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11 most ethically questionable things people do to save money

Theresa Edwards


Shark Wrestler

Theresa Edwards is a freelance writer and professional whiner. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family where she enjoys reading, roller derby, and complaining about the heat.

11 ways to save money that are just plain wrong

There's nothing more satisfying than discovering a legitimate life hack, especially when it comes to saving a little cash. It makes you feel like you're in some kind of secret club where you all wear monocles and know which bakeries will give you free doughnuts on your birthday. But there is such a thing as taking it too far. There's saving, and then there's basically stealing, a line that a number of savings hacks over on Quora seem to be comfortably straddling.

Quora is a question-and-answer community, a sort of cross between Reddit's AMA and explain like I'm five subreddits, but with fewer trolls. Under Tips and Hacks for Everyday Life, one user posted a relatively straightforward question: "What are some unethical life hacks?" And people definitely delivered the goods. Not all the answers have to do with money, but all of them would require a seriously busted moral compass to use.

More: 6 steps that finally got me out of debt

Of course, many of the people who answered aren't necessarily speaking from experience. Some of the "hacks" in question could theoretically get you into trouble, so most of them have a "please just don't" disclaimer somewhere in the post. Here are the most egregious ways to pinch a penny or two.

1. Crash a funeral for food

One helpful grifter gives a five-step strategy for keeping grocery bills low:

  1. "Check out your local listing of obituaries
  2. If there's a lot for one person, there's going to be a big crowd, many of whom don't know each other
  3. Attend the end of the funeral service. Get a lift from one of the mourners to the 'after party'
  4. Consume free food and drink whilst muttering suitable platitudes. Dress semi-formal
  5. 'Mine-sweep' the venue for take-away comestibles"

This isn't illegal, which is more than what we can say for some of the others on here, but it sure is wrong. If you're hard up for cash on grocery day, buy a six-pack of ramen, and wait for payday. Otherwise, if you get caught scamming someone's mourning proceedings, you deserve whatever they give you. And it probably won't be petits fours.

2. Get free parking by gaming the valet system

Another five-step plan lets you park anywhere in the city for free:

  1. "Find a Restaurant or a cafe that has Valet Parking
  2. Give your car to the valet
  3. Enter the restaurant and exit without the valet noticing (they won't notice cause they are too busy in valet services and are mostly stationed a bit further from the place)
  4. Go to wherever you've got to go
  5. Return and take your car from the valet"

Seriously, though this may seem kind of benign, it could get the valet in a fair bit of trouble. Also, many valets work for tips, and something tells me that if you're not interested in dropping a tenner while you eat your evening meal, you aren't going to tip them what they deserve.

3. Get free parking by gaming the ticketing system

This only works in garages that let you park for an hour or so for free:

"...Grab a ticket like normal and go park. When you’re ready to leave, pull your car close to the entrance, and go push the button to get a fresh entrance ticket, timestamped to that moment (when you’re ready to leave). Then, just go to the exit and put your brand new ticket in the machine or hand it to the person. If you’re within the grace period, you will be charged nothing and you can leave."

This one is actually stealing — it's called "theft of services." It's not recommended, because if you get caught, whatever fine you pay will surely be much more than a few hours' worth of parking.

4. Never replace a scratched Blu-ray or DVD again by offloading damaged goods

"Have a [scratched] disc for a movie or game? Don't go buy a new one. Rent the same movie or game from a some kind of rental service. Then replace their disc with your broken one and return it."

Not a good idea. Companies aren't entirely apathetic or stupid about this kind of thing. Do this enough times, and it will likely raise a red flag, which is bad news for you, because this is also technically stealing.

More: 10 simple ways to save money on traveling

5. Get a 50 percent discount on every meal by being that guy

One user suggests you make it your goal to get every server, cashier and manager in your community to despise you by behaving the same way your crotchety great-uncle does when you all go out to Applebee's and he dislikes his Santa Fe salad:

"All fast food is 50% off for you. Next time you go, eat half of your order, and then bring it back to the counter, dissatisfied. They will give you whole new order and they will let you keep your existing order."

Not that it matters, but wouldn't that make the food 75 percent off? Again, not a great idea, not only because it requires lying and you don't want to be a liar, right? But because once you do this enough times, any restaurant you frequent will take notice and eventually swing the banhammer.

6. Better yet, get breakfast for free by grifting a buffet

This poster was pretty tongue in cheek when he suggested that you could easily save on eggs and bacon by simply taking food from a hotel:

"Most major hotels offer free continental breakfasts for their guests between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00. They don’t require verification. Just walk in like you’re freakin Tony Montana and enjoy a free breakfast on the house any day."

He justifies this by adding that hotels waste copious amounts of uneaten food, so really this is the right thing to do, but again, if someone takes notice, you'll likely get off scot-free while the concierge or front-desk dude takes the blame.

7. Wreck up home improvement merchandise for an easy discount

Need to reseed the lawn but don't want to pay full price? Just carry a pocketknife and your poker face:

"Go to a home goods store and damage the bags of grass seed or similar then point it out to a manager and ask for a big discount because it's damaged good."

Don't. Don't do this. If not for your conscience's sake, then for your own. These places have cameras everywhere, and big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowe's do not mess around with this kind of stuff. If you like being cuffed in the middle of the gardening section while the ladies of the senior center gardening club look on from the begonias, well, that's a different story. Go for it.

8. Avoid paying for a P.O. Box by... pretending to be homeless?

Don't want to pay the whopping approximate $6 a month for a P.O. Box to receive mail? Just lie to a man of the cloth instead:

"Pretend to be homeless, and find the local church(es) that hold mail for the homeless. Usually there's a set time each week where you stand in line to pick it up. Nobody would think of demanding ID from a ragged homeless person."

It's entirely likely that a priest would forgive you if he caught you, but if the idea of pretend-playing a person with no shelter so you can scam some kindly monsignor appeals to you, you probably have bigger fish to fry than your budget.

More: 4 grocery budget basics to keep you financially fit

9. Get free coffee for two at Starbucks by running a twofer

This requires a friend who shares your views on penny-pinching and flirting with ethics as well as your coffee preferences:

"You can probably walk into Starbucks with your friend (separately), let them order a drink, you pick up their drink when it's called and leave. A few mins later, your friend can walk up to the counter saying he/she never got her drink and they'll probably make another one."

And then you can never go back to that Starbucks again.

10. Get even more free coffee at Starbucks by pretending you can't use technology

This one comes from a former barista, so he knows just what to do when you're looking for that perfect mix of morally bankrupt financial hacks and probability of success. It's a bit wordy but worth the read because, well, it's kind of funny:

"At some point the barista will ask you for your order—I usually go with whatever’s expensive. Place your order and cheerfully explain to them that you had been offered a promotion over Twitter that gave you a free drink for downloading the Starbucks application. At this point, a secondary barista will likely start preparing your drink.

Stall the process as long as possible. Try opening the application on your phone only to realize that, oopsie-daisy—you completely forgot to turn your data on. Once you finally get the application working, prepare for phase two: pathetic confusion. Hand your phone to the barista and ask them if they would mind scanning it themselves because you’re a technological leper and have absolutely no idea how to work the simple application..."

It goes on from there, but we see two very big issues with this "hack" besides its questionable ethics. The first is that it is a lot of work for very little payoff, and the second is that it relies on the barista getting sick of your face and waving you through. That does happen sometimes, but what happens if you get the one shift manager who doesn't play around?

11. Replace appliances without eating the cost

This one is just like the scratch-disc trick, only ballsier:

"Buy an appliance that's identical to the one you have and broke, swap them out then return the broken appliance for a refund."

Wait, but why? If it's a small appliance that you recently bought (otherwise, how could you find an identical one?), most stores will do an equal exchange if you tell them it broke recently, even if you're to blame. If not, most warranties will cover whatever happened to your blender or whatever. A big appliance just means a bigger penalty if you're ever caught committing return fraud.

Bottom line is, a lot of these hacks were thrown around as hypothetical or tongue-in-cheek jokes, and that's fine. If you find yourself seriously considering doing any of them, though, it might be time to get a little introspective.

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