Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Can I Take My Own Candy to the Movies? The Ethics of Frugality

Frugality and sustainability often cross paths, and discussions of frugality sometimes head into questions of ethics.  One of the most common of these is whether it is ethical to take your own candy to the movies, and similar questions like what your ethical responsibilities are regarding the complimentary toiletries in hotels, and the like.

I have read some fascinating articles that attempt to address these issues in terms of classical philosophy, but I try to employ the Golden Rule and leave it at that.  My ethical guidelines for such situations include:

You must respect the core business of the company or service provider.  
We often visit a restaurant/bar that hosts the occasional salsa dance.  It is possible to dance at these events all evening, only sipping water and tipping the wait staff a minimal amount.  Sounds like a frugal evening, right?

Remember, the core business of this establishment is restaurant/bar; the salsa dancing is just a draw to get you in the door.  Dancers are often a difficult group to deal with, because we tend to not want to weigh ourselves down with huge meals or over-imbibe and lose coordination before we hit the dance floor.  Nonetheless, Mr. FC&G and I make sure that, at these free salsa events, we at least buy a couple of drinks and split an appetizer or dessert.  We also tip the wait staff generously, aiming for at least 25% to compensate for the smaller-than-dinner check we are running up.

You may take what is offered to you, but you can't ask for more unless you need it.
This idea comes into play in hotels, which typically offer trial size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and hand lotion in your room.  As you can see above, I have no problem with tucking a partial bottle of hand lotion in my purse and bringing it home from a trip.  The same is true for the other toiletries; if I have shampoo left at the end of a visit, I will bring it home.

However, I draw the line at purposely asking the attendants and maids for more of a product unless I run out during my stay.  It is not fair to ask for a few extra shampoos to tuck in your luggage, or to help yourself from the maid's cart.  It is true, as some say, that the maid  may not care, but you will ultimately pay the price for this when the extra expense the hotel incurs from these little nibbles to the bottom line result in rate hikes.

The same is true for the complimentary breakfast buffet, if one is offered.  I don't have an ethical problem with smearing peanut butter on a bagel and bringing it back to my room to eat at 10 a.m. rather than 6 a.m., and if this means I get to skip buying lunch, so be it.  But it is wrong to eat a full breakfast and then pack yourself a lunch.

You have to play by the rules of the business you are visiting.
So what about taking your own candy into the movies?  Surprisingly, this has been a fairly contentious topic among some people, and I can see both sides.  On the one hand, the core business of the theater is a movie, so one shouldn't feel compelled to buy food and drinks just to support them.  On the other, theaters often make a substantial portion of their money from food sales, so bringing your own harms the business.

For me, if the theater has a sign posted disallowing outside food or drink, then I don't bring any.  In fact, I really don't like to eat or drink during a movie anyway.  It is perfectly ethical to eat a nice, cheap, healthy meal at home before treating yourself to a movie; the price of the ticket gives you entry into the movie, which is all you want in that situation.  No one is requiring you to eat.

And no fair sneaking into another film after yours is over.

What are your frugality ethics guidelines?
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1 comment :

  1. I read people talking about loading up on the salt, pepper, sugar, etc. packets from fast food to use in a bug out bag. That is just wrong. One of each or what is on the tray or in the bag is all anyone is entitled to take. Some people use this method to stock their pantries to use all the time so they don't have to ever buy catsup. Wrong.