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Your Take: When Frugality Becomes Stealing?

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I loved this post by Clark Palmer on Bankrate about when people take frugality too far (it even features Liz Pulliam Weston, one of my favorite personal finance writers). In it he talked about a guy who would take advantage of hotels when traveling on business – swapping out burned out light bulbs from his home with the ones in the hotel, taking towels from hotel pools, and getting free breakfast at local (to his home) hotels. That’s pretty ridiculous.

One thing I was interested to read was that “There are certain things that hotels expect you to take, like shampoo. So, the hotel basically builds the loss into the cost of the room, says Weston. But taking toilet paper and towels crosses the line.” I thought they threw out anything we used but didn’t finish, so I always took the half used shampoo because they come in nice TSA-friendly containers. I still think they toss them but I never thought a hotel would build that loss into the cost of the room.

There are a few other crazy things in that post about how frugality can go a little too far… I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this!

{ 50 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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50 Responses to “Your Take: When Frugality Becomes Stealing?”

  1. billsnider says:

    This post reminded me about Avis’s problem in NY City in the 70’s. People rented a car and then switched things like batteries, tires and anything else they could. This meant that they had a beautiful “old” fleet of cars. They almost vacated the NY market because of this. Today they have taken adequate precautions to stop it.

    In this case it is a little more than “petty” theft.

    Bill snider

  2. otipoby says:

    Hotels usually post a card stating that the shampoo and other toiletries are complementary. Taking them is not stealing. Taking towels / lightbulbs / toilet paper is most certainly theft.

    • Shirley says:

      In the linked article on taking frugality too far, I agree with the statement that if you have to wonder if it’s OK, it probably isn’t.

  3. cubiclegeoff says:

    I do think that some of these things are going too far. I like the idea about tipping at a restaurant, if you can’t afford to, then you shouldn’t be there eating. If the service is good, they deserve a tip and that’s a part of the process. If you don’t leave a tip or leave a small one because the service is bad, that’s different.

  4. live green says:

    The article also mentioned poor tipping as a way to be frugal. I always hate people who skim on tips, especially when the waiter/waitress was really good. They don’t get paid well and they depend on tips. The only person that is getting screwed in that situation is the waiting staff, not the restaurant.

    • Shirley says:

      The same can be said for many hairstylists, beauticians and barbers, particularly those who work in independent shops.

  5. Here’s a really easy litmus test for whether you can take something from a hotel room: ask. The hotel will almost certainly tell you that the complimentary shampoos and soaps are fine to take, that they’d rather you not take the towels, and that carting out the light bulbs, furniture, TV, and mini-fridge will result in a call to the police. And rightfully so.

    Geez, have we really lost all sense of morality here? If you wouldn’t do it with the owner standing there, you probably shouldn’t do it at all.

  6. anita says:

    OMG I had no idea people do that stuff! seriously? car batteries, light bulbs? Man why didn’t I think of that. Just kidding. I would have thought this was so conjured up story my old man would be telling me. It’s unbelievable

  7. Daniel says:

    I’m curious how people feel about taking Sweet n Low/sugar packets from either restaurants or your place of business (if they have a community kitchen).

    Is this stealing?

    If my co-worker drinks a cup of (free) coffee every day at work and he uses a packet of Sweet n Low that is provided to the employees – and I do NOT drink the coffee at work, but instead bring that packet of Sweet n Low home…am I stealing and he is not?

    Ok, how about if instead of bringing the one packet home daily – I grab a fistful of about 47 packets, every few weeks. Now am I stealing?

    Obv, these are all hypotheticals. I would never do such a thing…

    • If I am at a McDonalds say and they hand me 3 packets of Splenda it is not stealing to take the extra one home. If I take more than the two I use from the bowl just to take them home then it is stealing.
      Just my 2 cents.

    • Shirley says:

      The single-serve condiment packages provided at restaurants and some work places are intended for use within that establishment, not as a perk or freebie for all. Taking them home is stealing, just as taking home office supplies from work would be stealing.

      An exception is the server tossing in more packets than you need in a to-go bag. You certainly are not expected to return the unused packets and they have been given to you; you did not willfully take more than you needed.

  8. Thieves are not being frugal.

    To me, frugality is no wasting money. It has no relationship to taking what does not belong to you.


    • Steve says:

      Yeah, LOL it’s not taking frugality too far when you switch light bulbs at the motel, you’re just stealing. Is it even worth the trouble to package and bring burnt-out light bulbs with you when you travel on business?

      Thanks for posting the article Jim.

  9. Janny says:

    I have to wonder about the writer’s acumen, given his statement “…I never thought a hotel would build that loss into the cost of the room.”

    Just how do you think the cost of anything in normal commerce is covered? If the hotel didn’t include all the costs of providing their services into the room charge, how could they stay in business?

    Back to the subject, being frugal is not buying what you don’t need and not using more than you must. Doing so on the back of someone else’s efforts isn’t frugality; it is theft.

    If you can’t afford it, do without.

    • Jim says:

      I guess I should rephrase that to mean – “I never thought they price that loss a priori, though obviously they price all costs into the rooms.”

      • govenar says:

        I don’t think they consider it a “loss” like something that they want to keep but that some people steal; I think the shampoo is intended to be taken/completely used by the customer.

  10. HAhahaha, This is hilarious and ridiculous at the same time. I don’t like to throw away things that can be used. So, taking the shampoo from the hotel is frugality. But taking the towels? Come on!

    • Mary says:

      Speaking as a former hotel maid, I say take the stuff you open! However, we used to have people who would stay for a week and want new stuff everyday. Soaps and shampoos would “disappear” and we’d have to replace them every morning.

      Not sure if that is technically stealing or not, but I used to hate it because it was so bad for the environment! (Seven days worth of tiny soaps and tiny bottles, really?) I pack my own stuff when I travel.

  11. Beth says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned downloading music and movies illegally. That seems to be more socially acceptable than stealing hotel room towels, but it’s still stealing.

    • Shirley says:

      Illegally downloading music/movies is often rationalized with rather inane thoughts like:
      – It’s in the air and air is free.
      – I listened to it so it’s in MY temp files. I can copy anything I want to from MY OWN files.
      – I’m just helping the artist by spreading his work and name.
      – I bought MY program that removes DRM, so it’s OK.
      – By putting their work on the internet, they expect you to copy it.

      Of course all of these rationalizations are idiotic and are only meant to soothe the conscience. If the copywrite does not belong to you, it is stealing unless it is freely given to you by the copywrite holder or his/her representative.

      • Joey says:

        Be careful . . . there can be legit reasons for downloading or sharing music, movies, etc. Say you own a film on DVD and you’d like to view it on your iPod or some other device with no DVD player. Is it stealing to download a compatible copy of that movie? Is it stealing to use software to rip the movie to your device? Court decisions have stated the latter is fair use, so if one doesn’t have the technical skills to accomplish a rip is it wrong for them to download?

        But where is this line? If you bought The Eagles’ Hotel California on 8-track back in the day, are you still entitled to download tracks from that album over the Internet now? Some would say “yes”; they already bought the license to the music, which isn’t dependent on the lifespan of the medium on which it was recorded.

        On the other hand, are you stealing if you patronize a bar that plays broadcast radio without paying an ASCAP fee? Some of the rules around the licensing of music/movies, etc are so arcane there literally is no defined line of what is and is not stealing.

        • Shirley says:

          My guidelines for myself are that if I actually bought the film/music and need to copy it to a different medium, it’s OK but only for my own use. I certainly may not distribute it. If you don’t have the skills or equipment to do that, someone else may do it for you, but they are not allowed (even as payment for their work) to keep a copy.

          Where is the line? At this point it is mostly in the conscience of the user.
          And you are absolutely right that the licensing of music/movies, etc are so arcane that there is no truly defined line.

  12. zapeta says:

    These people are not frugal, they’re just cheap or criminal. Stealing is not a way to be frugal. If you don’t tip to save money, you can’t afford to eat out. Stay home and save even more!

  13. dmeanea says:

    It constantly amazes me to see the worthless stuff for which people are willing to trade their self-respect.

  14. freeby50 says:

    I am not opposed to taking the soaps and mini shampoo bottles from hotels. Personally I take the pens from hotel rooms and sometimes the little paper note pads. I assume the pens are supposed to be free and they do have the hotel name on them which is for advertisement purposes.

    Anything past little minor items like those I would consider theft.

    Ryan makes a good point that you can always just ask.

    I once stayed in a hotel where the television remote control was bolted to the night stand so it was pointed at the TV. Why do people steal TV remotes? Apparently they do. Batteries from the remote are another commonly stolen item.

  15. bloodbath says:

    I disagreed with someone who stowed away the shampoo/lotion etc. EVERYDAY of their stay and had the nerve to display the items in a basket in their guest bathroom at home.
    I said it was tacky, she said no one complained to her, I said no one would but we talk amongst ourselves about her ‘luxury toiletries!

  16. SoonerNATX says:

    Eating out but skimping on the tip b/c you are “cheap” doesnt make sense. If you are too cheap to tip… why eat out? (laziness, thats why).

    @Mary our corporate office has a bin to put the hotel supplies you dont use after trips and they donate it to a homeless shelter.

    However, if you want to be frugal with soaps… walmart website has a sample page in which you can request samples to be shipped to you for free. most are shampoos/conditioner or general hygiene products. i did this during college, never had to buy shampoo (that was called being broke… not frugal)

  17. cdiver says:

    Taking advantage….nothing but theft going on here!

  18. Tim says:

    americans simply have no sense of ethics. they know it is stealing but rationalize stealing by thinking they spend money there all the time, or some other crazy rational. the bottom line is that the more these people steal, the more it increases prices for everyone. i heard a radio host admit she munches as she grocery shops and heard all kinds of parents call in justifying letting their kids eat along the way. what the heck! that only means that prices will invariably increase for everyone. stop stealing people!

    as far as tipping, that’s the biggest, stupidest thing ever adopted in this country. tipping use to be an indicator of service above and beyond, but has become expected and entitled as part of a person’s wages. It is also the largest loss of tax revenue since the vast majority of people do not report all that income or even most of that income. we should be upset by that.

    i like eating out at times, but hate tipping if service is terrible. i use to work in the service industry, so i understand the supplemental income of tips, but it has become too ridiculous.

    • zapeta says:

      Not sure what being an American has to do with having no ethics. I’m sure there are plenty of people without ethics all across the world.

  19. Tim says:

    yes, jim, all those costs are included in a company’s operating expense. that’s the key, though, is to keep operating expenses low. the more thefts that occur, the higher operating expense. that means reduction in staff, wages, and/or increased costs to the consumer. so next time folks think that it is ok to munch, take towels, etc, should really think about the overall impact and why costs are going to go up next time.

  20. David says:

    They necessarily build the price of consumables into the price of the room – where else would the cost of them be coming from?

    • Mary says:

      Yes, the amenities are built into the cost of the room — sort of. Hotels know they go through so much of this product or that product in a year, but obviously not everyone uses everything for an overnight stay. When people stay longer, most of the time they use up products they have already opened. (As housekeepers, we supply a fresh one when they’re running low).

      So if people take all of the products every day, then costs will increase accordingly.

      When it came to towels, housekeepers know exactly how many of what size are in each room, and remember hotels have your credit card information. Some of those plush towels cost $30 or more to replace.

  21. Sue Biely says:

    Yeah, I think that swapping out light bulbs at hotels is probably taking things a little far. It’s also a bit dishonest in my opinion.

    It does seem wasteful for them to throw out toilet paper if it’s running slightly low but I suppose there aren’t any other options there.

  22. jsbrendog says:

    yeah that seems to take it a little too far…but i always take the conditioner. now i feel less dirty about it since they build it into the cost anyway. you’re already paying for it so meh

  23. Red says:

    I remember vividly during long plane trips my parents would take the silverware that came with every meal. now the airlines use plastic, probably to stop people from wanting to steal their silverware. It took me 10 years to convince my parents that was wrong.
    That is stealing. There’s a difference between stealing and freeloading. freeloading isn’t stealing, its freeloading.
    Taking what is free, provided you meet the establishment’s requirements to get complimentary stuff like napkins and ketchup packets, isn’t stealing. if you just walk into a Carl’s Jr and freeload on the napkins, you are probably stealing as you’re not a customer. However If I buy the cheapest thing (becoming a customer) and then help myself to the napkins or ketchup packets, its not stealing, even if I take more than that is necessary for my order. Until the establishment puts up a sign saying: customers may only take 5 napkins and 3 ketchup packets per order”. until then what is provided free of charge to customers (or just anyone) of any establishment or business, taking much more than needed isn’t stealing. taking it home or whatever you want, still isn’t stealing.

    • Jim says:

      That’s an interesting thought… when I needed napkins from a place I just take them. For example, if I’m at the food court, I grab napkins from the place that’s closest to where I’m sitting… I suppose that is technically stealing.

      • Shirley says:

        Not if you are taking them to use in the food court, regardless of which restaurant you bought food at, since it is considered one establishment. Now if you are taking a huge handful to be used at home, that’s a different story. 😉

    • Jacob says:

      “I remember vividly during long plane trips my parents would take the silverware that came with every meal. now the airlines use plastic, probably to stop people from wanting to steal their silverware. It took me 10 years to convince my parents that was wrong.
      That is stealing. There’s a difference between stealing and freeloading. freeloading isn’t stealing, its freeloading.”

      Interesting you would mention that, because in certain cases that would not be considered stealing.
      For example, perhaps you remember the salt and pepper shakers you would get in first class on Delta in the 80s and 90s? Those tiny shakers had the equivalent of at least a few months worth of salt and pepper. Well one day we asked what they did with those shakers after a SINGLE person used them. You know what they did? THEY THREW THEM AWAY! So, we asked if we could have some after a flight and they willingly gave us about 20 pairs.
      As for the silverware, we never stole it but also never asked about if they cleaned it or threw it away. In a society that was willing to throw out salt and pepper shakers after a single use (very nice shakers I might add, we still use them today), they may in certain cases have just thrown them out, thus making them okay to take, provided one asks beforehand.
      As for why they use plastic today, I think the answer is much simpler than “to stop people from wanting to steal their silverware”. In fact it can be summed up in one word: “cost” 🙂

  24. Bonnie says:

    I really don’t understand how some people seem to think the hotel doesn’t expect you to take your half-used toiletries home with you. Do you somehow think the hotel is going to leave them for the next guest? How gross is that? I’ve always wondered whether they know if a bottle’s been used or not or if they just throw out all the toiletries left behind when a guest leaves. I usually just take them all at the end of my stay, even if I didn’t open a bottle, so I know it’ll get used & not thrown out.

    • Melissa says:

      I do the same. I’ve heard in many instances they may be thrown out. If I’m staying multiple days I will not use them – so they don’t get replaced – then I take the unused (original) set at the end of my stay.

      They come in handy for camping trips and staying over at friends’ places.

  25. Steven says:

    When others subsidize your way of doing things, that’s when you cross the line between frugal and jack@$$.

    Someone’s gotta pay for it, and it’s not the establishment in the end.

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