Being frugal is the “in” thing to do nowadays. What with the economy going to Hades in a handbasket, we’re all doing what we can to save as much money as possible. Sometimes, it seems like we’re all competing in the Frugal Olympics. Next event: saving the most money on groceries. But before you go for the gold, let’s make sure that you’re not cheating.
We all know someone who takes those little pink sugar packets from fast food restaurants, don’t we? Maybe you do it. After all, you bought something there, maybe a coffee or an order of fries. So, why shouldn’t you take a few sugar packets? Well, beside the fact that you don’t intend to use them in that coffee you bought, which is what they’re there for, it’s just unethical.
Taking sugar, salt, napkins, straws or anything from fast food restaurants is only okay when you’re going to use them for the meal or snack you just bought. If you take 10 napkins, just so you can have some extra in the car, it’s not a crime. But it’s tacky at the least. If you take a lot of napkins or straws or ketchup packets, it’s stealing.
So is “sampling” fruit, veggies or open packages while you shop for groceries. If you open the packages, yourself, it’s even worse. One of the reasons grocery prices are so high is because of the amount of food that’s lost to damage or theft. And, of course, it’s unethical.
Also, while we’re in the grocery store, damaging a package and then asking for a discount because it’s damaged goods is also unethical. And what with hidden cameras in stores, it might get you into a lot of trouble.
If you don’t buy your kids what they need like shoes that fit and decent clothes, it’s unethical and also emotional abuse. Who wants to feel like their parents don’t love them enough to provide their basic needs? Being frugal shouldn’t mean being mean.
Mooching off friends is pathetic, but many people do it. They never pick up the check at restaurants and bars. They show up at mealtime at their neighbor’s house and bring their kids with them, but they never invite their neighbors over to their house. They borrow things and “forget” to give them back. They never pitch in when there’s a neighborhood cleanup, but they’re always right there at the block party, enjoying the free pizza that they didn’t chip in for.
Food pantries are wonderful places when you don’t have enough money to feed your family. But some people who do have enough money for food treat them as if they’re the local supermarket. They show up and take free food when they should be donating to the pantry, not taking food from other people who really need it. Just because something is free doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to it. Save it for those who really need it.
Worse than raiding the food pantry is lying to state or federal welfare officials to get services when your income level is too high for them. Maybe you can do it with some creative bookkeeping, but the penalty if you get caught is very high. Although on the plus side, if you’re charged with defrauding the federal government, you won’t have to worry about food and board for many years.
While there’s no prison term for giving loved ones tacky gifts, there is a social cost. So next time you think you can get by with a cheap present, ask yourself if it’s worth risking the love you have for your wife or child. Sure, one lousy gift isn’t going to make them divorce you or move out, but not caring enough to choose something you know they’ll like might get them thinking about the other ways that you show that you don’t care about them and their feelings. It’s a slippery slope and you should think twice about being too frugal to show love.
Another slippery slope is taxes. No matter how strongly you feel that your tax rate is too high, it’s not okay to fudge on your return. It’s also very likely to cost you much more than you save by lying. Tell the truth to Uncle Sam. If you want to save money on your taxes, get yourself a good accountant. It’s money well-spent.
Have you ever switched a price tag? Did you think that putting the higher price tag on another item was okay, because that way the store would get its money from someone else? Well, when you switch a price tag, you’re doing two things wrong. You pay the lower price, which is unethical. Someone else, all unknowing, pays a higher price for an item. So you’re doubly wrong. Leave the tags alone and just don’t buy things that are too expensive for your budget.
Frugal means living within your means and not spending more than you have. It doesn’t mean being so cheap that you squeak or make Jack Benny look like a spendthrift. Life is too short to pinch pennies at the expense of your ethics, family or friendships. Be thrifty, but don’t forget to enjoy life and give more than you get from the world.