That’s Not Frugal, It’s Theft!

There are a lot of things that people will do in the name of frugality that I wouldn’t call frugal at all.  In fact, I think there is definitely a line where frugal crosses into unethical, and in some cases downright illegal.  That’s when being frugal can become stealing!  What do you think of these examples?


Bringing Extra Snacks Home From Work


The basket of organic goodies available at my office.

My office has a basket of snacks available to employees that is kept well stocked on the kitchen table. In fact, they are actually all expensive organic snacks that I am generally WAAAAY too cheap to purchase for PoP consumption at home.

But what if I wanted a nice organic raw energy bar, or a bag of Stacy’s organic pita chips with some kale dip for dinner? Well, if I were working late, I would have no qualms about eating that at the office for dinner. But to bring some home with me to eat later? Or to put a KIND Bar in my gym bag for a post-workout nut craving the next morning? I’d no sooner do that than I would stick a ream of printer paper in my bag to use with my home printer. Either way, it’d be stealing from my employer, which isn’t cool.


Downloading Unlicensed Media

By unlicensed media, I mean illegal copies of music, movies, tv shows, e-books, etc. For most music and current tv shows, there are ways to get free-to-you legal ad-supported content – like Spotify or Hulu. Movies, books, and audiobooks are mostly at your local library. But at some point, isn’t it okay to pay for content that you enjoy? Don’t content creators have the right to seek compensation for their work, whether it’s through ads or sales?

Filling Free Water Cups With Fountain Drinks

Think you’re being frugal by using one of those tiny water glasses (or, worse, your own bottle) to fill up at the soda fountain at your local Panera Bread? You’re not only being super tacky, you’re also stealing. Don’t try and use the profit margins on fountain drinks as an excuse. Why would stealing a high margin good be any more morally sound than a low margin good? There is always free tap water at any restaurant as the restaurants are required to have it available. No excuses for this one.


Using the Hotel Pool When You’re Not Staying There

Same goes for resort provided beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. Legally, the beach is for everyone, that is true. But if a hotel has chairs, umbrellas, towels, etc out for their guests taking those areas away from paying guests is wrong. That said, if the equipment is unused at the moment, I’m not above saying to an attendant, “Hey I’m not staying here, but do you mind if I sit down and catch my breath for just a minute on this chair.” I can’t imagine someone saying no.


Taking Towels Home From the Gym

If you can find where in your gym membership contract it entitles you to free hand towels, then go ahead and take all you want. But until then, if you accidentally bring a gym towel home (it happens to everyone occasionally) wash it and BRING IT BACK. Just like that. So easy, and not stealing. You borrowed it accidentally and cleaned it. =)


Stealing Sections of Newspapers From Unsold Piles

There is nothing more annoying than buying a Sunday paper for 2 sections (the Real Estate section and the Sunday coupons) and finding one of them has been stolen. And it’s not the RE section that gets stolen.

I’ve actually seen someone in the grocery store pick up 2 papers, pull the ad/coupon inserts out of one, put them in the other, and then purchase the double-insert paper. Now I’m not coupon obsessed, but really? That’s insane! And she did it with her kid sitting in the cart – what a fabulous example. Next let’s go over to the cereal aisle, and since the boxes are only usually 2/3 full, we can fill one completely by opening another and pouring it in! Then we’ll pay for our new “extra full” box! yay!


Jumping the Tunstyle at the Metro Or Using Someone Else’s Monthly Transit Pass

The happiest place on earth (that’s Disney World for you non-FL folk) apparently had so many people swapping tickets for free entry that they now take your fingerprint to get through the gate with the ticket. In general, transit passes explicitly say they are for the use of 1 person for a given period of time. Sharing them violates the terms… so you may as well be jumping the turnstyle. Which I think is pretty clearly stealing.


Turning Your Movie Into A Double Feature

If you paid to go see one movie, you get to see one movie. Hopping into a second theater when your movie is over wasn’t part of the deal. Would you walk out of the grocery store with two loaves of bread because you paid for one? BOGO sales aside, of course you wouldn’t. Buying the one of something doesn’t entitle you to a second for free.


For what it’s worth, I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect.  I think all of these actions are stealing, but that doesn’t mean I never did any of them when I was young and had less to lose… and I did know I was wrong to do them at the time.   


What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? How many have you done, or better yet, still do? I’m sure there are many more that I failed to include, so feel free to add them in the comments!

72 comments to That’s Not Frugal, It’s Theft!

  • I totally agree, it costs money to run business and if you want to partake in these services you need to pay something for them, if it was free they’d be broke! I use to work with a lady who routinely stole toilet paper from work, so weird. I’m bad for taking toothbrushes and paste from work but I feel like it’s different…yes we pay a pretty penny for them (to in turn give them away for free) but we do give them away and the owner really doesn’t care.
    Catherine recently posted..The Last Bobby Pin EffectMy Profile

  • Those are pretty tacky. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my second movie for fear of someone kicking me out. Or ride the subway in peace. Another borderline thing is finding items with free delivery and free return, wear them once and return. Stealing free wifi from outside Starbucks, although you’re not making them lose any money.
    Pauline recently posted..Little house in Guatemala, week 4My Profile

    • Ahh, the wear and return is definitely low. I would call that stealing. And there are sites now exactly for that purpose where you can rent a special occasion outfit for a few days if you need something for a wedding or another event.

  • I also had a co-worker who stole toilet paper from the office…there were also people who stole others’ lunches or containers!
    I guess for some their level of morality or fear of reprisal is pretty low so doing such things aren’t a big deal to them.
    K.K. @ Living Debt Free Rocks! recently posted..Debt Freedom DayMy Profile

  • I must be waaay to honest. I’ve never thought of any of these.

    OK, I used to download music when Napster first came of the scense. But countless viruses later I’ve learnt my lesson. Plus I like to support the artists who bring me so much joy.
    Jamie Dickinson recently posted..Best Money Saving AppsMy Profile

    • Jon

      There was a study released last month that “File-sharers BUY 30% more music than normal consumers” – I didn’t read the full article but here’s a link
      Jon recently posted..Should you share finances with your partner?My Profile

      • I’ve seen studies like this before, but in general I thought the missing piece is that file sharers also tend to have much higher media consumption rates than others. So even if they are buying 30% more music than an average consumer, they might only be paying for a small portion of their consumption.

        I guess when you look at it in another industry it seems a little clearer. If the average person goes to see a movie once a month, but someone who theater hops pays for 1.3 movies per month on average, but manages to see 3 -4 movies in the theater per month. Yes, they are paying more, but they are consuming far more than they pay for…

        But I’m definitely not an RIAA lawyer…

    • This post was really inspired by the people that use the tiny water cups at Panera to steal soda. It got so bad that Panera no longer leaves the tiny cups out and you have to ask for a water cup.

  • I agree that non of these are frugal. Being frugal does not mean stealing. It means using your money wisely. The coupon one bugs me the most because sometimes I don’t check the paper and there isn’t an insert. My wife isn’t too happy at those times.
    I also think that buying something hiding the tags to wear it then returning it is pretty bad as well. My wife has a friend who does this and it’s super tacky.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Live Below Your Means: The Key to FreedomMy Profile

    • Is your wife’s friend open about the fact that she’s wearing clothes with the tags and planning on returning them? And wouldn’t the store or credit card company start to notice if she returns almost all of her purchases?

  • I definitely agree with you and would say that this is ALL stealing!
    Michelle recently posted..$1,175 in Extra Income, Life, Food Weekly UpdateMy Profile

  • Totally agree these are all stealing! Saving money is fine as long as you’re not stealing someone else’s money (or items)!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Ways to Waste Money on Vision and Eye CareMy Profile

  • Seth

    I once learned my lesson in my younger days. I bought a pair of shoes from Wal Mart because I only needed them for that night and was going to return them the next day. I tried on one shoe, but when I get ready later on that night, I had accidently bought two right footed shoes. I ended up borrowing some other guys shoes who wears a size 15. Yes, very dumb.

  • When I lived in NYC and was so.poor. I stole snacks from work. Don’t flog me! 😉
    L Bee and the Money Tree recently posted..Two Savings Rules to Live ByMy Profile

    • Everyone get in line here for L Bee’s public flogging! jk, of course =)

      I have done 6 of the 8 I listed above. So even though I don’t do them anymore, I cannot throw the first stone…

  • These are all great examples of stealing, and also just plain unethical behavior. No point downloading unlicensed media these days when Netflix and Hulu make it so easy to get content :0)
    Liquid recently posted..Twinkies – A Hot CommodityMy Profile

  • It’s funny. People who look for the cheap way out end up getting the cheap stuff. The people who know riches don’t have to cut those corners.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Thanksgiving 2012My Profile

  • I’m a musician, and I’m on the fence with the copying music/movies. Yes, I know it’s self-defeating as I do occasionally get the odd royalty cheque. That said, the music industry was entirely based on the production, and distribution of mechanical/physical copies of music on some sort of carrier. (records, cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, CD, etc.) Now, the distribution and delivery costs do not exist. There are some physical music stores left, but they are dying faster than you can blink.

    So the business model MUST change. The record industry can’t go around suing people like they have, and continue to do. They need to re-invent themselves and fast. The longer they stick to their old ways the more animosity and hatred that consumers develop for them. It’s entirely self-defeating suing your potential customers.
    thestarvingartistcanada recently posted..why I don’t like bondsMy Profile

    • I agree that suing your customers probably isn’t the best long term business model, but at the same time, I know that I get a lot of value out of the music and other media I listen to/watch, so I am glad to pay for it.

      Some people say concert ticket sales cover lost revenue from music sales, but I know that I generally hate going to concerts, even if it’s a band I really like.

  • I’m bad for doing personal copies at work. But we’re on the up and up for downloads. No illegal movies or software in this house.
    Mandy @MoneyMasterMom recently posted..Last Chance for Free TV. GET IT NOW! Expires Nov 30thMy Profile

    • Our office has okayed personal copies as long as they’re not excessive. They don’t want you printing out books, but if you need to make a quick copy or print out directions to wherever you’re going after work no one is going to blink.

      Software is another thing I forgot to include! Pirated s/w doesn’t get as much publicity as pirated music, but you’re right that it’s definitely stealing in my book.

  • I guess it depends where you draw the line at stealing. I would never steal from a small business or mom/pop type store but I have absolutely no problem using a jacuzzi at a nice hotel(I did it the other day in fact!) or seeing a double feature at AMC. Does this make me a bad person? Maybe, I don’t know, I don’t really care.
    Harry @ PF Pro recently posted..Employee Benefits: Do You Have the Option to Purchase Additional Vacation DaysMy Profile

    • Thanks for the honesty, Harry! I bet there are a lot of people who agree with you but don’t like to say so publicly.

      Just curious – Would it change matters if your local mom/pop store was doing a booming business and the movie theater was struggling to keep its doors open?

      Consider it food for thought as we’ve seen 5 different companies try to make a go of it in the two theaters that we live nearest to over the last 3 years. Movie theaters can be a tough business to make money in these days.

      I guess I tend to think that it doesn’t matter who I’m taking from if I’m taking something that isn’t mine to take… but I know a lot of people probably agree with you that there are lots of faceless corporations that will just call it “shrinkage” and build it into the profit equation.

      • Haha no problem, I know most people probably won’t admit to doing it but that’s fine. I guess I just don’t feel that bad taking things from people who are doing well if that makes any sense. If the company was not doing well, then I’d probably feel worse for them.

        Example: I don’t really feel that bad for music artists who are making millions of dollars and getting their songs downloaded illegally. They still have other avenues to make money and a lot of new artists have actually been discovered b/c of illegal music downloads.
        Harry @ PF Pro recently posted..Employee Benefits: Do You Have the Option to Purchase Additional Vacation DaysMy Profile

  • I did poach a pool once. We promised our daughter we’d go swimming on a camping trip and the aquatic center was closed for repairs. I think she was 3 or 4, and so that the sky wouldn’t fall, we snook into a cheap hotel’s pool. It wasn’t even their pool outright. A few of the cheaper ones shared a pool and it was kind of in the middle of a parking lot and was really crappy. We stayed about half and hour and I was waiting for the cops to show up any second, but no one noticed. When I was much younger, I did steal a double feature or two. I’m sure I bought popcorn and soda for a ridiculous price, so I don’t feel too badly about that one. Otherwise, I’m pretty by the books and people who are too cheap and steal regularly are truly annoying. I’ve had employees steal all kinds of things, including a broom. That makes me really mad.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Does It Make Sense to Pay Off The Mortgage Early?My Profile

    • Haha, I know someone who was actually arrested for poaching a pool once. She and several friends were arrested for trespassing, and did end up getting the charges dropped, but since that happened to her we have NEVER done anything like that.

      Your employees stole a broom? That is just too random and odd for words.

  • Agreed, those aren’t frugal things, those are just downright cheapskate and not cool!
    Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted..Changing My Last Name Post-Nuptials – What It Means & What It CostsMy Profile

  • That’s too crazy about Disney World! One time I paid to go into one movie…it sucked, so we were going to leave, but the ticketer told us to go see another one since we had paid to see something.

    Stealing is not cool, though. At any level.
    femmefrugality recently posted..Phipps Free DayMy Profile

    • The ticketer was probably in the right telling you to see another movie. Usually theater policy is that if the movie sucks and you’re leaving pretty early into it, that the theater will give a free pass to a future movie to make up for it.

  • good idea for a post, mrs. pop.. and yeah, the younger version of me was guilty of a couple of these items.. which kind of makes me sad, really.. these days, i know that any time you take more than your share, someone else has to pay for it..
    jefferson @SeeDebtRun recently posted..Should You Refinance Your Home Loan… Again?My Profile

  • I’m not a supporter of unlicensed media downloading, but I must point out that the way industry does business is downright lame. Times have changed, and they’re doing everything they can to hold on to dear old times. I’m sorry, but the world won’t wait for you and your overpriced lawyer won’t have employment forever. Entertainment companies need to adopt to new times or suffer the consequences. Some of the other items you mention are quite crazy! I didn’t know people steal towels from the Gym – ewww and newspapers? Who reads newspapers? What some people do is unbelievable.
    Veronica @ Pelican on Money recently posted..10 High Paying Tech Jobs Without a Degree in 2013My Profile

    • Oh yeah, people totally steal gym towels. A friend of mine owns a gym and he complains about it all the time. Especially when the price of cotton rose and the cost of his towels went up a ton! He kept track of every towel and knew when they disappeared.

      I totally read the local newspaper every Sunday. The coupons end up paying for the paper on my end, and I like the local news coverage that the paper provides me over brunch once a week. =)

  • Amen! Just because we’re trying to be frugal doesn’t mean we have to be criminal!
    James @ Free in Ten Years recently posted..December challenge: save hot waterMy Profile

  • I could not agree more. I think all of these are not frugal, but just downright wrong. I’ve hopped into movies before, years ago when I was a kid but haven’t done it for years.

    Things like this are a part of why some things cost so much. Businesses know they’re going to have loss and they have to recoup that, so the rest of us get to pay for the crime.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Frugal Family: How I Sacrifice “Stuff” to Give My Kids Everything They NeedMy Profile

    • What was it that made theater hopping so cool in high school? I had some pretty goody-goody friends, and yet they always wanted to sneak into extra movies! I knew it was wrong, but went with it more often than I care to think about these days.

  • Agree on all points! Being frugal and money conscious is good, but being a thief is not! Especially doing it in front of your child! Ah, the things we teach our kids! When I was young, some of those things might have seemed cool or daring but as an adult, mom and business owner, I know it isn’t cool or daring. Although, it is fascinating reading about what other people have seen others steal … toilet paper … really? I guess they do leave it out …
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..We Are All Lucky DuckiesMy Profile

  • Karen

    I kinda of do the hotel thing. Some have restaurants on the beach and/or by the pool and I’ve eaten/drank there and sometimes used the chairs and ordered drinks from the servers.*Never during peak times. Too cold for me at the beach in the winter! The Canadians can have it.

    *I wish there was lounge chair service at the beach!

    • I think if you’re ordering from the servers that’s probably a bit different. Though I did hear about a debate at the local Ritz Carlton over whether the fruit sitting out at the lounge were for hotel guests or whether people who just ate in the restaurant, but weren’t staying the night, could feel free to take a piece of fruit as well. The hotel said that people who enjoyed lunch in the restaurant were more than welcome to a piece of fruit in the lounge. =)

  • There’s a difference between frugal and cheap.
    leslie recently posted..A Letter To My Student LoansMy Profile

  • One of the interview questions that my company has approved for us to ask interviewee (in a list that we can use or not use) is, “What office supply have you taken from your last job?”. Right answer, “None, taking office supplies from work to use at home is stealing”. I’ve never actually asked it because I don’t really want to know (and it’s not really relevant for the types of employees I’m hiring), but maybe during my next round of interviews I’ll ask just to see what kind of answer I get.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..The “Hidden” Cost of Condo OwnershipMy Profile

    • Wow, that’s funny that it’s actually an interview question. I think the honest answer would be that there’s a decent chance we’ve all stuck a pen in our pocket and walked out the door with it, but it was probably off-set by the pens that made their way from home to the office. =)

  • […] Our Pennies – Is it being frugal or is it stealing? – where should you draw the line? Twitter: […]

  • We all have to be decent, honest and careful. It is quite unfortunate that some people misconstrue taking things from the office as a form of frugality. Let us be practical but not to the extent of compromising our integrity.

  • How about getting food for someone off the all-you-can-eat buffet even though they did not order that item?

    How about multiple people sharing a username and password to view premium online content, like movies or sports subscriptions?

    How about this one: you sit down at a restaurant and the tip left by the people before you has been overlooked and is still lying on the table. You quickly snatch it off the table, put it in your pocket and use it later as part of your tip.

    This was a fun article and comment thread to read through. Thanks.
    Brian Fourman recently posted..How to Get the Most Out of ChristmasMy Profile

    • I am totally with you on sharing the buffet – I would say the same goes if you only order one soda with unlimited refills, intending to share it among more than one person.

      Stealing the tip from the table just seems sleazy, though. Yeesh. Do people do that?

  • […] That’s Not Frugal, It’s Theft (Have you done these things and rationalized that you were just saving money? You may have been stealing.) […]

  • How about stealing newspapers from your neighbor with a petty excuse of “borrowing”? I honestly recognized some people I know while reading your post. So so familiar. Painfully familiar.
    Aloysa @ My Broken Coin recently posted..Things I Learned About Myself in NovemberMy Profile

    • haha, yes! Though I have been known to pick up the free papers to put in the recycling that languish in our neighbors driveways during the months when they are out of town. I guess I’m stealing them if someone really wanted them!

  • […] That’s Not Frugal, It’s Theft! by Planting Our Pennies […]

  • […] post That’s Not Frugal, It’s Theft from a couple of weeks ago is still reverberating through the interwebs as Fearless Men included it […]

  • […] That’s Not Frugal, It’s Theft! on Planting Our Pennies […]

  • trudy

    It really infuriates me when people steal content and “think” it isn’t stealing. I have a relative who works in the music business, and this is costing people jobs and pay.

    • I think some of my favorites that do this are PF bloggers who steal content and then brag about it while selling their own content online. It just seems so hypocritical!

  • Anne

    Just found you via way of MMM and browsing, nice! Agreed all of these are stealing, although living in Vegas I’ve used a few pools when I have friends staying at the hotel (with them of course), and some of the off strip ones let locals use their pools in hopes we will buy $10 drinks.

    When I couponed I always made sure the papers I was buying had the inserts, but to just take them from another paper? No way. And with hulu and pandora being so prolific now I can’t even imagine WANTING to steal media, commercials are significantly less annoying than viruses. Same with the soda, the $2 is a secondary incentive not to drink it, the first is how infinitely better water is for me. I do add a lemon wedge if they have them out though!

    • Thanks for exploring, Anne! That makes sense that some of the pools let you hang out if you buy their food and drinks, especially in Vegas. Kindof like buying a day-pass to the pool for $10 and it comes with a free margarita. After all, isn’t booze always free in Vegas? =)

  • […] Frugal or Theft? Planting our Pennies explains the fine line. […]

  • Hi mrs.pop
    Out of curiosity where do you stand on omitting information. Say for wedding planning. We did not order a specialty cake just a super bare bones one for our wedding and we new the cost about $100 . This establishment at some point assume it was for a wedding we did not deny and they wanted to charge us $300+ . Seriously people gouge you for wedding… But I’m curious if you consider it stealing..

    • Hmmm… good question. I’d say I wouldn’t call it unethical to omit what you’re using the cake for. We certainly didn’t tell the florist we were buying flowers for a belated wedding party at our house when we bought $20 worth of orchids. I do think it’s unethical for the company to double the quoted cost on you based on an assumption. I hope you had the original price in writing!

  • Heidi

    The stealing coupons from newspapers drives me crazy! I used to live in an apartment and get the Sunday paper delivered- and the people across the hall would steal it off my doormat!! I had to call for the paper to be redelivered a few times until I figured out they were grabbing it and left a note on the door saying not to steal my paper! People are crazy!

  • Annie

    I think the snacks and sodas are rubbish. I wouldn’t take even if they were free..The coupons are rubbish as well. A strategy used by companies for making gullible customer to buy stuff. SO I will pass. Nothing wrong with using monthly card. I just don’t think you know how capitalism runs. haha and going to movies are just waste of time and money. What do you say about eating extra samples? Stealing? Or what about when your neighbour puts the candies during halloween and you take like 50/60 of them?