Frugal... or just plain wrong?

You know what I love? Getting something for nothing. Oh, it's rare. It's also sort of greedy and raises all kinds of ethical questions. How far would YOU go to save, or make, a dollar or two?

Here are some examples of 'something for nothing' that fall into a morally gray area. I'm not endorsing, advocating, recommending, encouraging, or promoting any of these, but I'm curious as to how our readers feel about them. Like taking an extra piece of candy from the porch bowl in Halloween, everyone probably has a different perception of what constitutes right or wrong.

Where would you draw the line on these examples? Would you...

1. Sneak into a movie? I've done this before, but it's been a while. Like the first time I skipped class, I remember it being a very thrilling experience. But is it ethical? If the movie that you sneak into has been in the theater for a while, and barely anyone is going to see it, would that be better than sneaking into a movie that might sell out (and thus, robbing someone of their paid seat)? What if you went to see one movie, and bought a huge tub of popcorn and a large drink and candy (that's, like, $30 right there). Does the theater OWE you a decent movie at that point? What about sneaking your own candy and pop into a movie theater?

2. Download music online? For free? Is it stealing? Are artists suffering? The big production companies want you to believe that when you download a song from a peer-to-peer site, you are wrenching a sandwich directly out of Sheryl Crow's hand, but is it really such a big deal? Or is it the principle of the matter?

3. Freeload of your neighbor's TV channels? It can be done, and is done. But is it wrong?

4. Siphon your neighbor's wireless internet? Hey, if your neighbor can't be bothered to put rudimentary security into place, such as WEP or network passwords, they're just begging to have their bandwidth used, right? Right?

5. Keep the incorrect change? You gave the cashier a ten, and she gives you change for a twenty. Do you say anything? Or take the money and run?

6. Underpay if you are undercharged? You buy something at a store or at a restaurant, and realize that you were charged for something much, much cheaper. Do you go back and try to sort out the mess? What if you've already gone home before you realize that a mistake was made? Do you go back and try to correct it, or is it too much of a hassle?

7. Take the money that your bank accidentally deposited in your account? Do you withdraw it and buy some kick-ass jeans? Is it worth the risk? The bank might eventually figure out what they did wrong. But you've always been a good customer, so are you entitled to benefit from someone else's mistake?

8. Scalp tickets? Sure, you were planning on going to the (insert hip band name here) concert, but turns out it's the same weekend as your cousin's wedding, and you are technically in the wedding party, so it's bub-bye to those hard-won tickets. Shouldn't you stand to profit just a little from them? Especially seeing as how SO many people want to go see the (hip band name) concert, and are WILLING to pay you much more than you paid for them - hey, that extra $100 can go towards the wedding present! Or is that wrong?

9. Accept freebies for listening to a timeshare spiel? This one was covered well at Queercents. Is it OK to accept an all-expenses paid trip in exchange for listening to a sales pitch for something that you have no intention of purchasing?

10. Expense a non-business dinner? You just got back from a business trip and want to take your significant other out for a nice dinner. Since your better half dropped you off AND picked you up at the aiport (thus saving the cost of a cab or long-term parking), should your business foot the bill for your dinner out? You just got back. AND on the trip, you only ate at Subway. So, they can put out for two steaks, can't they? They're a big corporation?

11. Treat the medicine cabinet at work as your own free pharmacy? Hey, those pills will expire if someone doesn't use them, and Advil is kind of pricey. Plus, if work wasn't causing your ulcers, you wouldn't need to use all of those sample antacid packs, right? No?

12. Fudge coupon codes? There are many, many coupon codes that are easy to fake. Like those codes that you get when you complete a customer satisfaction survey. Or those codes that come in Suze Orman's books. If you can fake it and get away with a free burger every day, should you?

13. Go grocery sampling? My dad can happily feed himself for free just walking around Costco, tasting the various creations that are hawked by kindly hair-netted grandmothers. He never buys any food, because that's Mom's realm. Is Dad out of line? What about the people that sample non-sample food, like trail mix at Safeway?

14. Cut-n-buy? I really like fennel. And carrots. But when it comes to buying these things by the pound, I fantasize about cutting off the tops of these damn things, because I can't eat the tops, and they cost me extra. Is it OK to yank the greens off the tops of the carrots or hack the fennel down to the edible part before weighing and paying?

15. Take home office supplies? It sounds clichéd, but who hasn't taken a mechanical pencil from the supply closet? Or some Post-its when they run low?

16. Read all your magazines at Barnes and Noble? I used to do this as a poor student - oh, how I longed for a subscription to French Vogue, but the price was just ridiculous. But, for the price of a latte, I could spend a Sunday afternoon flipping through pages of couture.

17. Sell your neighbor's garbage? No, I'm not talking about celebrity personal belongings auctioned off on eBay, but this happens a LOT where I live. We have one guy in particular who spends a lot of time sifting through our trash and taking what he thinks he can sell. My garbage can, with it's doggie poop bags, is probably disappointing, but the huge apartment bin across the alley is a veritable treasure trove of resellable goods. On one hand, he's reusing stuff that might otherwise go into a landfill. On the other hand, he's digging through my damn garbage can.

18. Pick your neighbor's fruit? That almost sounds dirty, doesn't it? I used to live next to someone who had a tree growing part way into an alley. The tree produced really nice fruit every spring, and the neighbor never picked it, just letting everything go to waste. I would walk by and occasionally take an apricot or two. It never occured to me to ask until someone pointed out to me that what I was doing could be considered stealing. I became slightly paranoid, and never plucked an apricot again. But was it such a big deal?

19. Be a cheap-ass at Starbucks? Order an espresso shot. Go to the condiments counter, fill the rest of your cup with milk, and take it home and nuke it.

20. Lie about your income to get cheap medical services? Planned Parenthood is remarkably lax in their rules for assessing a person's payment options on a sliding scale. Tell them that you're only making 12K a year, and your reproductive needs are taken care of for much less than it would cost anywhere else. What if you don't have insurance? What if you make a donation to Planned Parenthood years later to compensate?

(Photo by Alejandro Forero Cuervo.)

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Paul Michael's picture

You know how I feel on the movie sneaking, but lets not open up old wounds. I believe some of those (e.g. stealing wireless) are wrong, and others are a matter for your own personal morals. I see nothing wrong with using the medicine cabinet at work if I have a headache, that's what it's there for.

I do have one of my moral conundrum of my own. Several times over the last two years, my little daughter (now almost 3) has grabbed something from a store shelf as we're wandering through the aisles doing our shop. We only discover this thing (usually a shiny toy) as we're lifting her out of the buggy and into the car seat. To be honest, we have rarely taken it back because a) we didn't actually want it and thus don't want to pay for it, but b) if we rip it from her hands we'll be dealing with a screaming, crying, upset toddler. It's never been worth more than $5, but still, it's stealing right? So, we feel bad about that. We donate every toy to charity when we get back home and she's forgotten about it. 

Guest's picture

Isn't that teaching your daughter that it is OK to take something that is not hers?

Guest's picture

You are teaching her that it is okay to take things that don't belong to her. If you had taken her back into the store and given the toy back, she would have learned, even at two or three, that it is not okay to take things. Of course she would pitch a fit, but she would have gone home empty handed, with the message that she can't help herself to whatever she wants.
This is the age to teach these lessons.

Guest's picture

Most of these I would put firmly in the "wrong" category, mainly because if I was on the "other side" - the person who owns the store, runs the movie theatre, is the cashier who will have the "off" till at the end of the day, etc... I would not want to be ripped off, taken advantage of or paying for someone else's frugality (or possibly even greed??).

The several I wouldn't put in that category would be #9 (I actually have no idea how the whole "time share spiel for a trip" thing works), 13 (If they're giving out free samples... then eat up, they're free - but if it's a bulk container, no. Otherwise the bulk price will go up to compensate for those greedy hands of others) , 17 (With permission from the neighbor, why not? Hey and maybe with permission you can get a cut of the profit... now that's frugal), and 18 (Again with permission form the neighbor, why not? Are they really going to personally eat all that fruit? And are you constantly noticing fruit falling to the ground going rotten because they are never picked. Most trees produce plenty of fruit to share).

Guest's picture

Be careful with the wifi stuff. In some places, it's now actually illegal to "steal" it.

Sarah Winfrey's picture I'm afraid to tell you what I do and do not do on this list.  Sufficient to say that, if they don't password protect their internet, isn't it free game?  Don't ask me how many of my neighbors have unprotected WiFi, because I won't tell you.  I don't know anything. 

I would also be a cheap-ass Starbux-er, if I drank milk, which I don't. I'd pick fruit that was in my territory, or "fair game" territory, and sell my neighbor's garbage (if it came to that).  And I'd go grocery sampling and do the whole free-trip-for-spiel thang.  I might sneak into a movie, I think the RIAA is stupid (as a writer, I'd rather have what I've written be READ than receive money for it, even if I deserve the money, and I think music and video should be the same way), I'd take some sorts of office supplies but not others, I might fudge coupon codes (depending on the situation), and I try to read magazines in grocery lines so I don't have to buy them so I'd totally do the B&N thing.  

Yikes!  I just said all of that.  Actually, I'm not sure I think all of those things are right, just that I could talk myself into doing them.  That's pathetic.  Maybe I should jump on the "self-improvement" bandwagon.

Gosh...I've never been a bad-girl before. 

Guest's picture

Just about every one of these is STEALING--not getting a bargain but TAKING OR KEEPING SOMETHING THAT IS NOT YOURS! That's not being thrifty or frugal--that's being a theif! One exception is the trash thing--if something is clearly someone else's garbage, then it is fair game.

Guest's picture

Actually, come to think of it ... it depends on where the trash is. It could be an invasion of privacy/trespassing if someone is pilfering through your garbage on your property. However, if the garbage is in a public dumpster ... then that might be another story.

Basically, if you have to ASK or WONDER whether something is OK ... then it probably ISN'T!

What is the matter with people--isn't there any integrity anymore? Is making or saving a buck really worth your integrity? Thinking about this list and how people think it's OK to do most of these things really grosses me out.

Will Chen's picture

I have a friend who sometimes ask me to bring her honey packets from Starbucks. So I would take two packets of honey even though I had no intention of using the honey myself. If anyone responds with "that's a sticky situation," I might have to cry.

Paul Michael's picture

we tell her it was wrong to take it, and we donate the toy. She hasn't done it for months, so we figure she has learned the lesson. My 8 month old just did it for the first time this week. She's way too young to even know what's going on, so that one's more tricky.

Andrea Karim's picture

What is the matter with people--isn't there any integrity anymore? Is making or saving a buck really worth your integrity? Thinking about this list and how people think it's OK to do most of these things really grosses me out.

It doesn't gross me out, but I don't consider it savory behavior.

Thinking of Will's honey-packet swiping as a good example, is it OK to take more napkins than you need at a place like McDonald's or Starbucks to replenish your supply at home?

Guest's picture

Some of these "frugal" tips are just plain stealing and will get you arrested.

Guest's picture
Bob B.

My answers:

1-4: 100% Unethical. You are directly stealing something you haven't paid for, and you know you're required to pay for it. If you get caught, you can be arrested or sued.

5-7: 100% Unethical. You are receiving stolen property; you know it doesn't belong to you, and you know it doesn't belong to the person who gave it to you (the employee who made a mistake). It isn't their's to give to you, and it isn't yours to take.

8. Unethical, for different reason. It's perfectly ethical to take something that belongs to you and sell it to someone else when you can no longer benefit from it. However, the unethical part of ticket scalping is the price-gouging; in the old days, they called it usury. Taking advantage of others is unethical.

9. Sticky situation. If you have to lie, then it's unethical. If you have the tenacity to call them up and say "I will not buy your product, but will accept your free vacation" and they say "That's okay, come anyway" because they think they can change your mind, then you've acted ethically, because you were clear that you weren't interested in what they are selling.

10-11, 15. Unethical. You're stealing from your employer, and you know you are. If materials are purchased for work-use only, and you take them to use for non-work activities, then you are a thief. (Occasionally walking off with a pen still in your shirt pocket, or grabbing a Tylenol for your migraine on the way out the door isn't grand theft, but if you're stocking out your home with company products, then you've become a crook.)

12. Unethical. If you have to lie, it's unethical.

13. Ethical. Samples are intended to introduce you to a product in the hope you will buy it. Not necessarily buy it *today*, but buy it. If you go to the grocery and have a sample (even if it's every one in the store), the likelihood is you'll decide to buy it *at some point.* Does Dad ever come home and say "I had this great _____, get some the next time you're there?"

14. I can't believe I even have to say "Unethical." Somebody had to pay to harvest, wash, sort, grade, ship, and stock those tops, so you have to pay to benefit from them. If you cut the tops off, you're a thief.

16. Ethical, as long as the store permits/encourages it. Stores like Barnes & Noble allow & encourage customers to sit all day and read books & magazines because they know the longer a customer is there, the more likely they are to spend. As long as they are permitting it, it's okay. (If the store has "This is not a library" signs posted, then you've been warned, and it would be unethical to take advantage of them.)

17. Ethical. Once you put it on the curb, it's no longer yours. If they're fishing out your personal information and using it for fraud, then that is unethical, but if they're pulling out that Size 2 Prada you threw away because it doesn't even fit the canary, then it's you're fault for throwing it out instead of selling it yourself.

18. Unethical if they're utilizing it, ethical if they aren't, but you should always ask. You might *think* they aren't using it, but perhaps they have some use you don't know about. So ask; "The fruit on your tree looks so beautiful, and it seems you don't pick it. Would you mind if I took an apple or two on occasion?" It's common courtesy.

19. Unethical. You're deliberately abusing a convenience they offer, knowing you're defrauding them in the process.

20. Unethical. As I said above, if you have to lie, it's unethical. (Some would probably say that if you're at Planned Parenthood, lying isn't really what you should be concerned about, but I choose not to make judgment on that.)

Guest's picture

no one really cares about ethical/unethical ;)

The 'ethical-ness' of the situation has no bearing on if something is 'legal' or 'illegal'

To the unsecure wireless comment, here's my take on it:

Your neighbor is watering their yard with a sprinkler, that on it's normal setting it splashes water onto your property (over the fence, so your neighbor can't see where your plants are/where the water hits).

If I move my potted plants into the range of the 'splash-over' water... I am receiving 'his water' that he is spraying for the purpose of watering his yard.

Legal? I would think so. Would I actually go over there and say, excuse me, you're watering my plants? Pfft, no ;)


Your neighbor is using a wireless internet connection to connect their computers to the internet, on the normal setting, where the signal 'splashes' onto your property (into your house, so your neighbor can't see where you have your computers set up).

If I move my computers into thi range of the 'splash-over' signal... I am receiving 'his signal' that he is 'generating' for the purpose of connecting his computers.

Legal? How is this different? ;)


Paul Michael's picture

Andrea's list is not a guide to being frugal, it's a question. Which of these, if any, are ok? Which are not? If you happen to be someone who never does anything remotely wrong, or even sweeps away bugs on the path to ensure you don;t take the life of any living creature, then I applaud you. I am not such a person I'm sorry to say. I did sneak into movies as a young teen. I have taken a gummy bear from the candy store as I was filling my bag with sweeties. And if the bank wants to give me extra money, I'll take it. They're more than happy to charge me $35 if I go into the red by one cent (which happened by the Britain it is still illegal to charge a fee more than the amount you went overdrawn by, although most people don't know that),

Guest's picture

"They're more than happy to charge me $35 if I go into the red by one cent (which happened by the Britain it is still illegal to charge a fee more than the amount you went overdrawn by, although most people don't know that),"

i like that, wish it were the same in the U.S., i HATE being charged $30+ for going over by $2!!!

Andrea Karim's picture

It pains me to have to point out what Paul said above, but these are not recommendations. They are, however, things that I know people have justified in the past through various arguments. This post originated because some readers freaked out over a cheeky, half-serious recommendation that Paul made in his now-infamous and famous post, 10 frugal things to try before you die.

I was curious how our readers view these things. Very few things are absolute, no matter how ethical you think you are. But again, and of course, I clearly have to stress this AGAIN, I'm not recommending any of this.

Guest's picture
Bob B.

@Paul: You're quite right, the post is about whether we think it is right or wrong (hence why my post shares my views of the ethical nature of each proposition). You've made clear that you would do several of the activities, but you didn't say whether you thought they were wrong or not. Are you saying you feel it's right to do so, or are you saying "Yeah, I know it's wrong and I do it anyway, so there"?

As for your bank, that's also a common practice in the US; there are two really simple solutions to it too. 1) Don't overdraw your account (it doesn't overdraw itself, you know; you had to *do* something to overdraw it, so don't do that anymore), or 2) Find another bank. (I used to bank with one that charged me fees, and I changed; my new one doesn't charge me fees for anything because I'm a "premier" customer.)

Andrea Karim's picture

Bob B. and everyone: We certainly appreciate you taking the time to share your opinion with us. Your thoughftul responses means a lot.

Paul Michael's picture

in principle it is unethical to sneak into a movie. Is it also unethical for a company to mark up popcorn by some 500%? I would say so, it certainly seems unreasonable. Is it unreasonable for you to use a sheet of paper from work and not pay for it? Yup. But is it also unreasonable for your company to keep you back 2 hours to work on a project without paying for your time? Happens to me all the time. As for the overdraft, that was an error. Not on my part, but by a company that charged me twice for the same product, a large product, I am usually excellent with my bills thanks all the same. 

Guest's picture

In some places anyone can take the fruit on the side of the tree that faces the alley, since it is not on the owners property. My uncle had a grapefruit tree, and most of the branches faced to an alley, since he did not want people to take his grapefruits, he would pull the branches in; sometimes breaking the branches and losing lots of the grapefruits... Selfish man!!!

Guest's picture


are all things i cant say that i have done or would ever do...

16 is on my weekly agenda, totally ethical

Guest's picture


#2-- Totally do it. I also regularly spend a fair amount of money on the entire CD's of songs I've downloaded. If I like the song, I have no reason not to buy the album.

#5-6-- Not proud of it, but I've done it. Most times it was because I never noticed, but there were also times when I just needed the money.

#9-- Totally do it. They know that most people won't buy, but their job is to try and change your mind. Who knows, it may prove to be a worthwhile deal.

For me, once I realize that I may have done something that rubs my ethics the wrong way, I make sure I do something that is "good". I keep thinking about a movie I saw where someone (speaking about karma), asked if the main character had ever been cosmically B-slapped by a six-armed goddess. I have, it's not as pleasant as one might think.

Great post! Really inspired thought.

Guest's picture

I had a former co-worker who upon leaving took coffee cups full of advil,sudafed (the good kind meth users have ruined for us),etc and 2 packs of packing tape. These days I would say something about it, but at that time I was part of the disgruntled club, but I did think it was greedy & I always think about how obnoxious she was when I think about dipping into the office supplies. I don't think it is wrong to take a couple of extra packs to put in your purse, or if you're like me I will end up with a pile of tums in my drawer just because I forgot about even taking them & they get lost in all my crap.
I have been guilty of taking pens, but not on purpose. I'm one of those annoying people who forget to give a pen or lighter back. Mostly it is absentmindedness.

As for reading the magazines. I used to call Borders "my library." I'd go there and read a bunch of magazines that I didn't feel like buying, to the point where I'd take paper to jot down notes about stuff to look up online,and then I'd buy one or two smaller press ones. I don't go anymore just because of the distance. I must say I always take the one out of the rack from the back--I don't want the one that has been manhandles.

Sampling, I don't think it is wrong unless you do it every solitary day. There are a lot of pigs out there. We had an event at department store I where I used to work. It was a promotion for Barbie watches & it was "Barbie's Birthday"--you've never seen such a bunch of animals as when they annouced there was free birthday cake on the loudspeaker. I literally had plates grabbed out of my hands.

I've snuck into many a movie after the one I paid for was over. I didn't feel very guilty because I had already paid for the first movie & food. Well I usually sneak in a candy bar.

. If my neighbor had extra fruit, I'd probably ask them. Mine has pecans that she's always begging people to take.

Guest's picture

How about this one? Would you stay at a job that asked you to manipulate people? I cannot believe how many people are asked to lie to and manipulate others as part of their (apparent) job description. I also am incredulous at how insurance and credit card companies treat people.

No way am I going to worry about making a few bucks from selling a ticket if that is what the market will bear. Of course, I wouldn't buy up tons of them to resell, which is the problem with scalping, really.

Although it is always a good thing to examine one's own behavior, I don't think we should worry too much about eating samples at the supermarket when we are being ripped off by companies who take our money and then outsource our jobs, etc.

Guest's picture

In some places, the bits of fruit trees that hang over pubic areas are available to the public. In fact, there's a project in LA that maps out the best trees with free bits...

Now, if you come into my yard to take it, I'll sic my cat on you, but if it hangs over the back fence? Help yourself!


Guest's picture

Most of the commenters seem to think that dumpster diving isn't illegal or immoral. If I see someone going through my garbage, they'd better be a cop with a search warrant. If I wanted someone to have my trash, I'd give it to charity (which I do). I should be able to safely assume that my garbage will be picked up and taken to a dump. Besides, get off my lawn you damn kids!

Guest's picture

With regards to #13 - there isn't a Costco in my town (yet - it's being built as we speak), but I belong to Sam's Club and I assume they're very similar. I always take samples when I'm shopping there. I might feel a twinge of guilt at a regular grocery store, but not at a club store I pay to belong to - I'm paying for those samples with my membership fees.

Paul Michael's picture

She doesn't do it any more. Did I not point that out? But thanks for the parenting advice.

Guest's picture

If you take money that was accidentally deposited in your account, the bank will eventually discover it and can press charges. Trust me, my friend did it (it was $3500) and he had the option of community service with restitution or jail. The bank may not come after you for $20, but it is theft and they do have the right.

Here's how movies work: first week of release most of the ticket price goes to the studio. Each week the movie is in release, the theatre's percentage increases. That's why the studios make huge blockbusters that flame out in a couple weeks and the theatres prefer the sleeper hits that play to decent audiences for several weeks.

So, if you sneak into that movie that's been out awhile, you're actually stealing more than if you'd paid for that movie and snuck into a blockbuster (not that I recommend either one).

Guest's picture

#14: There's a grocery store near my house with an excellent produce section that has signs near the portobello mushrooms that say if the stems are missing, you will pay twice the posted price. Seems some people have been trying to get away with the old cut-n-buy.

Guest's picture

Downloading and using music and movies for free from the internet is wrong. I have see so many people claim to be "frugal" by buying a DVD burner and downloading all their movies off of uusenet.

It is morally wrong and illegal.

Frugal is dropping cable and getting netflix, frugal is dropping mega-fast cable modem for an inexpensive, but slower DSL line.

Of the other here are the ones I think are ethical assuming you are not witholding any information.

9, Freebie vs Spiel, it's their rules. Also if you think you will get off after an hour of timeshare info good luck... they will follow you for years.

16, Yep, been there, done that. As long as you are purchasing drinks and not messing up the magazines I see nothing wrong with reading

17, It's garbage. If you can find use then good for you/him! If people are too lazy to eBay/craigs list items that are of value then let someone else.

4, Why not just go next door and ask? Maybe you can take 5 minutes and mow their lawn and they would be ecstatic to GIVE you access.

Everything else is cut and dry wrong. 20 I have seen this in florida with immigrants that are here and making a good living (illegally) telling others to lie to collect WIC/Foodstamps since they have no good way to check.

Guest's picture
60 in 3

Just my 2 cents worth of opinion:

1. Unethical - You clearly paid for only one movie (look at your ticket) and therefore you shouldn't see more than one.

2. Depends. The law is actually a bit unclear. For example, if you buy a CD do you have the right to make copies of the songs for yourself? If you lost the CD, do you have the right to download new copies? Those are legal issues that are still being worked out.

3. Unethical - You're getting a service that was clearly intended for someone else.

4. If you do it without their knowledge, that's wrong. However, my neighbors asked me if they could use my wireless and I said fine. They even offered to pay but I said no need.

5. Give it back. Again, you're clearly getting something you shouldn't.

6. Same as 5.

7. Give back. The bank will find out sooner or later and that's trouble you just don't need. Plus it's not your money.

8. Depends on the rules of the venue and event. Some don't mind scalping, some do.

9. Sure, this is fine for me. I paid the price for the item (the price being my time and attention).

10. This is normally unethical and can get you into a lot of trouble at work. If you're going to do something like that, clear it with work ahead of time. I stayed at a friend's house once while on a business trip. My boss authorized taking him out to dinner since the company saved on the hotel bill. Still, I checked in advance.

11. Work puts it there for your usage. Therefore, it's fine to use it. It's not fine to take stuff home for other people though.

12. No clue. I didn't even know about these coupons.

13. As far as I'm concerned, sample food is fair game. Non sample food is stealing.

14. No clue. I suppose it depends on the store and their rules.

15. If it's for working at home, I suppose it's ok. Otherwise, it's stealing.

16. That's fine. Book stores expect you to do this. That's why they offer coffee and such, so they can still make money on you. Free magazine perusal is one of their tools to entice you into the store.

17. If it's garbage, it's fair game. Still, might be nice to ask permission first, and trespassing is definitely illegal.

18. If I remember the law correctly, anything growing over your property is yours. Anything growing over the street is free to all. Even if the roots of the tree are in someone else's property. Plus you can always just ask permission. I've never had anyone say no when I asked.

19. No clue, don't go to starbucks.

20. You're lying to get something you shouldn't, so the answer should be obvious.

I guess these all boil down to "are you following the rules of the establishment you're dealing with?" If you are, then it's ok. If you're not, then it's probably unethical and/or illegal.

Just my opinion.

Guest's picture

I feel the need to comment on one issue:

"Most of the commenters seem to think that dumpster diving isn't illegal or immoral. If I see someone going through my garbage, they'd better be a cop with a search warrant."

In the U.S., if you've put your trash outside, it is fair game. The cops don't need a search warrant to go through it. You have no reasonable expectation of privacy (or ownership) once you've put the trash out at the curb.

Now, obviously, if someone is going through your trash to find personal identifying information in order to open a credit card in your name or steal your identity, THAT is a crime. But the act of rummaging through the trash, in and of itself, is legal.

Andrea Karim's picture

I live in a townhouse, and my trash is on my driveway until I put it out on Wednesdays. My driveway is my property. In those cases, I believe that you would need a search warrant.

Guest's picture

I once called the local Barnes & Noble, and Borders, and asked both managers why they had the policy of letting people sit around and read without having to buy anything. They both told me that it was to encourage people to buy, but that they really didn't have a problem with people who didn't end up purchasing anything because that's simply the store's mandate. I pressed a little and they still didn't give. Hey, they said it was a go, so I don't think that's unethical at all.

Now, it would be cool if music stores started allowing all CDs to be sampled too (not like the small sections of B&N, but Best Buy putting everything into a sampler).

Guest's picture
A Professional Singer

Interesting list that makes for some lively discussion about what is and isn't ethical. I can speak to item #2 as an independent professional musician who has many songs available for digital download on all the "legitimate" music sites. When you steal music for free, it's not people like Sheryl Crow who are getting hurt, it's people like me who are not signed to a record label and who depend on those sales for (a) part of our income and (b) the ability to continue to record music that can be put up for sale (which is a very expensive undertaking when you're paying for it out of your own pocket, believe me). It might seem trivial to someone who is thrilled to be getting out of paying 99 cents for a song download, but many of us are serious, educated, hard working performers who really do rely on that stream of income to help with growing our business, in addition to helping with our monthly living expenses. It's hard enough to make a sustainable living as a musician; please think twice before you steal what really won't cost (or save) you that much to begin with.

Guest's picture

I have been in the position that to receive help from Human Services, I have had to lie like crazy! Is it wrong? To some of you, it might be. But when it comes to my kids...I'll do whatever it takes to make sure they have food. The system is totally screwed up. Even the case workers will tell you that you have to lie to get help! I've been honest about my situation before... and either I get denied help or I get the "help" of $4.00 a month food stamps. Explain to me what $4.00 a month is going to do for 3 hungry kids???

Planned parenthood...if you lie to them so you can get birth control at a lower cost (if not free) then aren't you showing a certain intelligence? You're getting birth control, not saddling yourself down with a child you definitely can't afford! That's almost...responsible.

Go ahead...hiss and boo. But for me, it does come down to karma. When I can afford it, I'll pay for it. If I can afford to buy groceries without help, great! But if I can't get help....still have to eat. So what would you suggest I do? C'mon...tell me what I'm supposed to feed this family when there is no money.

Guest's picture
Guest 76

1. Sneak into a movie?
Sneaking into a movie is wrong, sneaking food in is ok.
Movie theatres will say you shouldn't do this because they have cheap tickets as a loss leader, and the food and drink to make profit. In other words they are trying to manipulate you into spending more than you expect. I have little sympathy for them when it backfires

2. Download music online? For free? Is it stealing?
Mainly I download free samples, and then go on to spend a lot more on CDs than I would otherwise.
I think it is ethical (though not legal) to download stuff you couldn't reasonably obtain (mainly I mean out of print stuff. Grossly overpriced stuff - like the one new track on a £15 best of CD - may also apply)

5. Keep the incorrect change?
The last time this happened was a few days after I found a ten pound note on the floor. I gave them back the correct change and thought that if things had happened backwards that would ahve been good karma.

6. Underpay if you are undercharged?
If you notice at the time then tell them. If you have gotten home and aren't intending to go back then you aren't obliged to give your time for their mistake.

8. Scalp tickets?
It's ok to sell the odd pair of unused tickets for a friend (you are saving them money buying them more expensively from a professionla tout, and also taking business away from a professional tout)

9. Accept freebies for listening to a timeshare spiel?
Absolutely. They are paying for your time

10. Expense a non-business dinner?
Not without permission

11. Treat the medicine cabinet at work as your own free pharmacy?
Use what you need at work, but don't take anything home

13. Go grocery sampling?
Fine. It costs the store very little, and overall they make a profit from this

14. Cut-n-buy?
Why not tear the leaves off of the carrots? By selling the carrots by-the-pound with inedible bits they are ripping you off. Don't stand for it

17. Sell your neighbor's garbage?
Don't go through your neighbours rubbish. It's creepy, and the cost to them in terms of feelings of violation is far more than the benefit to you.
It would be ok to take something from a skip though (is this just a UK thing - they tend to be full of furntiure and the like, from a house that is being refurbished or demolished, which is much less personal than normal rubbish)

Gal says 'I guess these all boil down to "are you following the rules of the establishment you're dealing with?" If you are, then it's ok.'

This assumes the establishment is behaving ethically, which isn't usually the case.

Guest's picture

I second Guest 76's take on the cut-n-buy. Why on earth would I pay for the inedible parts of the produce if I'm being charged by the pound? When you cook asparagus you should snap all the ends off before throwing them in the pot. If I'm cooking the asparagus that night, I'll snap the ends off in the store (if I'm paying by the pound and especially if it's a big-box grocery store). Why should I pay for it?

Paul Michael's picture

Can you expand please, because I'm lost here. If, as you say, the movie theater makes its money from food and not from tickets, surely it's better to sneak into a movie (which is already a loss leader) than to sneak your own food in (which is where they actually make their money). You're stealing less from the theater in this scenario than in your example. 

Guest's picture

You aren't stealing from the cinema by taking food in - you are just buying food from a different source (where I'm from cinemas don't forbid bringing your own food, they just quietly hope that you don't). The same as if you were going to a different supermarket.

The main reason for going to the cinema is to watch a film, and they are within their rights to choose the price they set (if it's to high, don't go).
That they lose out overall is down to their pricing strategy, which they chose to put in place.

In practice I normally buy one of their drinks, but I don't feel bad on the occasions I take a bottle of cola in with me.

Guest's picture

not illegal if you don't get caught ;)

We get ripped off all the time. You think banks, businesses, and the ilk wouldn't take advantage of you? I make very little (and i'm a college grad none the less) and I highly doubt $35 is a necessary fee to go into the red. Loans going to 30% because I didn't pay in time once? Now I am not saying turn stick up kids, or steal from one another. but if we are to commune together as "frugal minded consumers" we need to let the companies know we want to be treated fairly. And for now since we're not being treated fairly, it's our time to act as Karma and take back.