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Frugal folks are often condemned as cheap, but these things are not the same. But sometimes there is a danger of becoming too concerned with money. Tawra Kellam warns about crossing the line from frugality to something less ethical.

There are times when it’s tempting to lie, steal or break one of the other 10 Commandments to get a good deal but, in living frugally, we all need to stick to being honest. This is not always easy to do.

She provides examples of behavior she views as ethically questionable:

  • Instead of taking one free pen from a bank or store, you take a handful.
  • “You buy an item and you use it a few times and then return it because you’re done with it.”
  • You lie about age — you say that your 13-year-old is younger so that you only have to pay the child rate, or you lie about your age to get the senior citizen discount.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to save money. Thrift is a virtue. But in each of Kellam’s examples, someone is trying to save money at the expense of somebody else, or at the expense of the truth.

I’ve received the following tip from several readers: “Costco offers a no-questions-asked return policy. You can buy something, use it, and then when a new model comes out, return it to get the new one.” I haven’t shared this suggestion because I believe it crosses an ethical line. Other examples of behaviors that go beyond frugal:

  • Asking for a cup for water at a fast food place, but then filling it with soda instead.
  • Claiming that a vending machine took your money when you didn’t even use it.
  • Leeching a neighbor’s wireless connection without permission.

There are grey areas, of course. Is it okay to take your own food to the movie theater? I do it, and so do many other frugal people. Does it cross the line?

Kellam writes:

Frugal living is about making good financial decisions. There are so many things you can do to spend your money more wisely, so when you think you can get a “good deal”, but it requires doing something that hurts someone else, pass it up.

Ultimately, only you will know whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. But if you lie or steal in order to save money, you’re not being frugal, you’re being cheap.

[4MomsAtHome: Frugal ethics: When frugal becomes just plain cheap]

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