Frugal Ethics: Where Do You Draw Your Lines?

19 Sep

As someone with a frugal mindset, I’m always on the lookout for freebies or out to save a buck for an expenditure.  So, where does your moral code come into play when it comes to cutting costs?

Here are some examples:

My workplace supplies free coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice, and the occasional lunch.  I’ve seen several of my co-workers (some who have been there for decades) taking drinks home at the end of the day so they don’t have to buy them.  The same goes for office supplies.

When I go to the movies, I usually put a bottle of water in my purse, and sometimes a granola or protein bar in case I get hungry.  I try not to drink soda, and I find that pretty much everything at the concession stands is overpriced and unhealthy.  Perhaps I first learned this from my mother, who would bring popcorn in baggies when she took us to the movies when we were little.  Yes, I will cave and buy the occasional popcorn, but that’s an exception and not the rule.

Photo credit: heavyhand_2007.

If I go to a take-out place like Chipotle, I’ll take a few extra napkins and plastic ware for future use at home.  But I don’t take a stack and hoard them.  There was a time years ago when I would go to the all-you-can-eat Souplantation and sneak back some muffins or brownies for my co-workers.  (Seriously, everyone was severely underpaid at that company and one co-worker was eating oranges off her landlord’s tree for dinner.)  But I would never think of just walking into a Taco Bell without buying anything and taking a bunch of hot sauce because I wanted to add a little zing to something I was making at home.

I know quite a few people (either friends or couples) who share Netflix passwords for a streaming-only account with unlimited hours.  Divide that monthly $7.99 fee by 2, and you’re saving $48 per year.  I personally have the lowest possible account, which is 2 DVDs per month + 2 hours of streaming per monthly for $4.99.

I’ve heard of others who have moved into apartments where the cable was still hooked up because the cable company never terminated the previous occupant’s signal.  I admit I would take advantage of that if I encountered that scenario.

However, I will not download a movie or television show illegally.   But I do know people who draw the line at this as well, but have no problem downloading music for free, or swapping music files with their friends via a flash drive.

In the believe it or not category, there’s an Italian restaurant here called C&O Trattoria that has an “honor bar.”  They have drink dispensers full of Chianti and at the end of the meal, you are supposed to honestly tell your server how many glasses you had.  There’s nothing to stop you from lying except your conscience.  Then again, C&O is ALWAYS packed and the servers are overworked anyway, so maybe management figures it all evens out in the alcohol mark-up, plus what they save in their labor’s time.

Only once in my lifetime, an ATM gave me an extra $20 when I made a withdrawal.  Yes, I kept it and didn’t report the discrepancy.  I’m sure it’s happened to others as well when a cashier gave them back too much change.

When the Metro subway system launched in Los Angeles County in 1990, passengers were on the honor system as well, because the powers were afraid that no one would ride the train.  You can bet that many took advantage of this.  (For the record, I didn’t.  I love public transportation and will always pay to keep it going.)  They just finally started putting in turnstiles to make sure everyone has to hold a ticket, but right now it’s only on select lines.

What about using your company expense account for a personal dinner?  In the entertainment industry, where a lot of your friends are actually people with which you do business, this is pretty much the norm.  I’m sure it happens in many other fields as well.

If you are a person of absolutes, all of the above things can be classified as theft.  It’s just not as obvious as walking into a bank with a gun to rob it.

I’m also strangely reminded of the main character in Les Miserables, Jean Valjean, who stole a loaf of bread to feed his family and was jailed for it.  I’m sure there will always be circumstances where people feel they must resort to desperate measures, but when does it just become taking advantage of a situation?

Does frugal behavior sometimes make us breach the social contract under which we are supposed to behave?  Or is this just the reality of human nature and the world we live in?

Hopefully the majority of us were raised learning how to distinguish right from wrong.  But what happens when you want to save a few dollars and that line in the sand might blur?  I’d love to know what others think.

Photo Credit: electronic alchemist via Flickr.


4 Responses to “Frugal Ethics: Where Do You Draw Your Lines?”

  1. Canadianbudgetbinder September 20, 2012 at 12:23 PM #

    Great post. I think there is a fine line for everyone and a fine line between being frugal and being down right cheap. I remember that show on the tele where the bloke would go to restaurants and ask for ketchup packets, bring them home and fill his bottle. That’s cheap. I think knowingly taking or downloading or taping something that you know is not right just to save a buck is wrong. IF you are in a restaurant and take a few extra napkins after you purchased a meal I think that’s ok. When we go to the movies I bring water because it is a necessity of life and I’ll be dammed if I’m paying $3 a bottle. Pop and snacks no I don’t bother. For two hours I think I can hold myself back. For the most part if people can get away with it, they will. At the end of the day like you mention it’s your own conscience. Cheers Mr.CBB

    • Frugal Flip September 21, 2012 at 1:43 PM #

      Yes, there’s definitely a difference between being frugal vs. cheap! To me, frugality is about efficiency and making the most of your resources, whereas when you’re cheap you just look at the dollar figure and don’t take things like quality into consideration. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  2. Asianmommy September 24, 2012 at 1:03 PM #

    I agree–there’s a fine line. I try to do whatever I think is appropriate to teach my kids. After all, they’re watching me all the time!


  1. MR. CBB’s Weekly Blog Post Picks Sept 21,2012 « Canadian Budget Binder - September 21, 2012

    […] Frugal Ethics-Where Do You Draw The Line?  – Frugal Flip […]

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