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How Frugal Is Too Frugal?



I have been living what you would call a “frugal” lifestyle for a little over a year now. I try to save wherever I can, whenever I can. But at some point in time you will have to draw a line. That is, a line that marks where frugality ends and where unethical behavior begins. You probably know what I’m talking about. You come across ways that could save you money, but may not necessarily be ethical or even legal. So where do you draw the line? Let’s define the line that I have drawn for myself. Because when it comes down to it, if you have no morals or ethics, you could probably save a lot more money than you are right now.

Anything Even Slightly Illegal

For example, if you are into saving money through mail-in rebates and you have a large enough family where you often buy multiples of a specific item, you can significantly improve your overall savings by submitting multiple rebates for those items even though often these rebates often explicitly state “1 per household.” Let’s say you’re buying 2 of something; just buy it twice and submit a second rebate by changing your name and/or address by just a few characters for the second rebate. A no brainer, right? Wrong. This is against the law. Believe it or not, it can be considered mail fraud. Is it worth going to jail for a couple dollars in savings? This is just one example, and there are many other ways to save money that are borderline illegal or straight up illegal. You need to avoid the temptation of saving a little extra money.

Defining Unethical

Setting aside the illegal stuff, how about behavior that is unethical or immoral?

First, you have to define the two terms. What I try to do is to fall back on The Golden Rule. I have worked in a retail environment before so a lot of the temptations that I come across regarding savings are things that could have happened to me at my job. I try not to do anything to anybody else that I wouldn’t want done to me. If a cashier at any store makes a mistake ringing up an item or giving you change and the error is in your favor, do you mention it? I think you have to, because I wouldn’t want this happening to me.

If you’re at a store and you have a coupon for something that is already on sale, and the cashier says you can’t use the coupon, do you fight and scream and get the manager involved until you get your little discount? I’ve heard of people that advocate this type of response. I could never see myself doing it. I am out to save, not to embarrass myself publicly. Actually, I did do this once. I left the store feeling a little “grimy.” I never did it again. You have to decide for yourself the things you will and won’t do. I’m pretty tight where I draw the line on things being unethical. I may lose out on some savings, but I sure do sleep well at night.

Some Crazy People Out There

Ever thought of using these ideas to save a buck?

  • Cutting dryer sheets in half.
  • Cutting Post it notes in half.
  • Got a run in your pantyhose? Wait until you get a run in another set. Cut each in half and use the two good “legs”.
  • Splitting two-ply toilet paper.

If you’ve ever thought of doing stuff like that to save money, you need to take a chill pill when it comes to frugality. Being frugal is all about making wise financial decisions, not living like you’re an early primate. When it comes to drawing the line on frugality, you have to make your own decisions. I would never do anything illegal, and I set my bar on unethical/immoral activity pretty high. You want to save as much as you can, but you still have to live with yourself and you still have to sleep well at night.

Do you have a story of frugality that you think is just insane? Share it with our readers below.

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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