Friday, December 14, 2007

The Frugal Sampler: Free Newspapers, Tea & Gyms: Theft or Fair?

What's theft? What's fair? What about those free copies of the WSJ in hotel lobbies? Is it ethical for me -- on a R&R walk -- to pop in at the Four Points by Sheraton and enjoy the Wall Street Journal or USA Today in the hotel lobby?

This post was sparked by the recent drama around a pop star who recently stole a lighter. I'm not giving her problems anymore space, but that pop star's chutzpah and theft prompted me to think of the scenarios, questions and doubts I face. As I try to live frugally, I also want to avoid stepping over ethical lines.

1. Free copies of the Wall Street Journal. I live near a long string of beach-front hotels and many of them cater to business travelers. My parents often stay at these resorts and of course, during those times, I help myself to the newspapers. I think of us as extended-stay family. But when my parents have checked out, is it still okay (ethical) to stop by the lobby, hang out and enjoy the newspapers? There is always a stack of unread newspapers and it's so tempting.

2. Free DIY coffee and tea cart: Same lobby scenario.

3. Free chocolates: The Ghirardelli shop near my home passes out free chocolates. Is it fair to be a habitual sampler? I use restraint: One chocolate per weekend visit. But is it fair to accept the free handouts if I rarely make a purchase?

4. Networking at the Apple store. The Apple store near me has several lanes of display computers. A lot of consumers have fun with the graphics and other functions on the display models, which are also online. Is it fair to use the Internet connection to check email or Google something?

5. Children's drinks at Starbucks. My son, age 12, loves to buy the children's version of Starbucks drinks. The size and price (cheaper than the regular version) are perfect for me. Is it ethical to order the children's drink for myself?

6. Children's menu at restaurants: When we go out to restaurants, I look at the price and portions on the children's menu with envy. Is it fair to order a kiddie meal for an adult? Is it fair if one of my kids wants something from the adult's menu and I order from the children's menu? Is that swap fair?

7. Gym membership: A number of gyms offer free passes for a day, a week or a month and there are lots of gyms in my area. Is it fair to shop around and hop from gym to gym until I make up my mind? What if I never make up my mind and just keep gym hopping?

8. Permanent gym guest: Several friends have memberships at area gyms. They can always bring a free guest. They've offered. Is it fair to be a permanent (free) tag along?

WWYD? If you have time, please send me an email ( ) or leave a comment. Thanks!
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Aino said...

1. Free copies of the Wall Street Journal.
Once in a while I think it's acceptable - but I wouldnt' do this on a regular basis. That's when it goes over the ethical line for me.

2. Ditto - if you have some kind of reason to be in the vicinit, and help yourself to some freebies, then it's fine - but if you make it a point to go there just for the freebies...not so acceptable?

3. Yes :) The free samples are a marketing ploy to me, so even if I make a purchase only once in a way, it'll probably be a big enough purchase to make me not feel guilty about the samples :)

4. I wouldn't do this for privacy/security issues anyway. Unless it was an emergency.

5&6. I think this is a good idea - you're saving money AND your health. Today's portion sizes are ridiculous - and since you're paying for the item, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I hate it when restaurants dont allow you to buy off children's menu!

7. This would be tedious i think, so I persoanlyl wouldn't do it just because it's hard enough to motivate myself to go to A gym, never mind rotate several gyms :) Of course I do think it's okay to "shop" around, so long as you will ultimately make a decision - say within a month or so.

8. For this, I would actually offer to split the cost of my friend's membership :) That's the only "ethical" dilemma i'd hav e- do I pay half, or do I pay on a per-use basis etc? I have no problems jipping the gym (higher-end ones anyway) because I feel like their pricings can be ridiculously high! :(

Marcus Aurelius said...

#1 & #2 - As long as your parents are guests no problem, however if they are not guests than I consider it wrong.

#3 - Is trickier, but I would say it is probably not a good thing to keep helping yourself.

#4. Nope, the connections are demonstrative purposes only plus think of privacy and keeping your e-mail and such yours.

#5 Again, no. The drinks are intended for children they should be limited to children. Clark Howard has written a fair amount on coffee.

#7 I have less a problem with this as long as you are looking to settle in at one gym, however if you keep rotating then it passes from acceptable to unacceptable.

#8 On occasional basis I would consider it fair.

Most of these are cheap that is the short term savings is going to be eclipsed by long term losses.

A colleague I had in the UAE would visit shops and ask for samples of schwermas & falafels. He would get a nibble or two and move on to the next shop and repeat until he was full for the night, without actually purchasing anything. He fretted over a broom purchase because he might not be around the following year and he would have spent money on an item he would not use over two years (now I think of the source this may have been a joke, he had another good one to use to describe extremely cheap friends, but I refrain from telling here on this less than rated-R blog).

In the end I think the net loss is greater than the benefit. It is cheap not frugal.

Father Sez said...


If you feel uncomfortable, then it is not right. A simple rule that I try to follow.

hervor the howler said...

Hi Sharon

My ethics are a bit hazy but this is my take on your moral dilemmas.

1. Reading free copies of the WSJ is probably ok. You can put the paper back and it hasn't disadvantaged the hotel at all

2. Free copy and tea at the hotel would be a no-no. These are items you would be consuming at a cost to the hotel.

3. Occasional free chocolates are ok. The freebies are bringing you back to the store, which may entice you to purchase more than you would if you weren't in the store. Using restraint definitely stops you from abusing the system.

4. Checking email or googling at the apple store is a tricky one for me. Because it's not substantial, I tend to believe it's less like theft. But maybe it is. I don't know. A good rule might be to suggest that if you're not prepared to pay for it, then you shouldn't consume it.

5. Adults ordering children's drinks at Starbucks. Absolutely OK. You are paying for what you get - you wouldn't pay for a large if you only wanted a regular, why pay for a regular if you prefer a small?

6. Ditto

7. Free gym passes. If you really are checking out the gyms, it's ok. If you have no intention of joining then it's probably not ok. Try a couple of gyms then choose one.

8. Ditto. If you want to regularly attend a gym, pay for it.

I think if you are questioning the fairness of anything, you should err on the side of caution. There are many ways to justify some of our choices but if you aren't completely sure it's right - don't do it.


LongBeachBabe said...

I've always felt funny for some reason about using freebies like you mentioned. I even feel funny using those coupons for free panties at Victoria's Secret. Honestly though, I wonder if the people even notice people taking advantage though? I mean, these companies probably make so much $$$$ that it's not a huge deal anyways ;).

Frugal Duchess said...

Hi Aino:

I appreciate your response, especially #4. Security issues are a big issue. Someone could harvest my password from a public machine.

And about 5&6: I hate the super-sized portions. I am small and the huge adult portions are wasted on me. Forget the doggy bags; I would rather just pay less for smaller servings.

Thanks so much your reply. It's such a delight to get a response.

Best Wishes,

Frugal Duchess said...


Thanks! I agree with many of your answers. About 1&2: You're right. When my parents are there, I feel comfortable helping myself to lobby perks. Otherwise, I feel like an intruder or an uninvited party guest.

about #4: Yeah, Security issues!!!

I like the distinctions and shades in your comments.

Thanks for writing. You are so thoughtful.
Take Care,

Frugal Duchess said...

Father Sez:

Your streamlined rule sounds like a rule that one of my friends gave me: "When in doubt, do without."

Thanks for your thoughts. You've given me a lot to think about.

Best Wishes,

Frugal Duchess said...


Your comments on 7 & 8 (gym membership questions) are in line with my thoughts.

(All of your answers made me think deeper about the issues.)

The children's sized drinks are interesting because I'm paying for the portion size. I think I will call Starbuck's PR and ask them to address the issue.

Overall I appreciated your summary:

"I think if you are questioning the fairness of anything, you should err on the side of caution. There are many ways to justify some of our choices but if you aren't completely sure it's right - don't do it."

Take Care & Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


Frugal Duchess said...

Hey LongBeachBabe:

I've also received the Victoria Secret's coupon for freebies.

LOL Yeah, tempting, but I'm with you on that point.

Besides, the store would win. I'd walk out with one freebie and bagful of new purchases. I save by not using the coupon. ;)

Warm Wishes,