When Does Being Too Frugal Become Stealing?

by Mr. Cheap

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Financial Blogger posted a link to a great article in his monthly round up for August. While I respect what the original poster is getting at, I’m not sure I totally agree with her.

She talks about how being “thrifty” when you’re at a fast-food restaurant and sharing a drink (with free refills) between the whole family is more likely to teach your children that stealing is ok, rather than the value of saving a dollar. Thankfully she follows this up by admissions of similar situations where she does the same thing (sneaking in food or getting in free as her daughter is an employee). I don’t buy her justification that her actions are “thrifty” while the actions of others are thievery.

My guiding principle in situations like this is that “bending the rules” is morally permissible when you’re not causing a business or individual a measurable lose. I don’t buy the argument that its theft when you deny them potential sales. Shoplifting is clearly wrong, as the Roots store has one less leather handbag to sell if you take it, and you’ve clearly hurt them. At a fast food restaurant, the fountain drinks cost them next to nothing (probably about the same amount as napkins and condiments which they give away free), therefore how you’re really hurting them by sharing is that you aren’t buying multiple drinks. You might have come in and just bought food (and no drinks), in which case they’d be in the same situation, so how have they really lost out on anything other than POTENTIAL revenue? I never feel I owe a business the amount of sales they figure I should buy.

Downloading music is similar. Sure, the artist doesn’t get paid (or, more importantly, the distribution company), when you download “Hit me baby one more time”. Britney doesn’t lose a thing (except the hope that you may have bought her CD).

The movie theatre seat that Grace sits in would have sat empty during the movie, so her being there without paying an admission doesn’t hurt them in any measurable way.

I can understand why businesses WANT to be able to collect more money, and I certainly support them in trying to limit cheap-o activities (like people sharing drinks, sneaking into the theatre and pirating movies). I think in each situation, the business is already policing it as much as its worth to them to prevent customer “abuses”, and if the odd person spends a day “theatre hopping”, good for them in the opinion of Mr. Cheap.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Aolis

These are examples of theft, not thrift.

Your argument about the drinks boils down to “it is alright to steal something that doesn’t cost much”. The business still pays for the syrup and the building it is served in and the employees that refill the machine.

As for downloading, you assume that you wouldn’t have bought the item anyways. Many people download instead of buying the item. It is a measurable loss, being the normal price of what you stole.

If you aren’t going to pay for it anyways, then don’t steal it. I guess it is a question of integrity.

2 Louis

Let’s take this argument that it doesn’t cost anything (or much) to share your drink.

Let’s say that the only thing this restaurnant sells is drinks (no food). You bring huge group in. they are the only one coming in for the entire day. Usually there would be 50 drinks. But you all share one drink. Instead of making $50 ($1 per drink), thet make $1.00. Instead of grossing $1,500 per month, they only gross $30.

they can tell the landlord, the elecric company, and others they can only pay a few pennies.

It does cost money. Because they have to charge more for that one drink. Instead of $1, in my example, they will have to sell it for $50.

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