Frugal, Cheap, or Thief? Are You Smart With Money Or Actually A Thief?

Do you think there’s a line that a person can cross when their money saving ways become too cheap, eventually turning into theft? I don’t believe 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…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: October 28, 2019

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Do you think there’s a line that a person can cross when their money saving ways become too cheap, eventually turning into theft?

Do you think a line can be crossed when money saving ways becomes too cheap, and eventually turns into theft? What does frugal or cheap mean to you?I don’t believe 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, $2, $100, or even more.

However, when does frugal living or cheapness cross the line and turn into stealing? I would love to hear your opinion on each of the situations below. Leave a comment and let’s start a fun discussion.

Related content:

In my free Facebook community, I asked readers “When do you think frugal living or cheapness crosses the line and turns into stealing?”

Here are a couple of the responses I received:

“My mother always taught me that there is nothing wrong with being frugal. Living within your means, checking for the best prices, using what you have, fixing what you have, taking hand me downs, things like that are all legit. But for my mother there were only two categories, frugal and cheap. Cheap is when you try to talk down every price you ever get or take and want everything for free. Example: You go to a garage sale. Something is marked $1 and you offer a dime. You don’t know why someone is having that garage sale. You call a friend, a plumber, for a repair and try to talk the price down to almost nothing. I agree with my mother. She told me, ‘if you are taking the food off someone’s table’ you are going too far. All of us, after all, need each other to make a living. I’ve always tried to remember this because although I want to be frugal, I also want to be a good, decent and kind person. That’s my take.” – Mary Ann Davis

“It becomes stealing when your gain comes at someone else’s expense. Being frugal is choosing to spend carefully. Any expense of being frugal is your own. For example, eating out less or not at all. The only person this affects is you.” – Lauren Moore

Here are some different circumstances in which frugality or cheapness may turn into theft, followed by more of your thoughts.


Using another person’s wi-fi.

This is when you are using someone else’s wi-fi so that you can get on the internet for free, and it’s one that many people are guilty of.

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

However, I think 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 think I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was in college someone had unprotected wi-fi and it turned out that their neighbor was using it and searching for 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 of the neighbor’s internet searches.


Sharing accounts with others.

This is where someone has an account and multiple people/households share the 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 similar companies have specifically stated that this is stealing, so yes, I believe sharing accounts like this is stealing.


Drinks at a restaurant.

There are three different situations that I would like to share about this one.

  1. Paying for one drink with unlimited refills and sharing it with another person, as in 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 soda. I think this is stealing.
  3. Asking for water, a bowl of lemons (I’m talking four or five whole lemons), and sugar so that you can make your own lemonade. I know servers hate when customers do this sort of thing, and I definitely wouldn’t do it. I think this is being cheap and that you should pay for the lemons you’re using.


Signing up for something to get something for free.

This is when you sign up for something knowing that you won’t actually buy the product or service being offered. In these situations there is usually a free product or service you get for trying something out.

One example are timeshare presentations. Many people listen to timeshare presentations even though they know they will not buy a timeshare. They do it to get whatever freebie is being offered for listening to the timeshare pitch, think free movie tickets, free vacation, etc. However, timeshare companies know that this free gift will convert people regardless of what the customer decides beforehand. Due to that, I don’t think attending timeshare presentations is stealing.

Another example is having your makeup professionally done at a department store makeup counter or beauty supply store. Many of these places offer free makeup applications as long as you buy something from them. Some require that you pay for a product 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 or even tipping.

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


Taking condiments.

This is when you go to a restaurant and take a bunch of condiment packets so that you can bring them home to stock your fridge or pantry.

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


Reading books and magazines but not paying for them.

I remember one occasion where I had to do some research and went to a local bookstore to find the book I needed. When I found what I needed, it was obvious that the book had been read before. There were big fold marks on the outside as well as on the inside (it looked like someone folded the book in half), and there were even stains on and in the book. That is just sad!

I see nothing wrong with quickly glancing at a book or magazine to determine if it’s for you. However, if you are reading the majority of the book while not paying for it, especially if you’re damaging it, then I think this does cross the line into stealing.

If you enjoyed or used the book enough to read almost all of it, then you should either buy the book or just borrow it from your local library.


Not telling wedding vendors that you’re having a wedding.

I didn’t do this with my wedding, but whenever I read wedding budget posts, almost every article said to leave out the fact that you are having a wedding.

Some of these writers recommended you tell the vendors that you were just having a party. Because prices can increase significantly when you mention the word “wedding,” saying that you are having a “party” might save you some money.

I think this is a difficult one. I’m not sure if this is stealing because technically you are having a party (a very specific party that probably involves a marriage ceremony). However, you are purposely leaving out information.

I think that leaving out the wedding part may cause you to miss out on some important aspects or special touches that can be important to your wedding. And, those higher prices are usually because there is extra work vendors do to prepare for a wedding, such as with a photographer, DJ, event planner, etc.

What are your thoughts on this situation?


Disputing items on your credit card.

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

I have heard of people who regularly dispute many transactions and take advantage of this.

I don’t do this. If you have received the product or service and have no reason to dispute the purchase except for that you want to save money, it’s not saving money – it’s stealing.


Taking items from a hotel room.

Have you ever stayed at a hotel and cleared the room out before you leave? Maybe you took the towels, soap, toilet paper, plates, cups, decorations, and so on.


Complaining excessively to get what you want.

Would you ever complain so much to get what you want, even if it meant that someone would get fired? I saw this at my job when I worked in retail, and I also see this when I am out shopping at other places. If you have ever worked in retail, you start to notice how customers treat employees at other stores.

Sometimes people will lie, call others names, yell, and just be all around mean.

Yes, I know you should always treat the customer as though they are right.

But, I have seen this happen multiple times, and it’s infuriating. When I am out and see this happening, I do my best to defend the employee (if the employee is correct, let’s be honest – the employee isn’t always right either), because I just CANNOT stand it when people lie.

To get back to the topic – Sometimes a customer will make a complaint so that they can get a discount even if it means that they have to lie and get an employee fired.

At my old retail job, there were many times when a complaint would come in, and I knew it was a complete lie. Sometimes the employee that they were talking about didn’t even work the day that the customer was complaining about, or they were talking to me (without knowing it) and complaining about something I knew I hadn’t done.

I have even seen employees run away and cry because of how adamant the customer was about getting a discount.

Usually these fake complaints were followed with “Don’t I get a discount or get it for FREE?!


Using an item and then returning it.

Have you ever seen the episode of King of Queens where Carrie starts “buying” a lot of high-end designer clothing and ends up with a room full of it? She had thousands of dollars worth of clothing, and she even came up with a system of buying and returning everything so that she never actually had to pay for the items.

Here’s another example of this same sort of thing: Taking an item that has broken, buying the exact same item from the store, then putting the broken one back in the box and returning it so you can have a working one at no cost to you.

I also know of someone who purposely broke an electronic by throwing it down the stairs because their warranty was about to be up and they wanted a new one. This person said that because they bought the warranty, it wasn’t stealing.


The movie theater.

Movie theaters can be expensive. Not only are ticket prices high, but food and drinks as well.

This has led to many people sneaking their own food and drinks into the movie theaters instead of purchasing it there. Some will sneak it in their purses, pockets, and more.

Do you think this is considered stealing?

Or, maybe you have bought a child or senior ticket online or at a kiosk instead of paying the full ticket price.


Leaving a bad tip to “save money.”

I know that different countries have different tipping rules, but if you are in the U.S. where the service industry relies on tips, then I think that you should be budgeting a tip into the cost of your meal.

For this scenario, let’s assume the service you received while having your meal was good. In this case, if you cannot afford the tip, then you cannot afford the meal. You should always budget accordingly when going out to eat, and rather than leave a bad tip, chose something on the menu that is less expensive.

I read an article once about tipping in the U.S. where the author said that they had no problem leaving only a 5% tip each time they go out, even if the service is phenomenal. The person said that even though they couldn’t leave an appropriate tip, they still had a right to go out to eat.

In this situation, would you find something less expensive on the menu, leave before ordering once you realized you couldn’t afford to tip, or just leave a bad tip?


Other frugal, cheap, or thief situations.

Here are some other situations that readers from the free Making Sense of Cents Community brought up:

  • Sneaking into the gym. “We have a local membership at a college and people sneak in ALL the time to avoid the $5 guest pass.” – Kelan John
  • Frugal or a thief? “I am an iced coffee junkie. I drive a lot every day and it keeps me awake and sane. Years ago I was at Starbucks with a friend. I was gonna get a Venti nonfat latte. She said ‘no’, watch me. She ordered a venti triple shot of espresso over ice then added the milk herself. $2.45 ($0.85 per shot) vs. $3.95 (at the time) for a Venti nonfat latte. All they do is pour milk in your cup. Everyone gets to put milk etc in their coffee so why can’t we? I’ve been doing the $2.95 (I get 4 shots) way ever since. Need to stop though cuz that’s still $90.00 a month even the cheap way.” – Robin Ashby
  • Going into an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet with a large, empty handbag with empty tupperware containers and coming out with three additional meals.” – Susan Stoltze

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. You might want to clarify under the restaurant section that your first point applies only when refills are free. If you want to share a glass of wine because you’re a lightweight, by all means – you’ve purchased a glass of wine and it doesn’t matter who drinks it. If you buy unlimited Pepsi for one person and two people are taking advantage of the refills, that’s a different story.

    Taking items from a hotel also depends on the hotel: they aren’t going to reuse a half-used bar of soap, so taking that seems more like reducing waste than anything else. If you’re taking something they will reuse, that’s a different story.

    1. Yes, of course that’s what I’m talking about when it comes to drinks – alcohol is a different story because you are paying per glass. Just like with sharing food, it’s all up for grabs for anyone at the table as long as you’re fine with sharing.

    2. Andrew Breidenbaugh

      Yes, I agree on the used bar of soap. I also think its ok to take the unopened bottle of conditioner because the price of the conditioner is built into the price of the hotel room. Those aren’t “free” items given by the hotel. The hotels pay for those items (in most cases).
      Just like the Walmart bags, the price of the bags are built into the price of the items you buy there. If the stores would start charging for the bags (and hopefully lowering the prices on the items), more reusable bags would be used.
      That’s my two cents…

      1. ChooseBetterLife

        I like the hotels that have a shampoo dispenser mounted in the shower. That way I can use what I need and don’t feel like I’m wasting the rest of an individual-use bottle. Plus, it has less packaging and is better for the environment.
        If there are bottles instead of a dispenser and quite a bit left in the bottle when I’m done, I’ll take it home to not waste it. Also, if I end up with an extra napkin at a fast-food restaurant, I’ll often take this with me or keep it in my car to mop up spills instead of throwing it away. I won’t intentionally take extra, but I hate to throw useful items in the trash.

        1. Good point about the napkins! I have kids, so I always grab a million when we eat at a fast-food restaurant, but then feel guilty throwing away what we don’t use. If I have a ridiculous amount left, I leave a stack on the table, but if it’s just a few I take them with me. The restaurants that have the napkin dispenser on each table are best because then I don’t grab so many. 😉

          My kids also have food allergies, so I often bring food just for them when we go to the movie theaters (and even some restaurants). I feel really guilty, but I just can’t risk it. To make up for it, we try to tip really well, especially if the server accommodated the kids.

          1. Alicia

            This is actually a myth in a lot of places, look up your theaters policy. Mine says no hot food or alcohol. Since then we’ve walked right into our theater with waters, drinks, and candy. If an employee says something I just show them their own policy (even they have bought into the myth.) Look it up! =)

        2. Elizabeth

          I agree that the shampoo and soap are built into the room price. I never used to take them if I didn’t use them. Now I always take them and donate to shelters and care packages for soldiers.

          On the tipping topic, I always leave 20% unless the service was horrible, then I drop it to 15%. I’ve taught my children that if you can’t afford to tip then you can’t afford to eat out.

          Having waited tables in college I’m very aware how little they make (about $2 an hour). They have to make up the difference with tips. So many issues that affect the meal are not under their control, but the server is penalized. This system needs to change. They should be paid at least minimum wage. I feel the restaurant industry is being cheap not paying their staff a livable wage and stealing from their employees. Many restaurants compensated by offering 1 free meal, now they don’t even do that. Sorry my rant for the day.

        3. Lizzy

          I wish more hotels had dispensers!

    3. DENISE

      Soaps shampoos and etc are there for you to take as long as you don’t steal them off of the cart. Pillows towels and robes unless otherwise noted that you can take them knowing that they will charge you is stealing.

  2. Mr. and Mrs. Money Sloths

    Hi Michelle – another great post that gets the reader thinking about frugality and how things in life aren’t always black and white. Just wanted to drop by and say that you are one of our inspirations to start blogging recently!

  3. It’s an interesting point, and a hard one to define!

    I think we all have a moral compass that let’s us know when we’ve crossed the line – not necessarily into criminal frugality, but definitely past the point of socially accepted conduct. Frugality is a great trait to have – but if anyone gets to the point where they’re feeling guilty about how they saved an extra dollar here or there, they’ve gone to far!

  4. Mustard Seed Money

    Usually when I think about some of the above scenarios I think about if I owned the business how I would feel about patrons acting like this to me. If I’m cool with it, then I would do it, ie sometimes I’ll grab an extra packet of ketchup or napkin. But taking money out of someone’s pocket by doing something that I consider in bad taste.

    But then again that’s my conviction 🙂

    1. Yes! That’s a great way to think about it.

  5. In the past I had a small business making rustic furniture and selling it at art shows. It was a great summer gig during college. Many other vendors would offer free items to get customers to stop for a moment. It works great. The business knows that only a certain percentage will turn into customers. They also know that many people who otherwise wouldn’t even stop will turn into a customer once they try the product.

    I couldn’t offer anything for free but I did invite people to come into my booth and sit down for a bit. Those art shows and festivals are busy and hot, people loved to take a break in the shade. It was good for me because a full booth always attracted more customers.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a free offer from a business. Even if you think you may not be a customer. Who knows, you may change your mind. Just don’t abuse it.

  6. Tara

    You think going to a time share presentation for a free item is stealing, even though they advertise it as such (get a $100 gift card!) Time Shares are often scams, so if you’re going for a gift card that is advertised as such, you’re not in the wrong.

    I’ve never done it myself, but who am I to judge.

    Also, some streaming accounts are for sharing. My brother has the family Spotify with four accounts and I share with him as it’s cheaper.

    1. I never said going to a timeshare is stealing. Can you show me where I said that in the blog post so that I can change it?

      1. ChooseBetterLife

        Michelle, you wrote, “One example are timeshare presentations. Many people listen to timeshare presentations even though they know they will not buy a timeshare. They do it to get whatever freebie is being offered for listening to the timeshare pitch, think free movie tickets, free vacation, etc.”
        This paragraph does imply that signing up for a timeshare to get the free gift is morally wrong.
        However, the companies heavily market the free gifts knowing that a certain percentage of people who do NOT intend to purchase a timeshare actually DO buy one after the presentation and hard sell.
        It’s a reasonable argument that signing up only to receive the free gift is perfectly fine. The company still has you as a captive audience for a few hours (often longer than they advertise) and the opportunity to win you over.

        1. Good to know, I don’t see that paragraph that way, though. I was just listing different situations but I didn’t state what I thought in that specific case. I don’t think going to timeshare presentations is stealing because timeshare companies know that they can convert people based off a free gift offer.

        2. I have now updated this in the post since two people, including you, were confused 🙂

  7. Kathy

    I actually asked a hotel maid once if it was okay to take anything from the room. She replied they expect guests to take the soaps, shampoo etc. and that is perfectly fine. They do NOT want guests to take pillows, towels décor items etc. That is stealing.

    1. Yes, this is what I expected.

      1. kiran

        You said taking shampoo from hotel is stealing, now you expect its ok to take it.
        You are confused, I wonder how else you judge people.

        1. I have no clue where you’re even getting that assumption from.

  8. Ryan @ Just Another Dollar

    Very comprehensive list to think about! There are a few items on here that shocked me how far people will go to save a buck. I’ve known some family members that I would consider “cheap” to the point of being tacky; (i.e. guy avoiding dates because women expect him to pay). Overall, I cringe at the thought of benefiting at the cost of a business and will only complain if I experience something egregious. I’d rather be seen as overly generous or accommodating than difficult, cheap, or rude.

    1. Complaining is something that I absolutely hated about working in retail. People can be horrible.

  9. Sara

    These are all great and I agree with you on all but one of them. I smuggle food and drink into the movie theater every.single.time I go. I’m not stealing anything. I’m not buying their overpriced crap, but I wouldn’t anyway. I would go without food or drink rather than pay the crazy marked up prices. All of the others are definitely shady.

    1. AJ

      I wouldn’t consider taking your own food into the movie theater stealing, per se. Do theaters frown upon it – sure. Do they check peoples bags/purses before entering the movie? No. So you’re going to have people bring in their own food unless they really start to crack down on it. Regardless, I bring my own snacks in, but that’s mainly because they don’t sell what I eat (grapes, nuts, seeds, etc).

    2. Karen

      I used to bring candy into the theater until the day my son said something to the extent that the no outside food rule (that he read on it he door as we entered) was one of those rules that we didn’t really have to follow. I realized I didn’t want to teach him we get to pick and choose which rules applies to us. I talked about the overpriced candy. I said from now on we can enjoy our candy before or after the movie. Then I talked about how if we disagree with a rule what was we could go about changing them like asking a movie theater to reduce prices and maybe research how their profits would go up if they reduced their prices because more people would buy their candy. I figured it was beater to teach him to work within rules even ones we don’t agree with. I also will not lie about my kids ages at restaurants because I will not teach them to learn to lie to save a few dollars

      1. Alicia

        This is a tough one and there was a great episode of “Instinct” that addressed “rule following” recently. The detective is a strict rule follower and refuses to break any, no matter the cost (and the cost is high at times in her line of work). Until she spoke to a teenager who told her that she (the teenager) HAD to have a high rating on some Snapchat kind of app, it’s a “rule” — and this kid was taught never to break any rules. It convey’s better than I can explain. Well the detective obviously had an inner chat with herself about where rules actually come from, why, and exploring the gray area of situational decision making and rule-breaking. Even our own legal system allows for breaking the law situationally. Such as murder in self-defense, etc.

        There are cultures with “rules” that are abhorrent and made to be broken. Yes, I think we CAN think for ourselves and make our own decisions. The best lesson to teach children, I feel, is not to NEVER break any rules, but HOW to think critically, live morally, and make the best decision they can based on the situation and information provided. Now, moral means something different to everyone. I don’t think it’s immoral to sneak candy into a theater. If it is — well — this whole world is damned, lol.

  10. Julie R.

    Almost all of the examples you gave are cheap/wrong, if not illegal, except for the wedding one. If you are paying the asking price for an item, you are not doing anything wrong. However, vendors who automatically double standard prices when they hear “wedding” are in an ethically gray area if they are offering they same item it service level as they would for a party.
    My mom got quotes from a flower shop for tabletop pots of daisies for my wedding. The same shop charged half as much for a party as a wedding for the same flowers, the same way, with the same pickup time and day.

    1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  11. I agree there’s a fine line between being frugal and stealing. I can understand going to the dollar store to stock up on candy and drinks before the movie theatre. Our neighbor who just completed a 2 story addition on their home, a complete kitchen remodel, and recently purchased a 2nd home, was seen recently at a school function having her kids stuff the shared cookies in their pockets, bring them out to the car and come back for more. It’s nice to cut corners but sometimes it can be taken a little too far lol.

    1. Ha, that is an interesting one.

  12. Grant @ Life Prep Couple

    First time on your blog but I love this post. Definitely gets me thinking. Some of it seems obviously wrong to me but others I can justify.

    Well I need napkins to eat this meal but I’m not sure exactly how many so I better get plenty. That seems okay but how many is too many? At that point it becomes arbitrary.

  13. AW

    If I choose to drink water with my meal, it’s not being cheap in any way. Most restaurants put 1 slice of lemon on your glass. If you order more they should charge for them. I was a waitress for years and it never bothered me that someone drank water with their meal. It doesn’t mean they are cheap!

    1. I don’t think a person is cheap for drinking water. I almost always just get water at a restaurant 🙂

  14. I love that episode of King of Queens!

    I have a hard time with the wedding one. Unless the venue thinks you’re going to trash the place why are they charging a premium?

    People who are cheap in the work place really freak me out — you know the ones who don’t care if everyone knows they’re cheap? They buy plain bagels and then add butter from a tub in the office kitchen that everyone can use. Or they stalk meeting rooms to see when it’s all clear to swoop in and take all the catered food leftovers home for dinner with their spouse.Never mind that someone else might actually want something.

    1. Yes, that episode is great!

  15. Leah

    There’s a scene in the movie Never Been Kissed with Josie telling her boss how the popular girls in high school purchase clothes, wear them with the tags still on, then return the clothes.

    As a manager of a fast-casual restraunt and also a retail store, a particular thing that irks me that employees do is steal time. For example, one of my associates was being paid $10/hour with two paid 10 minute breaks and an unpaid 30 minute break as company policy. This associate would regularly take extended bathroom breaks for 15-20 minutes throughout the shift. If we assume that he was doing this a minimum of twice each shift (sometimes he did it more) that’s 30 – 40 minutes each day times a 5 day work week that’s 150 – 200 minutes or 2.5 – 3.33 hours a week of unauthorized break time and labor hours being stolen from the company. In a month that’s 10 – 13.32 hours of unworked time. So for an entire year that’s 120 – 159.84 hours which results in $1200 – $1598.40 a year. This same associate complained that $10/hour wasn’t enough at full -time work when they were essentially stealing money from the company because he was actually working.

    This is a touchy subject because so many people think companies owe them stuff – like benefits or $15 hour but those people are the same ones that want to just stand around and be paid to goof off. (ANOTHER instance is clocking in early or purposely dragging out your tasks to stay late to get more hours – that’s stealing too if you can get all your stuff done during your regular shift. And if you clock in then change into your uniform that’s stealing too).

    Just something else to consider.

    1. Heather @ bizewife

      This last part makes zero sense. Companies owe employees what the market demands. In some industries that’s a particular wage, working conditions and benefits. It’s called supply and demand economics. If governments legislate additional demands that aren’t supported by the market and the company doesn’t adjust prices to cover the difference, the company may RIF or fold. Or do what they do best and lobby against wage and working conditions standards. Either way, let’s be clear that none of this operates outside markets in the bum employee ether.

      Great article Michelle. Really off the wall one but visiting resorts that are easy to get into and using their facilities (pools etc.). Lots of places have gotten really good at restricting access but not all.

  16. I wrote an ebook a few years ago called Budget Wedding Secrets: How to Have a $30,000 Wedding for Less Than $10,000 — and was absolutely horrified to hear someone at work say, when I told them I was writing it, that they bought wedding reception tabletop decoration at Michael’s, used them at the event and then returned them all. I was embarrassed for them and they were actually proud! 🙁

  17. The Money Xpert

    Great article that really got me thinking, Michelle!

    I hear of people doing these all the time, and admittedly have done many myself, but have never really considered how dishonest they can be. In my opinion, lots of them are definitely stealing as you mentioned – sharing ‘free refills’ drinks, using another person’s wifi (at least more than once or twice), disputing transactions that were real, etc.

    I don’t feel too bad sneaking drinks into the movie theater when they cost $10 inside, though! 🙂

  18. I thought I was the only one who referenced old sitcoms haha. I love King of Queens – I had a friend who did the exact thing Carrie was doing under the guise of “I’m picky.” Pfft girl, I see what you’re doing and it’s not because you’re “picky” it’s because you’re cheap!

    I agree with you on the Netflix one. It’s super common for one person to share Netflix with 6 other people and as long as they’re not logged in and using it at the same time – Netflix can’t stop it. If you read the agreement, Netflix only allows two profiles under one account.

    I really enjoyed this post because there’s at least 5 of them (condiments, timeshare, gym) that I’m on the fence about. None of those is what I consider frugal though, at all.

  19. AnnieG

    I can think of a few for movies and music:

    Downloading without paying for them.
    Buying, making copies, and then selling the original.
    Borrowing from the library and making copies to keep.

  20. I think reading books and magazines in the stores okay just as long as you walk up the store without it. I used to do that in my past and didn’t feel guilty one bit because I never stole it. However, if I put it in my waistline it after folding up the magazine and pulled my shirt over it and walked out without paying for it, that would be a different story. It’s okay I think to dispute items on your credit card if you have a legitimate reason. Let’s say for example if you have a coupon you forgot to use to get the discount off of a product or service you bought after making the purchase. I just recently did that after purchasing a pair of Jordan’s from foot locker online and e-mailed them and call after making the purchase and gave them the coupon code and they refunded me the difference via PayPal. So in that case I thought it was pretty much okay.

  21. I was just trying to remember if I’ve ever returned anything I’d worn. I don’t think so but I am adamant about returning damaged goods. One shop once tried to give me a gift card when I returned a shirt that had a hole in it (I had not noticed that before making the purchase). I told them flat out that I would not accept a gift card, the item was faulty and I wanted my money back.

    Apart from that I’ve only started sneaking food and drinks into the cinema since I became pregnant xD I always have a water bottle and some snacks in my bag. I will, however, almost always buy a drink and/ or popcorn as well.

  22. Mike Collins

    The Chinese restaurant really cracks me up. I can’t imagine going into a restaurant with tupperware or zip lock bags to take home food. Why not just walk out with a whole tray?? LOL

    There’s a rib place by me that offers an all you can eat special. Should I go there and stock up on ribs before my next BBQ? hahaha

  23. Sarah

    I’m sure we can all recollect personal experiences or stories we’ve heard about inappropriate behaviors. I don’t think that’s being disputed in your post. But these days I find myself looking at this through a different lens–that of owner vs. consumer.

    I don’t know if you’d call it the golden rule. But as a bootstrapper and future business owner, the activities mentioned have a bottom line. There’s no such thing as “it doesn’t hurt.” Someone pays.

    I don’t believe it’s a question of frugality but one of character and entitlement. “I deserve this is” is the unsung mantra that fuels it all.

  24. Oooh, I know people who do so many of these things and it drives me crazy!

    The 5% tipper at restaurants really grinds my gears. Really? I’m a firm believer that you should plan for tip when going out to eat. It takes NO time to Google a restaurants menu to get a rough estimate of what your meal might be and plan for a 20% tip. I just don’t know why people don’t factor it in!

    FUN FACT: I had a guy in my restaurant who would always ask for 4 pieces of lemon (that equates to 1/4 lemon in the way we cut them) and be real cute about adding his own sugar. Management told me to take control and start charging him. I started adding a $1 condiment charge every time he did that. It took him a couple visits to catch on, but when he did he was so surprised that I was charging him. He didn’t do it again.

    People notice these kinds of “frugal things” and it doesn’t reflect well on the people who claim they are just trying to be frugal. There’s definitely a line.

  25. Lisa C.

    People who profess to be “huge music fans” BUT have never paid a dime for anything on their playlist really bother me. HOW can you say you support the music industry if you never pay for any of the songs you download? Especially the newer musicians who are starting out. They will never get additional record contracts without support for what they are putting out there now!

  26. You’ve opened a can of worms. I’m frugal and I’m proud of it, but there are some things I just won’t do. My personal feeling is if I have sneak, lie, or cheat to get a lower price. I’m stealing, and I won’t do that.

    1. D Oehlberg

      I think that is a good standard! For instance, I think you could go listen to the timeshare and be honest that you aren’t interested in buying or don’t have the money. Or, when I take test drives for a free prize, I am honest and say it will be years before I purchase another vehicle, but I would love to know how that vehicle drives. Some won’t even make you do the test drive, knowing you would be wasting “their time” and just give you the free prize. And yes, companies do expect that. One time I didn’t realize that Southern Siding (high priced) gave out gifts just for coming to your house. I wanted an estimate for siding, which was way higher than I could afford. The guy made fun of me for thinking it was less, then said that his company gives out gifts for calling them. Trust me, those gifts have been pre-paid by prior customers!

  27. Finances with Purpose

    Great stuff here, and I agree almost across the board. Your wi-fi point is dead on: guard your networks, people! Sadly, there are bad people out there who use free networks to find kiddie porn and the like, and the FBI will come looking for whoever owns the modem. It also reminded me of my mom’s experience: she could never understand why people congregated at the edge of her yard at 2am and beyond…until I found her wifi was unprotected. (She had unwittingly reset the router.) I added a password and, voila: no more loitering.

    As for weddings, my wife did exactly that: she used event caterers and so on. (She’s also a pro at wedding planning, organization, and so on, and is in the business now.) She would do the same again today and highly recommends it. Vendors often add the premium because weddings may involve cranky and demanding customers, but that wasn’t us, so she simply ordered things for her “event” and neither she nor the vendors cared; it all went beautifully, and she has helped many friends do the same since then. If you’re an agreeable person, it’s a great way to save, and even though I’m an absolute stickler for honesty and *full* disclosure, I don’t have any issue with doing that at all. (One caveat: it may be different if you’re retaining a lot of on-site staff or something where there are things unique to a wedding, but in general, that’s not the case.) I would be clear about what you expect of the vendor, and what you’re paying. It’s probably cheaper to have a great wedding coordinator (whether paid or not)/detail-oriented friend to take care of all these details than to tell everyone you’re having a wedding.

    Another tip about weddings: once vendors know, some unscrupulous ones tack on lots of down-the-road “fees” and then insist these are commonplace for weddings. Even though they’ll perform the exact same service for a normal event. Sadly, there are many unscrupulous wedding vendors; weddings are a cash cow. So it’s also a way to protect yourself from scammers – and sadly, there are MANY of them in the business. Our non-wedding vendors, however, were phenomenal, and – returning the favor – we’ve referred the good vendors much more business as well. (That’s another great thing you can do: reward those who serve you well by sending them more people to serve!) I guarantee you our vendors are happy about it; we sent them a stream of clients.

    Great post, Michelle! There’s a difference between being frugal and freeloading.

    1. Kristine

      I love some of these wedding ideas. Thank you for sharing! We are planning our wedding and we already have told our vendors that it’s a wedding, but we are fortunate in that we haven’t had any unscrupulous vendors. Our venue only does “event” pricing, our photographer has a flat rate with packages clearly broken out and is very up front (but we want a seasoned wedding photographer since we value their talent and knowledge), and our videographers are actually very cost effective for all we are getting from them. I do think my wedding dress was priced higher due to it being a “wedding dress,” but I had a specific style I wanted and was willing to pay a premium to not have to stress about trying to find it for cheap. That one’s on me. 🙂 I’ll definitely get the shoes, accessories, and the rest of the things we need elsewhere and will use the “event” tip for the rehearsal dinner.

  28. Anonymous

    I have a friend who makes a fuss to get extra freebies sometimes, and it makes me really uncomfortable. One time I took her to a local bakery for lunch, and we both ordered waters. But she filled her water glass with iced tea, and I was embarrassed to be with her. If she does it again, I will say something to her.

  29. The lines are blurry on quite a few of those, and have a lot to do with how a person was raised. In cases where anything not locked down gets “reallocated”, there is a far greater tolerance for “taking advantage” being considered reasonable.

  30. Violet

    My mother was a thief. She would say she wasn’t. I would call her out on it, but it did not change her mind.

    She would “buy” a video camera for an event and then return it afterward claiming that she didn’t like it.

    She would order drinks at a casino and stash the glass in her handbag.

    She would steal towels from hotels.

    She bought window air conditioners and would then return them in a few weeks after the worst of the summer humidity was over, claiming she didn’t like them.

    She would claim to be sick and take off time from work and go to Florida on vacation. If the work nurse called her, she would become indignant and say her privacy was being violated.

  31. Rae

    Regarding toiletries in hotel rooms, I asked several places whether they discarded these items after a guest left, and all of the big chains said they do even if the containers appear to be unused. So now I always take them because I hate the waste. There is a nonprofit clinic in my area that distributes these to homeless people, and every few months I head over and drop off a bag.

    But taking towels or mugs would be stealing, in my opinion, if you didn’t get permission to take them.

  32. This was a mighty interesting post. I think there is a thin line between negotiation, frugality with conscience and stealing. Everyone has very subjective and wavering boundaries around it. Personally, for me a lot depends on the situation and whether I am the one being taken advantage of.

    In that respect the starting quote in your post neatly summed it up where the author’s mother said that be frugal not at the cost of anyone else. Till the time you are the only one affected and no body else is ending up with a loss, making sense of cents becomes easier 🙂

  33. ENSJ

    To be honest, my brother had Netflix first and used to have the basic plan where you can stream on 2 devices.

    I said I didn’t have the budget for 13 dollars a month, which is true. So he upgraded to premium (four screens at a time) and I pay half of the price.

    And yes my brother and I don’t live in the same house anymore, but we are the only ones who use the netflix account so I don’t consider it stealing in this case.

    For the rest, most of the things listed are illegal and/or considered morally wrong.