Frugality And Ethics – Are You Being Cheap, Frugal, or Stealing?

Last month, I published Frugality And Ethics – When Is It Stealing? The post was very popular and everyone had an opinion on what was stealing and what was not. Also, many of you gave me new ideas, and I wanted to hear everyone’s input on the situations below. So, I, of course, wanted to publish…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 25, 2023

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Last month, I published Frugality And Ethics – When Is It Stealing? The post was very popular and everyone had an opinion on what was stealing and what was not. Also, many of you gave me new ideas, and I wanted to hear everyone’s input on the situations below. So, I, of course, wanted to publish a Part 2 to the post!

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with saving money (this is a personal finance blog after all), but I do wonder how far people will go to save money – whether it be $1 or $2 or a few hundred dollars.

No one is perfect, and I definitely am not. However, when does frugality or cheapness cross the line and turn into stealing?


Using another person’s wi-fi.

This is something that probably a lot of people are guilty of, or have been guilty of in the past. This is where you use someone else’s wi-fi so that you can get on the internet for free.

Some of you said that if there is no password to the internet account, that it’s free range for anyone to use.

However, I think that you should always pay for your own wi-fi. You might be slowing down the internet for someone else, and they might not even realize that their wi-fi isn’t password protected.

Always protect your wi-fi account! – I also remember discussing a case when I was in college about someone who had unprotected wi-fi and it turned out that their neighbor was searching something illegal. The SWAT team showed up at their door, created a huge scene, took the computers, and destroyed the person’s house all because the neighbor was searching something illegal.


Sharing accounts with others.

This is where someone has an account and multiple people/households share that one account so that only one person is actually paying for the service or product. I have heard of many people doing this with Netflix…

Netflix and other companies have specifically stated that it’s stealing, so yes, I believe it is stealing.


Drinks at a restaurant.

There are three different situations that I would like to share with this one…

1. Paying for one drink and sharing it between two people. The first person might order a soda and the second person orders a water. However, the second person never actually touches the water and only drinks the soda. – I think this is stealing.

2. Asking for a water cup but filling it up with something besides water (such as a soda). – I think this is stealing.

3. Asking for water, a bowl of lemons (I’m talking 4 or 5 whole lemons), and sugar so that you can make your own lemonade. – I think this is being cheap/frugal. I wouldn’t do this though… I know waiters and waitresses hate it when customers do this.


Signing up for something to get something for free.

There are a couple of situations that this applies to. This is when you sign up for something knowing that you won’t buy anything, so that you can get a product or service for free for trying something out. Since Wes used to work in sales, I wouldn’t do either of the situations below just because I don’t like to waste people’s time…

My first example applies to timeshares. Many people listen to timeshare presentations even though they know they will not buy a timeshare, so that they can get whatever it is for free that the timeshare workers are pitching (free movie tickets, free vacation, etc.).

My second example applies to getting professional makeup done. Usually makeup counters/companies at the mall and/or department store will offer free makeup applications as long as you buy something for from them. Some require that you pay upfront, whereas others give you the “option” to pay at the end. I have heard of some people getting a free makeup application knowing full well that they do not plan on buying any makeup afterwards.

Learn more at How To Get Rid Of A Timeshare – Stop Wasting Your Money!


Taking condiments.

This is where you go to a restaurant and take a bunch of condiment packs so that you can bring it home and put it in your fridge.

I have received extra packs before (such as from a takeout order), but I have never gone out of my way to take condiments.


Disputing items on your credit card.

In many cases, you can dispute a transaction on your credit card bill that is less than $25 and your credit card company will just automatically refund you because it’s not worth their time to investigate the problem.

I have heard of people who dispute many transactions each year and take advantage of this…

I don’t do this. I believe it is stealing. I have only ever disputed one item on my credit card bill before, and that was because a restaurant accidentally charged me twice for the same meal.


Have you ever done any of the above? What do you think of these situations?

What other examples can you think of?


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. I remember before during my grade school years, one of our neighbors did an illegal tapping of our electricity. We noticed that our electric bill continued to increase even if we only had a small appliances. Then one day, we found out about what our neighbor did, my late father talked to them that they should remove it or else we will report them.

    1. Oh my! That is definitely stealing. I can’t believe people actually do that.

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t mention credit card churning in this post, as I can imagine some would find it unethical to sign up for cards, use the bonus rewards, and then cancel the card. It’s tough with credit cards, time shares, etc. because you aren’t doing anything “against the rules” by signing up for a card and cancelling, going to a presentation and not signing up, etc. but at the same time it can become questionable whether it’s ethical or not.

    1. Ooooh I didn’t even think about that DC. I’ll have to include that in Part 3. I’m not sure what I think about churning cards though…

      1. Yeah, I’m not sure how I feel about that either… I could be wrong, but it doesn’t seem like anyone loses out with the churning game…

        The credit card companies know people do this and they even encourage it with their offers. It’s only when times are good that they start reducing the bonus points and start devaluing the charts (like right now)… But they will always find a way to make it profitable for themselves, right? Why else would they offer it…

        1. I agree! That’s a tough one. I think it’s fine, but I can sort of see how churning can be seen wrongly as well.

  3. I waitressed at Outback Steakhouse 10 years ago and people did the water and lemon trick all the time. It made a huge mess for me and those type of people usually didn’t tip well either.

    1. Yeah I’d rather just pay the $2 and tip the waitress/waiter! 🙂

  4. We actually had a discussion with a few of my family members over Christmas because there is literally like four of them all sharing one Netflix account. I didn’t say it was stealing, though I wasn’t far off from it. The crazy thing is they all make good money, you’d think they could all afford an $8/month Netflix bill but I guess not. 😉 We’ve been guilty of the drink thing a few times in the past, but never to the extent of just ordering one drink and not touching the other. We go out so infrequently anymore that we haven’t done it for years probably.

    1. I’ve sort of done the water thing before. I had no water left in my cup and the waiter never came back to refill it. I was eating something super spicy so I needed a sip from Wes’ cup ASAP or I thought my mouth was going to fall off haha

  5. I have definitely shared accounts with others, but if the company says that I can add my account on five devices, what should it matter if they are my devices or someone in my family? It’s funny, though, because we were sharing my sister’s Hulu Plus account to see if it was something we wanted and you cannot watch Hulu Plus on two devices at the same time for this reason, and we were so bummed we couldn’t watch The Tonight Show that we decided to get Hulu Plus ourselves and we refuse to share now.

    1. I think that with family, sometimes its should be fine. Usually I see this happening with acquaintances though who don’t even know each other!

  6. I can’t believe people actually do that lemonade thing- I’ve never heard of that before! That definitely crosses the line into being ridiculously cheap. I went to a timeshare presentation back when I was in college because they were giving out gas vouchers. It wasn’t my idea to go, but I think many people in the Orlando area do it on the weekends. I’m sure they know that a lot of people are just coming in for the free stuff.

    1. Yeah, I think with timeshare presentations that so many people seem to do it that the salesperson really shouldn’t be too mad about it! Haha

  7. Connie

    Wow I never heard of people disputing credit cards for charges under $25. That is totally unethical!

  8. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living

    I’ll be honest, I’ve taken club soda when I paid for water (you know, you push the button below a soda spigot to get carbonated water) so I guess I’m stealing since it’s not plain water but since it’s so rare to find a cheap restaurant with club soda, I have rarely done this.

    What’s more a thing that drives me bananas in the ethical department is when I work at events for my job (a private high school) and we have free food and people pig out like it’s their dinner. Because people pay tuition at the school, I guess they feel they’re entitled to take all the free stuff they can get at school events. As a result, when we do have small sandwiches or snacks/sodas at events, we have to put out a small amount at a time lest we run out of food in the first 30 minutes!

    1. I actually have a friend that will always get a water cup when we go out and they fill it up with dark soda. They don’t even try to hide it!

  9. I have done the timeshare thing. I don’t consider it stealing as this is what they plan for in their business expenses. They know full well that most are not going to sign up for a timeshare. All of the others I have not done. When I used to run my e-commerce business, I would always deal with people that disputed charges because they just didn’t want ot pay. It was just a matter of business, but it ate profits.

    1. I agree Grayson! I think the timeshare is not stealing as well because it is something that they do because they know that some people do show up not wanting to buy – but then they end up buying.

  10. I always take extra splenda and creamer. My argument is that I see people dump five creamers in their coffee. I only use 1 so I’m taking some for later. I’m a paying customer so I feel it’s justified. I would never order a water and then put soda in it. I’ve done it by accident one and actually dumped it out. Wasteful? Yes. But at least I didn’t steal it. I have done time share presentations for the free gift and I don’t feel bad about it because they are quick to tell you that you don’t have to buy anything when you tell them that you aren’t interested and then they badger the hell out of you anyway to get you to go. I take them up on it. They get credit for having bodies in chairs too. Plus, a lot of those guys are sharks. I’ve been lied to many times.

    1. I agree with you on all of this CeCe! 🙂

  11. Michelle

    LOVE this post (and the last version too)!

    1. WIFI- Stealing.
    2. Sharing accounts- With Netflix, you have the ability to set up sub-accounts to a certain number until you need to pay more. So I do not think is stealing. Logging in to someone’s HBO Go account… stealing (though we are guilty of this!). I think the worse offense is streaming shows or movies via no-pay online sights.
    3. Drinks at a restaurant- Not stealing in the case of one person ordering water and the other person getting a drink. I can never finish a drink, so my husband and I always split it. We’re pretty upfront about it though. Pretending to get water is stealing though. Wont go that far!
    4. Signing up for something- Not stealing. Don’t put the offer out there if you do not want people to take advantage of it.
    5. Taking condiments- Not stealing if you bought an item and you do it within reason. If you’re shoving over 50 ketchup packets in your purse, that’s stealing. But one or two… not so much.
    6. Disputing charges- TOTALLY LAME AND HORRIBLE.

    I’m totally with DC on the credit churning. I’m curious to see people’s reactions (do a part III!).

    1. I had no idea about the Netflix thing. Good to know!

  12. Sarah

    I don’t think I’ve done any of these. Like you, I do keep the extra condiments handed at the drivetru (we have a basket full in our pantry), but I consider that not wasting perfectly good ketchup or BBQ sauce or whatever. We also hang onto the extra unused napkins from the drivetru, but again, why throw out something perfectly useful?

    The drink thing blows my mind. I have never seen that.

    1. I agree Sarah! I don’t like just throwing them away.

  13. Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth

    I did the timeshare thing about 10 years ago. Honestly, the information they sent me was intentionally vague; I knew they had to be selling something, but all it talked about was coming to a “free presentation”. I’d never even heard of a timeshare back then! Honestly, I wouldn’t do one again; The whole experience was terrible, and the manager ended up coming over and yelling at me for 15 minutes because I wouldn’t buy.

    I wouldn’t do the condiment thing, but it cracks me up how many fast food chains in my area are careless with their condiments and napkins. I ask for a packet of sauce in the drive-thru, and usually end up with a handful. And the McDonalds by me must think I’m the messiest eater ever, they always give me a huge stack of napkins for one sandwich! I feel weird taking them home to use, but I figure it’s better than wasting them!

    1. Haha it’s so different here Cindy, they charge for most condiments here! It’s like 25 cents for each pack.

  14. Kathy

    When we go out to eat at a barbecue place, if they bring more of the little wet wipe packets than what we need to use, I take the extras for my purse or car. Please understand I don’t ask for extra. I just take what the server brings me. Another thing I do is take the shampoo and conditioner from the hotel rooms we’ve stayed in. One time I asked the maid and she said the motel expects you to take those with you. However, they don’t expect you to take the pillows, towels etc.

    1. Haha I do the same thing with those wet wipes Kathy 🙂

  15. Wow – the disputing $25 on credit card bills is a bit of a shocker to me. I didn’t realize people did that. I guess I am naive sometimes. And that one is definitely stealing in my mind … and apparently it can be a significant amount if they do it regularly. I’ve never seen anyone make their own lemonade at a restaurant but I don’t doubt some people do. Since their server gives them 4 or 5 lemons, I don’t know if I would consider it stealing but definitely taking cheap to a whole new level. I have never intentionally taken condiments out of thriftiness but sometimes I might just grab a handful of something instead of just what I intended to use. I think overall I try to be conscientious, partly because of how I was raised, but I am also a small business owner and somebody has to pay for it. So I try to be considerate.

    1. I didn’t really know people did it until someone told me about it in my last post!

  16. Those restaurant hacks are ridiculous! Maybe if you feel the need to shave $1 off your bill, you shouldn’t be eating in a restaurant in the first place.

    I used to work in a restaurant and once a week a table of old ladies would come in. They would order water and split one quesadilla between three of them. They would chat for hours.. Lovely ladies but we were tryin’ to run a business! Haha.

    1. I agree! Going through that much just to save $1 is crazy

  17. I’ve never thought about disputing credit card charges like that! How horrible. I’ll sometimes take a few sips of my boyfriend’s drink, but I always drink the water I order. I’ve never used someone else’s Wi-Fi either. I think if people are offering a free incentive for a presentation, they should be aware that it will likely be taken advantage of.

    1. I agree about the free incentive thing – timeshare people should be well aware 🙂

  18. My wife and I are going away on a vacation later this year for free. All we have to do is sit in on a timeshare presentation. We have no interest in signing up, so when I read what you wrote, I had to pause for a minute. I guess it’s wrong, but we will still go. They did require your income from the prior year so that college kids/those that couldn’t afford a timeshare wouldn’t be allowed to come. But then again, the girls selling the vacation did tell one person just to check off $60K so he could go. My guess is the girls make commission from signing people up and they don’t care if you can afford a timeshare or not.

    1. With timeshares, I think it’s different, and I don’t think it’s really that bad to sign up for one even if you don’t plan on buying. Timeshare people have to know that most people don’t plan on buying. I think they offer free things because they know they CAN convert some people.

  19. I agree with you, except for something such as in the makeup situation where you ARE supposed to buy something. I have seen people run away when they were supposed to pay because they think it’s all right.

    And yes, I will include downloading in part 3. Great idea, thanks!

  20. Haha that is hilarious Catherine!

    1. Haha very true Catherine! On a somewhat related note – the other day I used the bathroom at a place and didn’t buy something. Someone told me I was stealing and I felt bad afterwards. What do you think in this situation?

  21. I don’t eat fast food much… well really at all! So I haven’t run into the condiment thing myself but my grandfather would take them every time he went to Wendy’s along with oh…. 200 napkins! He said it was because he grew up in the great depression.

    1. We hardly eat fast food anymore either. It’s probably been a few months!

  22. Curious what that neighbor was searching, must have been something really bad for the FBI to show up. If you don’t buy a soft drink you shouldn’t be filling up your cup with soft drink, that’s definitely stealing in my opinion.

    1. The neighbor was searching child p#rn. I really don’t even like saying that because it is so disgusting.

  23. Compared to your first post most of these are stealing. The only I have done on this list is take a couple extra pack of condiments home. As for the drink situations that you posted the person should just stay home if they can’t afford a drink.

    1. I agree, if you have to steal a drink then you should just stay home.

  24. I totally agree with you on all of the above, Michelle. It’s hard for me to understand sometimes how people can value money savings over their reputation or integrity.

  25. abby

    i pay 12 dollars a month for netflix to be run on up to 4 devices at a time. they don’t care where those 4 devices are. i let my little brother in college use my account. its not stealing. netflix knows this, that’s why they have 2 different streaming memberships. its stealing if someone uses my password without my knowledge.

    i totally do the water and lemon thing, but not to be cheap. because i think it tastes better. the shame lol. i do tip well so i hope that makes up for it. i’m also interested in the cc churning post.

  26. My husband and I totally share a drink everywhere. ESPECIALLY if it’s somewhere where it’s disposable cup because I hate creating more waste. In general I try not to drink much soda so it’s not like we’re getting 3-4 refills on one cup. My sister, mom and I all share a netflix account too.

    But I think making a habit out of taking extra condiments (my dad does this with utensils), getting a water cup and not getting water, disputing credit card charges (WHAT?), etc are all stealing.

  27. My mother used to drive me NUTS when we’d go to an all you can eat buffet. After we had eaten our fill, she would go back and grab about four rolls to put in her purse and eat later at home. I call that stealing!

    I share a soda with my younger child because I don’t want hum to have a full size one. Stealing? Maybe, but it’s a little more grey area.

  28. I have mixed thoughts on the soda thing. If you’re in a place with free refills, then i agree that sharing one drink knowing it will be b refilled then it definitely is stealing. If however you’re somewhere without refills then i have no problem with it, and would say it’s no different than splitting a meal.