for their mean bagnet, a delicious version of lechon kawali, a not-so healthy dish. 🙂 ) But somehow, I always hear people say, “Napaot ti biyag ti Ilocano!” (Ilocanos live long.) In fact, when we did an ocular inspection of a resort in Ilocos Sur last Monday where we intend to celebrate the 90th birthday of my father, the resort manager said, “Yes ma’am, we’ve had people celebrate their 90th even 100th birthday here at the resort!” My college batchmate and incumbent Laoag City Vice Mayor Michael Farinas also mentioned that they have given a few Laoag citizens P100,000 on their 100th birthday as gifts from the city! Come to think of it, maybe there’s also a correlation between being thrifty and long life.

The Ilocanos were also among the first OFWs. They migrated to countries like Hawaii where they worked in sugar plantations. No wonder people sometimes joke that going to Hawaii is like going to Paoay (a municipality in Ilocos Norte that rhymes with Hawaii). When we went to Hawaii a few years ago, I did hear Ilocano being spoken in some places.


What does it really mean to be frugal?

  1. Etymology of the word. Frugal comes from the Latin word frugalis from the word frugi which means fruit, a resource of value, to be used properly; hence, frugal means to use economically, not wastefully.
  2. To be frugal is to make smart choices. Since resources are finite, being frugal is knowing how to prioritize. This is again a practice of the important principle of asset allocation. At this point in your life, what are the things that you should prioritize?
  3. To be frugal is not just looking at the price tag, but it is looking at the overall value of the experience, service or product that you’re buying. Not everything that has a low price tag is good for you. Always ask the question, “Do I need this now?” A pet peeve of mine is hearing people sell financial instruments such as insurance for a minor without dependents with the selling pitch, “It’s better for you to buy this now while it’s cheaper!” Aargh!
  4. To be frugal is to know what you value. In order to practice the above – i.e. looking at the overall value of the experience, service or product, it is imperative to know what your core values are. Let’s say education is very important to you. If this is the case, it is alright to allocate family resources to the education of your children, as long as the other basic needs are being met. When going on a vacation, I personally value good service and comfort, so I allocate budget for accommodation and airfare on long haul trips and just cut back on shopping. Thank God I’m not so into shopping, so it’s cool. J
  5. To be frugal is to acknowledge your weaknesses. Going to the mall when you’re feeling down or doing the groceries when you are hungry are not the ways of a frugal person. A frugal person is smart enough not to tempt him/herself.
  6. To be frugal is to be confident of yourself. I’ve seen people spend what they can’t afford because of too much concern with what others will think of them. They try hard to keep up with the Joneses. If you know your worth, then you don’t have to worry too much about this.
  7. To be frugal is not to act like Scrooge that it negatively impacts your lifestyle. What is the use of your millions in the bank when you look shabby? What is the use of your millions if you can’t even enjoy a vacation either by yourself or with your loved ones? What are your millions for if you can’t help someone in need?


To be frugal is not to be cheap. Unfortunately, too much concern about not looking cheap sometimes drives people to show off their expensive things, while their retirement nest egg is still empty. That, to me, is being cheap!

To be frugal is to be a smart asset allocator. It is using one’s resources in an efficient way, fulfilling what one values. It is not unnecessarily depriving oneself of the happiness that can be derived from spending money on oneself and on others.

Now the question is, “Are you frugal or are you cheap?” wallet-icon




To be frugal is to have a high FQ. Want to know your FQ Score? Take it today. Click link to take the test. fq-test-new-link

Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose HYPERLINK “”FresHYPERLINK “” HYPERLINK “”Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.

ATTRIBUTIONS: Image from modified to help deliver the message of the article. Other photo from the author.