What Distinguishes Frugality From Stealing?

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Say you're about to check out of your hotel room. Can you grab the bite-sized almond oatmeal bar soaps and citrus-scented shampoos from the bathroom and toss them into your luggage? What if you whirl about the room, indiscriminately throwing light bulbs, tissue boxes, pens, and notepads into your bags? At what point do your penny-pinching ways cross the line?

Jennifer Saranow Schultz asks this very question at The New York Times, citing a recent Bankrate.com article by Clark Palmer that claims you've taken frugality too far when "you're cheating yourself or others just to save a buck" or when you aren't comfortable asking a person in charge if what you're doing is allowed. Palmer learns from a personal finance expert that hotels expect guests to take items like shampoo and conditioner bottles, and build these into the cost of a room, but don't expect guests to spirit away other items like toilet paper or towels. He tells one story of a man who frequented free Continental breakfasts at hotels near his house and justified his behavior by noting that signs for the meal didn't say, "For Guests Only."

Saranow Schultz scours the Internet for other definitions of frugality's boundaries:

The blogger at Frugal for Life, for instance, considers stealing coupons from others' papers and buying an item from a store with the intention of using it and then returning it not acceptable, while going to a food store to try samples is all right (though eating enough samples to make a meal is not). Another post at Queercents.com, questions whether sneaking snacks into a movie theater is acceptable. (The blogger's conclusion: Sneaking snacks is not O.K. but it would be hard to feel bad about doing it.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.