Frugal Ethics - When Frugal Becomes Just Plain Cheap

Tawra Kellam

There are times when it's tempting to lie, steal or break one of the other 10 Commandments to get a good deal but, in living frugally, we all need to stick to being honest. This is not always easy to do, but I want to give some examples that may help you stay honest. Here are some common tactics that some people use that are unethical and sometimes illegal:

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  • You need some pens because you are running short so you take a handful from a store that is giving them out. This is stealing. If you take one, that's fine. Unless they tell you to take them all, it is tacky to take a large number of them. They're offering them simply as a courtesy.

  • You buy an item and you use it a few times and then return it because you're done with it. Stealing and lying. You probably won't tell the sales clerk you just needed to use it for a few times and even if you do, that's only OK if it is a rental store. If an item breaks, doesn't work or is not the right color, it is fine to return it. If you just needed it "for a few times" (like a dress for a special occasion) and know you won't use it again, you're stealing if you return it.
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  • If you eat a food item with a guarantee on the box and it tastes nasty, return it. That's why they offer a guarantee. If you eat the entire contents of the box first and return the mostly-empty box, it probably wasn't actually nasty.

  • If you try to pass off your 14 year old child as a 12 year old so that you only have to pay for a child's meal, you are lying and teaching your child that lying is good when it benefits you.

  • If you find a "great deal" that you can't live without but you don't have the money in your checking account, don't write a check. Let it be the "one that got away" If you knowingly write a bad check, you are stealing and lying.

  • If you find a "great deal", buy it and then hide it from your husband, you're lying (unless it's his birthday present ;-). If you have to hide it, you know you're doing something wrong.

  • If you charge up your credit cards with frivolous things like shopping and eating out and then declare bankruptcy, you are stealing from the credit card company and from everyone who does business with that company. Bankruptcy is intended to help people who end up financially strapped because of reasons beyond their control, like catastrophic medical expenses or the death of a spouse. It is unethical to declare bankruptcy because you went on a shopping spree, because you bought something you couldn't afford when you bought it or because you decided to change careers and no longer want to pay the student loans for your old career. You signed that piece of paper when you purchased the item saying you would pay them back and you didn't. It's up to you to pay them back any (legal :-) way you can, even if it does mean feeling "deprived" for a time.
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  • One more thing about bankruptcy: It is unethical to incur lots of debt "keeping up with the Joneses" and then go bankrupt because the debt is so large. Many people look at others and say to themselves, "Those people are the same age as me. I work hard. I deserve that too." or "our house is too small" or "our car is a real clunker so we need to buy a brand need one to "save" on repair costs ( a huge myth, by the way!). If you can afford these things, by all means, buy them. If you can't afford those things, find a way to make more money or learn to be happy with what you have.

Frugal living is about making good financial decisions. There are so many things you can do to spend your money more wisely, so when you think you can get a "good deal", but it requires doing something that hurts someone else, pass it up.

Whenever you're in doubt about whether something is ethical, ask yourself if it would be OK with you if the situation were reversed and you were the person potentially coming up short. Be honest. We've all heard "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If you would object to others doing it to you, you better look for a better way to save.

About The Author: Tawra Kellam is the editor of http://www.LivingOnADime.com. Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 debt in 5 years on $22,000 a year income.

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

DON'T THINK I NEED TO GO TO CHURCH THIS SUNDAY. I HAVE JUST HEARD A SERMON HERE

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

I agree completely with your statements. Obviously there are those around who will feel the sting or nudge of being reminded of what is right and what is not. We all need to be reminded.........and in my opinion we all need to be in church every week, whether we read an article or not. Thanks for a great article!

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

I DON'T THINK ANYONE SHOULD HAVE TO BE REMINDED OF THESE THINGS. WEREN'T YOU TAUGHT BETTER AS A CHILD?AND I DON'T THINK WETHER OR NOT YOU GO TO CHURCH HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH THIS TOPIC.THIS IS JUST COMMON SENSE

BUT I'M SORRY THIS DID KINDA COME OFF AS A LECTURE.

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

Didn't hurt you a bit. Many of us go every week. As a person who works in retail, that article could do many people a lot of good.

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

Very true - glad u wrote out the article. cannot understand why some people shud fly off the handle reading it!

getting all worked up about the article might just show that there is something amiss!!!

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

I think Tawra has some pretty valid points (and No, I'm not a regular churchgoer) That kind of 'cheapness' does go on. I was pretty thrown once when an aquaintance told me she was going to the Salvation Army to collect a free Xnas food/gift parcel.

I happened to know her husband was in full time paid work, and she had part-time work. I asked her why she was doing this, that she was taking away from some family in genuine need. She just laughed and said 'if the Salvo's were silly enough to hand her over food parcels she was taking them."Luckily -I hope.. this kind of greed is in the minority.

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August 22, 20060 found this helpful

EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!!!

I would also add one practice that I find to be very unethical:

Many frugal people are also freebie hunters. Some freebies are offered to "businesses only", and some dishonest people will claim to have a business in order to get the freebie.

Imo, if one doesn't have a business, don't lie and say that you do. A lot of businesses give away these freebies in order to attract business customers, and it can hurt their business if the freebies don't reach their targeted market.

If a freebie is targeted to the general public, then sign up for it and enjoy your sample. But if it's marked "businesses only", don't lie in order to get something for nothing.

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August 23, 20060 found this helpful

HI

I am so pleased to read someone else who is disappointed to see some people 'stealing' ... I wonder how these people would feel if they thought a tv camera was directed on them when they did some of these things, or if their actions were to be made public in their neighbourhood, or to their friends &/or family.

It's because of these people, that many businesses now charge for things that were previously provided gratis, eg sauce for hamburgers, 'proper' cutlery has now become plastic, pens, paper towels & toilet rolls in public toilets, grocery trollies that some stores now have to charge a 'hire' fee for, due to 'theft' when some people use them to push their groceries home & then just leave them around the streets, to be vandalised ... It is also due to so many fraudulent claims, that our insurance policies increase each year ... & we all have to pay extra for everything we buy, just to cover all the shop theft. There are many other things, but they escape me at the moment ... but it's these people who make it difficult & often more expensive, for the honest ones.

I wish there was a camera pointed at them when they do these things, then let them justify their actions.

What are they teaching their children?

How will they feel if/when they have to visit their children in prison because they didn't know the difference between right & wrong .. or will they be picked up for vandalism due to a tota lack of respect for public property?

Wendy

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August 23, 20060 found this helpful

Ethics asside, sometimes the line gets blurred. When we get take out (which we don't do very often) I'll often order a child's meal since I don't eat too much. But I've seem some postings on menus that are almost rude -- these are ONLY for children under a certain age and NOT to be served to adults. Am I wrong? Should I waste money on a meal that I know I won't be able to finish if there's no one I can split it with? I'm paying for my order along with 'adult' meals for my husband and older children, so it's not like I'm ripping someone off. Yet I feel guilty doing this because of the statement on the menu. Am I wrong or is it within my rights to do this? What do you think?

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August 23, 20060 found this helpful

I agree with this article 100%. People that do these things are one of my pet peeves. Especially the bankruptsy part. Unfortunately there are too many people that do these things.

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August 23, 20060 found this helpful

I have ordered myself a child's meal in fast food restaurants where it is completely ok to do so....and I don't feel I am being dishonest....I don't usually want so much food. But I have seen at certain sit-down restaurants where it does say you MUST be a child. Now if I was ordering several meals as take out and I wanted a child's meal for myself along with my husband's full meal and my kid's children's meals, I'd not feel bad about about doing it, afterall, plenty of money would have been spent. Some restaurants offer kids eating free with paid adult meals....of course, that only applies to the children eating free and I believe they do stipulate a child eats free w/ EA paying adult. I also think it is dishonest when parents try to feed their children for free off of buffets. I also think it is dishonest and bad form to take plate after plate of food at a buffet just to eat a moutful of something and then go back for more "tastes". I have seen this being done and also seen people being asked to leave!

Let's face it, there are always people in this world that will take advantage!

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April 30, 20120 found this helpful

It is no one's business who goes to church or not. Remember there are always people who will think you are not in the right church! There will always be someone who thinks your standards are too low. I think it is OK to order a child's meal unless the restaurant specifies. Then you need to do as they say. I also think taking more of those condiments than you need is stealing.

I was 24 before I ever heard of buying a dress, wearing it and taking it back. I was shocked and it was my boss of all things. She was part owner of the company and could afford the dress. She was cheap. She bought it to wear to a big society ball. There is no way the store made a dime from that dress because I think they have to put returned items on sale. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

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