Sometimes it seems to me like most things associated with frugality are, well, sneaky. Sure, sure, there are the basic coupon combos. And, if you’re diligent (and patient) you can actually make money off certain offers with the help of rebates. Which is, depending on your point of view, kind of sneaky — but in the sense that we say such a word proudly.
It seems, though, like the really good deals — the impressive ones — come about not just through hard work, but also through some amount of questionable practice.
I’m not talking about huge sins. More like small gray areas. And I’m not necessarily interested in debating the ethics of a situation. There are plenty of frugal folks to voice opinions on morality of taking salt packets from McDonald’s — or how many ketchups before it’s stealing.
But there is an element of sneakiness that skirts the border of ethics. Some would call it being smart, keeping your eyes open. Others would say it’s just sneaky — in the bad sense. That it’s… not cheating, exactly. But not fair play either.
I think most of us skirt the rules more often than we realize. Those grocery deals that have limits, have you gone back several times to take full advantage of the sale? The circular has a limit, but most stores don’t specify if it’s per trip or per household. So if we ferry bags back to the car, then head right back into the store, are we being smart? Or sneaky? Or both?
I say both. It’s a little sneaky. Obviously, the store would prefer if you just got the maximum number of products once per sale. But it’s also smart, because we know the stores don’t bother to close the loopholes. So, for some of us, that’s all the permission we need.
After all, it would be an easy situation to remedy. Stores just need to add a couple of words, and then the rules are more clear. No ambiguity. Heck, they could go a step further and really avoid the problem by configuring the loyalty cards to automatically stop applying the sales price after a certain number of weekly sales items had been purchased.
They don’t, though. Probably because they make enough money on the rest of the customers that they don’t need to risk alienating their die-hard frugal clientele.
But the stores’ nonchalance doesn’t mean we’re automatically acting ethically. After all, shoplifting could be stopped 100 percent. It would just require that stores hire enough employees to follow customers around and watch them like hawks.
However, that would vastly increase payroll costs, not to mention driving away customers in droves. So companies accept that some shoplifting is part of the retail business. Still, that hardly makes it ethical.
In the end, most frugal people exploit the letter of the rules, rather than the spirit. We check coupons and sales for all the fine print. Then we scour that fine print carefully, to find any loopholes we can exploit. I think most of us are big on the phrase, “But it doesn’t say that I can’t.”
Currently, Tim is happily exploiting Game Stop’s return policy. When you buy a used title, you have up to a week to return it for full store credit. Tomorrow, he’ll be getting a fifth title. Three were returned for valid complaints. But he plans on returning the current title, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, getting another game for a week, then getting Ultimate Alliance again, so he can finish it up. (He checked at the store, and it’s not against the rules.)
Who knows how long he’ll keep this up? It seems a little morally questionable to me, but it also appeals to my crafty frugal side. It does, after all, make the most of our money. (Especially considering this is all from a credit we got selling the old Xbox 360.)
So, that brings me back to the question: Are these attitudes sneaky or smart? And do you need to be a bit sneaky to get the best frugal deals?