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 just being cheap.
Last updated: May 1, 2020
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.
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The Continental Cheap-Out
Speaking of hotels, there’s usually plenty of food to be found at the continental breakfast. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted 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.
The Bad Tipper
There were over 2.6 million jobs for waiters and waitresses in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median hourly wage for those workers was approximately $10 in May 2018.
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.
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.
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.
Freezer Full of Leftovers
We’ve already discussed how much food waste there is, so taking doggy bags home from restaurants or saving leftovers from homecooked meals certainly isn’t a bad thing. But if you’re saving small scraps and odd bits of leftovers in your freezer with the hopes that you’ll someday turn them into a casserole or soup, it may be time to let go. Even if you do cook them up into something, chances are the mishmash won’t taste very good and you’ll end up spending money on takeout.
The Garbage Collector
It’s true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but sometimes trash is just trash. When you drive by someone’s curb and spot discarded furniture and other tempting items, leave them there. The item was thrown out for a reason, and you also don’t know how (un)sanitary it may be. A piece of furniture that has been infested by bedbugs or termites could end up costing you as much in fumigation fees as it would if you bought it new.
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The Sock Darner
It makes sense to take the time to fix up pricey household items and clothing, but if you’ve darned the same pair of socks more than once, it’s time to toss them. You can buy a six-pack of brand new socks at Target for $6, which comes out to just a buck a pair.
The Mold Magician
Sure, you can make mold “disappear” by cutting the moldy part off a hot dog or scooping out the mold growing on the top of an opened jar of jam — but removing visible mold doesn’t make the product safe to eat. The mold you see on the surface of a food item indicates that the mold’s “roots” have already invaded the item deeply, and in some cases, these molds can contain toxins.
Although some moldy foods are safe to eat if you cut enough around the mold — such as with hard cheeses — many foods are immune to your cheapskate mold disappearing act and are dangerous to eat at the first sign of mold. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, you should discard luncheon meats, bacon, hot dogs, cooked leftover meat and poultry, cooked casseroles, cooked grains and pasta, soft cheeses, yogurt and sour cream, jams and jellies, soft fruits and vegetables, bread and baked goods, and peanut butter, legumes and nuts as soon as you spot mold.
The Soap Diluter
Almost everyone has added water to their hand soap or dish soap to make use of that last drop you need before you can run to the store to replace it, but if you’ve made such a habit of it that most of your dispensers are filled with half soap and half water, you’re probably a cheapskate. And you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Adding water to soap decreases the efficacy of the formula, meaning that it won’t be as effective as it should be. You can buy a 56-ounce bottle of handsoap — enough for over 800 pump dispenses — for less than $4 at Target, which seems well worth the investment.
The Movie Theater Smuggler
Most movie chains — including the nation’s largest chain, Regal — explicitly ban patrons from bringing in their own food and drinks. However, with the high mark-ups at concession stands, it’s understandable to sneak in your own candy and bottle of water. But some cheapskates take this too far, smuggling in hot foods or entire meals, which can be an annoyance to other patrons if it has a strong smell and an inconvenience for the cleanup crew if you leave your remains behind. If you’re going to smuggle food into the theater, make it uncooked foods that you can easily dispose of when the credits roll.
The Age Bender
Children’s tickets are often significantly cheaper than adult tickets, and the age cutoffs to qualify can vary depending on the place. Lying about your child’s age to get them a cheaper ticket is probably not going to land you in jail, but it’s definitely a dishonest practice that’s taking money away from whatever venue you’re purchasing tickets from.
Instead of swindling the person at the ticket counter, see if you can find discount tickets on Groupon or elsewhere online ahead of time.
Are you that friend who always happens to “forget” their wallet when you go out to eat in a group, promising to get the tab next time if someone can cover you? You aren’t fooling anyone — your friends definitely notice your mooching behavior. This might save you a few bucks when you go out to eat, but it could ultimately end up costing you friendships.
The DIY Devotee
There are many things you can learn to DIY from YouTube or an instructional article, like baking a cake or knitting a scarf. But some DIYs are better left to the professionals. This includes many complex home improvement projects, like those that involve electricity or plumbing. Attempting to DIY these projects yourself can easily turn into a major disaster — in extreme cases, causing your home to catch on fire or your bathroom to flood — that will end up costing you much more to fix than it would have to hire a pro in the first place.
Extreme cheapskates will forgo having a social life because they refuse to pay to go to a restaurant or concert or movie when they could stay at home and eat, listen to music or watch TV for much less. While it’s important to keep spending on nonessentials in check, going to such extremes to save money could end up making you a shut-in with no friends.
Moderation is key here. Set a monthly budget for spending on entertainment, and stick to it. If you know you can afford to spend $100 a month on dining out or seeing concerts, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t spend that money.
If you complain about the price of everything — especially to people who can’t do anything about it — you’re probably a cheapskate. Complaining to the gas station attendant that the price of gas is too high or telling a retail sales associate that the sweater you want is overpriced won’t change anything — it will just make their day a little more unpleasant.
Of course, some things that you pay for are worth complaining about if they don’t live up to expectations — say, if you find a piece of hair in your food — but many prices are fixed, so you just have to deal with it or not make the purchase.
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The Wi-Fi Bandit
Stealing Wi-Fi from your neighbor is not only a cheap move, but it could also be illegal. Although the laws regarding Wi-Fi are fuzzy because there are no clear federal regulations in place, according to NOLO, some states have prosecuted Wi-Fi thieves. For example, one Florida man was charged a $250 fine for remotely accessing his neighbor’s Wi-Fi, the Rockford Register Star reported. Even if you don’t get prosecuted, it could definitely cause friction with your neighbor if they find out you’ve been using their connection.
The Party Crasher
Many hotels host private events ranging from weddings to conventions — and many of these events have lots of delicious food available to attendees. If you happen to be at a hotel and see that a wedding or other event is going on, it could be tempting to wander in to make yourself a plate, but this is a cheapskate impulse you should not give into. Not only would it be super embarrassing if you get caught, but you also have to realize that somebody did pay for that food, whether it’s the happy couple getting married or the attendees who paid to be at the convention.
The Chronic Clothing Returner
Keeping the tags on and returning a worn item of clothing isn’t being thrifty — it’s being cheap. And if you’re a “serial returner,” you are to blame for the rise in clothing prices, BBC reported. The news channel also found that not all returned clothes can be resold after being worn, with 5% having to be thrown out because they don’t pass a “sniff test.”
“The first check we do is what’s called the sniff test because new clothes smell like new clothes,” Tony Mannix, CEO of Clipper, told the BBC.
Your practice of returning worn clothes can end up being wasteful. Instead, consider selling the item to a consignment shop if you know you’ll never wear it again. Sure, you’ll get a fraction of what you paid for it, but at least you’re being ethical.
The Office Supply Thief
It might seem like a harmless act to hoard supplies like pens, Post-its and paper clips from your office for your own use, but this is actually a form of petty theft. You’re stealing from your employer, and it’ll have to use extra funds to replenish office supplies — funds that could have gone to boosting salaries or providing more in-office perks.
Regifting is a tricky game, but when done right it can be an OK practice. If a friend buys you something you know you’ll never use, but you know that another friend — in a different social circle — would love it, feel free to pass it along. Just never regift something that you have already used. That’s poor gift-giving form.
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