The “Would You Want it Publicized” Rule for Frugality

extreme_frugalityFrugality can be a funny thing.  Sometimes we think we’re frugal since we pinch pennies in certain areas of our life, but we spend quite a bit in others.  In other cases, what we consider to be frugal might pass as overspending to others.  Clearly, sometimes frugality has some gray areas.

This can also extend to the ethical side of frugality.  It seems like sometimes we have rules for what we consider to be right and wrong behavior, but occasionally might let it slide by when it comes to saving a few bucks (or pennies).  Rationalized behavior abounds!

There have been some cases of extreme frugality that I’ve witnessed.  In a few cases, I’ve done a few unconventional things to save money.  Case in point:  my approach to saving money on coffee at the drive-thru.  Yes, it wasn’t my finest moment (and it was a few years ago), but I’m cool with admitting it.  I wouldn’t do it again.

There have been other cases where I’ve actually witnessed others going too far to save a few bucks.  I’ve written quite a few posts about these instances in the Squirreling Gone Wild series.  Check out that category to read those posts about extreme frugality, some of them were quite eye-opening in my view anyway.

All that being said, when trying to save a little bit of money, I follow what I call the “would you want it publicized” rule.  It simply involves asking yourself this question:

Would you feel okay with this frugal behavior being publicized?

In other words, would you be cool with your entire network of friends, family, and even co-workers knowing about your approach to saving money on something?  That is, feeling okay with them knowing the frugal approach you took in a given circumstance?

If we don’t want others to know, or we would be ashamed to broadcast it, then it’s probably not something we should be doing in the first place.

Here are few things I’ll own up to doing:

  • Taking a couple of extra napkins from a quick-serve restaurant.  I have no problem saying that I’ve done this on occasion.  Never hurts to have a few in the car, just in case.
  • Sneaking candy or snacks into a movie theatre.  Yes, I’ve done this before too.   I’ll admit it, though I’ll also say that I don’t do this anymore.
  • Picking up pennies outside a drive-thru.  Okay, I’ve done this too, as discussed above :)  Again, I’ll own up to it despite refraining from such behavior (and avoiding drive-thrus) these days.

These are, to me, gray area moves.  But that’s as far as I’ll go.

Going further than this would be actions such as taking silverware from a restaurant, towels from a hotel room, and so on.  To me, that crosses the line and I absolutely would not do such things.  Yet some people quietly do such things even though they wouldn’t broadcast it.  There’s a good post on Making Sense of Cents on which I commented, which includes some related discussion.

If we wouldn’t want anyone else to know about something we’re doing to save money, then there’s probably a reason:  we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place!

I’m actually at a coffee shop now typing this.  So if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of recycled napkins to grab….

My Questions for You

What do you think about the “Would You Want it Publicized” rule for frugality?

How do you determine what’s going too far when it comes to efforts to save money?

Do you have any examples of others (or yourself) going too far crossing the line to save?


  1. says

    I think that is a great barometer for many to decide whether or not the action crosses the line. I’ve taken napkins myself to keep in the car and sneaking snacks into the movies. I feel that I would be OK with all of the things I do to save money being broadcast.

  2. says

    There’s nothing wrong with picking up money from the ground. I have already gotten my four year old into looking for coins on the ground, and he’s spotted a couple and gets very excited.

  3. says

    The publicizing rule is a great barometer for what is and is not acceptable frugality. You could make the point that this rule would work for just about any behavior actually. Generally I think I am fine with my frugality so I can own up to the things I do. I don’t steal towels from hotel rooms or anything, but I will do things like bring snacks to the movies.

  4. says

    I’m not super frugal, so most of my money-saving strategies are publicly acceptable. However, my parents on the other hand have so many frugal quirks that sometimes I think they go above and beyond penny pinching!

    • Squirrelers says

      Ha! We’re all different I suppose, right? What might embarrass one person might not make another flinch. If we’re cool with others knowing what we’re doing, to each their own!

  5. says

    Frugality is definitely relative. What’s frugal to you might not be frugal to someone else. It also has ethical implications…but everyone has different ethics and morals. I agree that there is a generally accepted “line to cross” when it comes to frugal actions. I like your public accountability suggestion…it’s probably not something we’d think about unless we were in a public setting with our family/peers. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make decisions as if they were there or as if they couldn’t somehow find out. Hopefully your family/friends aren’t less ethical than you are!

    • Squirrelers says

      True, there is some relativity involved. Now, with the public accountability aspect, we can each bear responsibility for our own actions. If we aren’t comfortable with others knowing, then that can be our own “personalized” line (while keeping in mind society’s laws, etc).

  6. says

    My wife or I don’t do anything illegal in the name of frugality, like take towels from hotels. W am frugal in that we save a lot more than we spend. We don’t mind buying used, and we never try to keep up with the Joneses or anyone else. All our friends know we are frugal, and are happy to join in on pot-luck meals at our house rather than go out to eat. That’s not to say we never eat out.

  7. says

    I put my frugal hints and tips out there for the world to see. I am a big believer in not doing anything I wouldn’t want everyone to know about. I have stopped others from doing things they say were frugal, but I thought was stealing. I simply asked if they’d like it posted about on social media. No? Well then maybe it’s not a good idea :)

  8. says

    I think as long as it’s not illegal I wouldn’t mind if people know about my frugal habit. The matter of crossing the line is most of the time subjective, so I do believe that some people will agree with you and some others will disapprove.

    • Squirrelers says

      Ultimately as long as we’re completely legal and following rules on what can and can’t be done, perhaps it’s a matter of what we’re comfortable publicizing. If we can handle the impact on our reputation, then maybe extreme frugal behaviors might work.

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