The words “economic” and “economical” certainly have a lot in common. They’re practically the same word, except the second one adds -al to the end of it. They both have to do with the economy or economics in some way and both are used primarily as adjectives. While some people may argue or assume that the two terms can be used interchangeably, I disagree. They’re not the same thing.
The word economic describes the quality of being related to the science of economics or relating to the economy. Whether you’re talking about things at a municipal level, an industry level or at the federal level, the “economy” generally refers to the production, distribution and use of wealth and resources.
In the world of politics — and with the provincial election just around the corner, this is even more relevant — you may hear people talking about economic policy or an economic forecast. What is the economic impact of the softwood lumber tariff? It’s not about being cheap or expensive, per se. It’s about the whole system, involving the sale and purchase of goods and services.
The word economical, on the other, really is mostly about price. If something is economical, it means that it provides good value in relation to what you have to pay for it. This is most commonly considered in terms of money, but you could just as easily talk about something being economical in terms of time or effort. This has to do with being inexpensive, low cost and budget-oriented.
For instance, you might argue that taking out a variable rate mortgage for your home is the more economical choice. Interest rates tend to be lower than with a fixed rate mortgage. You might say that paying with a credit card is more economical when used prudently, because you can enjoy points, price protection and other benefits.
A more economical approach to your household budget may mean cutting out or cutting down on unnecessary expenses, like your cable TV package or how often you go out to eat. The more economical approach may involve buying things in bulk when they go on sale or leveraging the savings of meal planning. It might be more economical for you to take public transit than it is to own a car.
The economic impact on the automotive industry of more people making the economical decision to take the bus is an entirely different conversation.