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10 things I won't do to save money

You won't see me popping a grape in my mouth at the produce stand or grabbing handfuls of ketchup packets at fast-food restaurants.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 11, 2012 1:46PM

This post comes from Paul Michael at partner blog Wise Bread.

Wise Bread on MSN Money


Hi, I'm Paul, and I have a confession: I'm frugal. Sometimes, really, really frugal. You only have to ask my long-suffering wife and kids for confirmation.


Image: Pennies (© Corbis)But although I have been known to buy only items on clearance, with coupons, I am also someone who has frugal morals as well. I won't steal; I have yet to pop a grape in my mouth from the produce section, although I see many people doing that. I won't con people, or do any kind of "severe bending of the rules." All in all, I keep my frugality aboveboard, even if doing so means that I spend a few extra dollars here and there.


Here is my list of the top 10 sins I won't commit in the name of being a money-saver. (See also: "The ethics of free: Is it wrong to get free stuff?")


1. I won't ask for a cup for water, then get soda.

Well, these days I'm almost completely off soda anyway, but even when I was a sodaholic I would cringe when I'd see people ask for a cup for water, then fill that cup up with soda instead. OK, so the restaurant does make a sizable profit from selling sodas, which means some people think they have the right to rip off the restaurants. That's just wrong, though.


In fact, when a restaurant gives you a free cup for your water, it's losing money -- those cups aren't free to them. So when you add insult to injury and start filling those free cups with whatever you like, it's not very sporting at all.


Some restaurants resort to putting in a big WATER button instead of the usual small water switch under the lemonade, because it's way too easy for people to get away with the stealthy "free drink" switch.


Don't do it. But please, just drink water anyway. It saves you money, it's better for you and your conscience will be clean.


2. I won't cram hundreds of free ketchup packets into my pockets.

Staying on the restaurant/fast-food theme, I overheard two people in line talking about how they never have to buy ketchup anymore. "I just grab a few handfuls of those ketchup packets every time I'm in here and squeeze them into the bottle at home!"


Well, yay for you! Although those packets are there to be taken, and thus "free," they are not supposed to be there to help skinflints save a few bucks on a bottle of ketchup. If people continue to do that, we'll soon be at a point where "would you like to add ketchup to your order for 5 cents?" will be a standard question at the checkout.


3. I won't take home toilet paper from work.

Or lotion. Or coffee filters. Or plastic knives and forks. I won't do it because it is literally stealing from your employer, which is wrong on so many levels. But it also makes everyone else pay the price for your selfishness.


When things start being "liberated" from work, the company takes notice. And they can take measures that remove privileges from the rest of the staff. Nice toilet paper is replaced with stuff that's about as effective as a sheet of aluminum. Coffee is no longer supplied. Hand lotions and sanitizers must be provided by the staff. And all because a few rotten apples are too cheap to buy household supplies.


Don't be a work thief, please. (Post continues below video.)

4. I won't be an extreme couponer.

I've written a whole article on this to explain my reasoning, but in a nutshell I think it's a horrid mixture of greed and obsession. I'm not going to clip coupons for eight hours a day and spend four hours at checkout. I'm also not going to clear the shelves of hundreds of items I don't really need, or will ever use, just to save some money or see $1.24 on the register after ringing up 100 bottles of shampoo. The sooner coupon manufacturers put limits on these things, the better.


5. I won't undertip at a restaurant.

I have never been a server or worked behind the bar. I never want to do either. They have to be two of the toughest jobs out there. Most of the time, these people are on their feet all shift and get paid less than minimum wage because the tips will make up for the shortfall.


Well, not if really cheap people don't tip. I've heard stories and seen photographic evidence of people leaving tiny tips, like $1 on a $50 check or, even worse, leaving advice. That's nasty, and it's completely unfair. I will tip a minimum of 20% on the check, more if the server is really good. And if I have a Groupon or coupon, I always tip on the amount before the discount is applied. Only if I get really, really awful service do I re-evaluate.


So far, in my 11-plus years in the United States, I have yet to tip below 15%, and on the few occasions I did go that low, the service was pretty lousy. But who knows if that person was having a crappy day and has kids to feed.


6. I won't use my house as a piggy bank.

I have seen way too many people get burned in refinancing and home equity traps. They get a little bit of equity in their homes, and they instantly refi and pull out that cash. Of course, when the market crashed, many people got in real trouble due to their refinancing mistakes.


Well, I won't do it. I will refi to get a better rate, of course, or to use the equity my home has built up to eliminate mortgage insurance. But I won't dip into the home equity fund. My only exception to that rule would be to do something that would add that equity back in to the house, like a basement remodel. However, most of the time, those projects do not put back in to the home what you have taken out.


7. I won't risk 'dodgy' food.

Sell-by dates are not all they're cracked up to be. Usually they err on the side of extreme caution, and you have several days as a buffer. There are other ways to detect the quality of the food, and if I have a sneaking suspicion that it may be off, I bin it. I have risked it before and have suffered some nasty food-poisoning episodes because I refused to throw out a few bucks worth of chicken or ground beef.


Honestly, if in any doubt, throw it out. Bad smells and strange colors or hues are big danger signs.


8. I won't avoid flushing the toilet.

I've heard that you can save a bunch of money by not flushing your toilet after every use. Well, I did a little digging, and yes, not flushing every time can save you money. According to The Simple Dollar, it's roughly $7.66 per year! Now, that is a savings, but I'd rather give that up than have to live with the nasty odors emanating from the toilets in my home.


9. I won't wash my own car.

What?!! Is this really coming from someone as frugal as me? Well, yes. Here's the thing. I have to figure the cost of washing the car and the time it takes, then figure out what kind of money I can earn by doing freelance writing. It takes me at least 45 minutes to wash the car. A car wash is roughly $10 to $15. I earn considerably more than that when I freelance.


And when I'm not working, which is seldom these days, I like to spend time doing stuff with my family (and sometimes, dare I say it, on my own). I'd rather be out playing in the park, or at a movie, or coloring, or anything other than washing the car. Now, if the family actually wants to spend time together soaping the car down, fine. But usually we have better things to do. I do mow the lawn. That takes me 10 minutes, and it's not anywhere near the same kind of hassle.

10. I won't underuse my A/C and heating.

I find it so odd that people pay thousands to have air conditioning installed and then never turn it on. Or they set it to some silly temperature like 79 degrees because it saves money, and then put fans all over the house.


In winter, I have visited friends who have a cold house and wear sweaters and two pairs of socks. When I ask them to turn up the heat for the sake of my kids, it's like I asked them to hand over their firstborn.


Now, I know that when money is tight, you have to take some tough measures. If I were living alone, I would probably have no problem using a fan instead of A/C, or wrapping up in winter. But when the family -- my family -- is involved, I am not going to cut corners in those areas. I definitely monitor the A/C and heating use, but I will not deprive them of a comfortable home environment.


So, that's my list. Are there some things you just will not do to save money? Do other people mock you for these beliefs? Let us know.


More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:

Jul 12, 2012 12:33PM

My vacation is one thing I will not cut corners on and subject myself to be lousy experience in order to save money. I spend years (minimum of 2) saving up for 2 weeks of stress free indulgence and will not stand for long airport lay-overs, seedy hotels, bad food, or bad service just to save money. Either I go and enjoy myself fully or I don't go at all.

While I have not been subjected to much mocking for this practice, I have been the object of disapproval as we are in a recession and others do not believe I should be spending my money for  non essentials like a vacation. Apparently my mental well being is a nonessential to them.

Jul 12, 2012 8:03AM
I'm retired on a fixed income(dwindling actually) I drive a ten year old car, my last vacation was...can't remember,  rarely eat out etc.  I won't give up my satellite TV or Internet service, don't even think about trying to grab one of my beers,  what else do I have???
Jul 12, 2012 1:38PM
If I didn't stay at your hotel, I won't eat your free breakfast buffet. It is amazing to me how many people will pick some colleague up at a hotel, or go to a meeting, and stop by the free breakfast buffet. Guess what? It isn't really free.
Jul 12, 2012 4:52PM

I beg to differ with Nos. 8 and 10.  For No. 8, it all depends on your local water utility costs.  Of course, we flush after a BM or when it gets smelly, but otherwise we flush only every other time.  Saves me around $150 per year.  We always do this at our cabin, being on a holding tank and not a city sewer system.  It greatly reduces our pump-out frequency, so that's $110 per time, savings of $220 to $330 per year (depending how much we're there and how many people visiting and showering, etc.).  No. 10, it won't kill anyone to put on a sweater and wear slippers.  If you live in cold seasonal climates, turning that thermostat down 5 degrees can make a rather large difference in your heating bill, whereas donning a sweater or sweatshirt costs nothing.


Djsun, agree with you.  My family only goes out to eat maybe once or twice a year, bought a home well well within our means and we don't engage in any pricy hobbies (other than our cabin/future retirement home bought before the recession and while prices were low, so our total mortgage payments combined are lower than most other people we know).  We get no OTA reception (too far from any "local" stations) and therefore are forced to buy cable or satellite, so won't give that up.

Jul 12, 2012 6:59PM
wow, you really had me till those last 3. I'm coming at these from not only a financial perspective, but also an environmental one. you do not need to flush every time you pee, we flush maybe a couple times a day, once the water gets a dark yellow, and/or starts to smell, but a little pee isn't hurting anyone. washing your car is not essential. i don't know how you can call yourself frugal and then say you spend 10-15 dollars on something that doesn't need to be done at all. it's just for appearances I've never washed my car and never had any problems derived from that.  and last and most importantly is the a/c,  its ridiculous to adjust the temp in your house so much that you wouldn't even dress for the season, if its hot outside, you should be a little hot inside, same for the cold. your children aren't in any danger at 79 degrees. i have no idea how much any of these things save me a year, but its better than spoiling myself and wasting resources.
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