Although there’s value in being frugal, sometimes you can take it too far — and for minimal savings at that. Whether you engage in five-finger discounts or take more than your fair share of mints from the communal bowl, at the end of the day you’re simply stealing from business owners and sullying your image. Make sure you understand when you’re acting thrifty — and when you’re being cheap.
The Hotel Heist
Toiletries are among the many free luxuries that frequent travelers enjoy. But frugal folks sometimes cross the line by stealing extra soaps and shampoo bottles to take home.
If you have a habit of hitting up the housekeeper’s cart for extra bars of soap, you’re not only scamming the hotel, but you’re also wasting your time. After all, the savings on a sliver of soap are hardly worth writing home about.
The Continental Cheap-Out
Speaking of hotels, there’s usually plenty of food to be found at the continental breakfast. Feeding America estimates that 72 billion pounds of food go into landfills and incinerators each year, which means there’s no shame in clearing your plate or even going back for seconds at the hotel breakfast buffet.
But you don’t want to be the person who comes to breakfast carrying a Tupperware container to fill with food for later. It’s not a good look.
The Supermarket Sweep
Everyone loves free samples. But sweeping the supermarket five times to fill up on freebies isn’t an acceptable replacement for lunch — it’s just being cheap.
The value of this trick depends on how much you sample and where you shop. However, the small portion sizes make savings minuscule. If you’re really focused on frugal living, remember that supermarket samples don’t help you save money — you’re being enticed to spend more.
Cream, Sugar and Thievery
Whether you’re visiting the local gas station or hanging out in a hip cafe, indulging in all the coffee fixings is one of life’s little pleasures. From creamers to sweet syrups, the flavor options at a coffee bar are far more extensive than the ones found in your kitchen — and they’re a great way to save money on coffee at Starbucks.
However, sticking a handful of creamer cups in your purse won’t help pad your wallet in the long run. Moreover, you’ll be selling your dignity for chump change.
The Glassware Grab
If you’re drinking at your favorite local bar, taking home the glassware is a good way to ruin your reputation with the bartenders. Alternatively, by treating your bartender well, you might be able to score free shots or drinks from time to time. Complimentary booze — and the VIP treatment — is worth more than a couple of cheap cocktail glasses.
Frugal drinkers can get glassware from discount stores such as Dollar Tree. Whether you want tumblers, wine glasses or mugs, you can get drinkware without spending a lot — or using something that’s been handled by 10,000 barflies before you.
There were over 2.6 million jobs for waiters and waitresses in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median hourly wage for those workers was approximately $10 in May 2017.
In light of those numbers, there’s a good chance that the server who brings your meal is depending on tips to pay the bills. Follow proper tipping etiquette when dining out to avoid being a bad tipper. If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip.
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The Condiment Cadre
Most people have some extra condiment packets floating in junk drawers. If you find an extra mustard packet at the bottom of your fast-food bag, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it for a rainy day.
But jamming two handfuls of sauce packets into your pocket every time you go out to eat is basically stealing. Similarly, if you have a whole drawer dedicated to condiment packets taken from restaurants, you likely have a cheapskate problem.
A Handful of Mints
Avoid grabbing free mints and hard candies by the handful. Whether you’re at the bank or your favorite local eatery, it’s wise to abide by the unspoken rule of one mint per person. After all, the business is being kind by offering complimentary candy — and your breath isn’t bad enough that you need a million mints.
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Some pens are meant to be taken. In fact, companies use pens emblazoned with their logos to advertise their services. But you shouldn’t take a handful of these writing instruments or, worse, nab the one that your friendly neighborhood bank teller was using before your arrival. The savings on this five-finger discount are basically zilch, especially in the digital age.
There’s nothing wrong with skimming through that Vogue magazine while you’re at the dentist’s office or scanning newspaper headlines at your local diner. But having access to free periodicals from these businesses doesn’t make it OK for you to stick them in your bag to read at home.
Lifting literature such as magazines, books and newspapers saves you less money than just about any other habit that you might try to pass off as frugal living. There’s plenty of online content or materials at your local library that you can read for free.
Click through to learn how to get paid for things you’d do for free.
More on Savings Advice
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- The Best and Worst Places to Live If You’re Trying to Save Money
- Watch: Treating Finances Like a Game Will Help Get You Rich
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Amen Oyiboke-Osifo contributed to the reporting of this article.