Updated on 08.27.14

Talking Myself Out Of Frivolous Purchases

Trent Hamm

I’ll start off this time by relating a few tales of recent shopping excursions where I talked myself out of making some seriously frivolous purchases.

A week before Christmas, I was at an electronics store searching for a shower radio for my sister-in-law. While wandering around, I went through the flat panel television section. As I’ve mentioned before, our current decade-old television has cloudy corners and my wife and I agree that sometime in the next few years the picture tube will fail. Anyway, I stood there admiring a 46″ LCD television, envisioning how we would rearrange our family room to accomodate it, including some wall-mounted shelves on either side of it to hold DVDs and other electronic equipment. Three years ago, I probably would have left the store with a big box. This year, I didn’t.

Two days before Christmas, I spent most of an afternoon playing Halo 3 and Bioshock online with my cousin. I was atrocious, but I had a lot of fun. Afterwards, he practically begged me to get an XBox 360 so we could play together online. I was tempted, but I won’t be buying one.

Yesterday, I was at a bookstore searching through the cookbook section for a book with a good description of how to make some particular variations of homemade pasta – I’ve been trying some things and it always winds up being of a texture that doesn’t cut very well (it seems to shred, actually). I found an amazing Italian cookbook that not only clued me into what I was doing wrong (insufficient kneading and not running the dough through the roller more than once), but provided a very elegant description of the whole process. I was sorely tempted to get it, but instead I just read aloud out of that section into my voice recorder, went home, promptly added the book to my Amazon wishlist, and sighed with relief that I didn’t spend unnecessarily.

Earlier today, I was at a coffeeshop for a brief meeting with a potential business associate. I was tempted to get a big ol’ $6 coffee, but instead I just requested water, which was comped to me, and sat down at the table.

In each case, I was tempted to spend on something I didn’t need, and I resisted the urge to do it. The items were at a variety of price levels, ranging from the $6 coffee to the $3,000 LCD television, but the principle remained the same: I didn’t need it, so I didn’t buy it.

Three years ago, I would have probably spent the money in each of those situations, at a point in my life where my income was substantially lower than it is now. What changed? The biggest change was that I realized I didn’t really need stuff to make me happy. An extension of that is that I learned how to talk myself out of frivolous purchases.

I hear from a lot of readers who realize that stuff doesn’t make them happy, but they’re still having a difficult time figuring out how to actually say “no” to their purchasing habit. For instance, a reader wrote to me recently describing all of the spending that they had cut out, but lamenting that they were still having difficulty making ends meet and paying for their “needs” like “kid’s sports fees and equipment, new clothes for work, painting the living room, and counseling.” In each of those cases, they made a choice to spend and even if you realize that you’re making a real choice in such decisions, it can still be hard to say “no,” especially if you’ve spent many years saying “YES YES YES!”

My Approach to Saying “No”

For each and every purchase I make, I try very hard to talk myself out of the purchase by asking myself a few questions about that purchase:

What’s the best thing that could happen to my life if I make this purchase?

This question usually nails unnecessary upgrades, like buying the flat panel television. Does my life improve if I buy it? If it’s just an upgrade, then the improvement is just incremental – and if it doesn’t add any major features, that incremental improvement is tiny. With the flat panel, the only thing it does is increase my floor space in the family room by a square foot or two – and that’s only if I wall-mount the thing and rearrange our other home entertainment equipment. Not much of an improvement at all, especially compared to the price.

What’s the worst thing that could happen to my life if I don’t make this purchase?

This one filters out frivolous new items, like an XBox 360. If I don’t buy the item, nothing changes in my life. There’s nothing bad that happens in my life if I don’t have an XBox 360 compared to not having one. Obviously, this is a compelling argument for some purchases, like a cell phone, but for many things, you realize that nothing bad really happens if you don’t have it.

Do I already have access to something that substitutes for the function of this item?

Here, we’re filtering out redundant purchasing, like the cookbook. I already have cookbooks that cover most of the material in that book, so even though I’d like to have it and read it, I do realize that it doesn’t bring any new value into my life. In other words, perfect gift material – I’d enjoy it (likely quite a bit), but it’s not something that serves a need for me.

Could I acquire this item cheaper elsewhere?

This one encourages comparison shopping, and often stops the urge when the other questions fail. I often know I could find the item cheaper online or at another retailer, so I think about the cash I could save with just a little patience and that’s enough to get me out the door. You might also be able to get that same item for free: counseling could come from a valued friend, or a book might be had for free from the library.

Am I buying this entirely for social reasons?

This final question battles peer pressure, like the urge to buy coffee when you go to a coffee shop with friends. Why not just buy water instead? When you go clothes shopping, don’t buy clothes you don’t need just to be social. The real question is whether you would buy this item without others around – if the answer is no, you should never buy it.

In a nutshell, these questions are merely there to get you out of the store and away from the immediate temptation to buy. With time and reflection, you may in fact decide to make that purchase, but such calculated and researched decisions aren’t the problem – impulsive buying is the real danger.

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  1. Anna says:

    Why is this not theft?

  2. Tom says:

    What if he gave you a 360 as a gift? Would you be happy, or sad that you would have to buy games?

    For all those who happen to be frugal and did receive a console as a gift, I highly recommend online game rentals at gamefly. They are typically quite good, and if you really think a game has replay value, most of the time you can hit ‘keep it’ and play a reduced ‘used’ price for the game, where they will just send you the box it came in and all the materials. I like it way too much, and get good use out of it.

  3. Anna says:

    My previous post left out the section I was commenting on. Here it is:

    …I was sorely tempted to get it, but instead I just read aloud out of that section into my voice recorder…

    Why is this not theft?

  4. vh says:

    Great set of merchandizing-resistance strategies! Mine strategy is a little less elaborate. I ask myself three questions:

    * Why do I need it?
    * Will it make my life better?
    * Will my world end if I don’t have it?

    But the metastrategy is one you’ve mentioned in previous posts: Stay out of stores. And especially, don’t go to stores or malls to pass the time. Borders and Barnes & Noble are especially dangerous: I used to meet friends at those stores’ coffee shops, just to socialize, and while there would often pick up a CD or a book.

    Hmmmm… Is recording a recipe from a cookbook a form of theft? Seems a lot like tasting the grapes in the grocery store’s produce aisle . . . probably not very ethical, but unlikely to land you in jail. Guess the test is another self-talk question:

    * If you were trying to make a living as a bookseller, how would you like it if someone cherry-picked the content of your product without paying for it?

    LOL! I suppose in the proprietor’s place I’d start selling overpriced coffee drinks to make up for the losses.

  5. so says:

    Yeah, but lifting content by reading it into your recorder, and using a coffee shop for your own business meeting without patronizing their business in return, are just rude. I’m surprised you’re so proud of this behavior.

  6. tightwadfan says:

    were you just meeting your business associate at the coffee place or did your entire meeting take place there? if you weren’t going to spend any money (wasn’t there anything in the $1 to $2 range?) you should probably meet elsewhere. and the recording from the book also seems questionable.

  7. Questionable says:

    If you didn’t need it, why did you record it? You might as well use Limewire or something too.

  8. mamacita says:

    Trent, I have this problem all the time with wanting to buy books. The thing that saves me is the library. Even if your library doesn’t have a copy of that book, you can probably get it through an InterLibrary Loan.

  9. mamacita says:

    Also, a lot of times I will “audition” a book (esp. a cookbook) by borrowing it from the library to see if it is worth owning. If the book is truly outstanding, I will but it or put it on the Wish List.

  10. mamacita says:

    Also, a lot of times I will “audition” a book (esp. a cookbook) by borrowing it from the library to see if it is worth owning. If the book is truly outstanding, I will buy it or put it on the Wish List.

  11. !wanda says:

    @Anna: Isn’t such a small section covered by fair use? Why is it more theft than reading the book in the first place and having a phenomenal memory?

  12. TheFrugalPlace says:

    I totally agree with the Gamefly suggestion!

    My kids pay for their subscription out of their allowance funds and it has been GREAT! Much better than buying games, beating them, and having them collect dust at $60 a pop.

  13. Kelly says:

    I hope you at least gave the barista a big fat tip. Coffee shops are not meant to be a free place to hold meetings, they have to pay rent for the space you take up. That $6 coffee is the rent money.

  14. Azmom says:

    I have to agree about leaving the cookbook as qualifying as theft. Since it was in a store and not a library, the assumption is that you will purchase the information within.

    The same goes for reading magazines in the check out line.

    Someone went to the trouble of collecting, presenting and marketing this information in anticipation of a return. You took the information without paying for it.

    This doesn’t mean you’re an awful person! But it does prove that being frugal for frugality’s sake should have limits when it impedes on another entity’s ability to support themselves.

  15. mike says:

    if i’m meeting someone at a coffee shop, i always buy something. i’m using their space to conduct my business.
    it is only fair.

  16. FinanceJedi says:

    Keep mindful of the distinction between being frugal and well…being a monk. I could likely live with purchasing basic necessities. I could probably tolerate giving myself the 3rd degree any time I want to purchase anything that doesn’t fall within that “necessities” category. I could probably “chisel” my way through life, recording book phrases into tape recorders and mooching free water in coffee shop. But where is the fun in that?

    With this perspective, you risk distilling your life experiences into an unending accounting of pennies and the agonizing pain when you decide to part with them.

    I ask myself one question when I think I want to buy something: can I afford it? Of course, afford is a loaded term, but I feel it’s much more workable than the uber-frugal approach you’ve adopted.

  17. Laura says:

    I’m most bothered by the suggestion to cut counseling out of the budget. Sure, you’ll save some money, but you’ll lose your marriage or your mind. A busy couple with kids and jobs is unlikely to be in counseling for no good reason (I think most people in counseling probably had something seriously wrong to get them to commit the time and effort to going). Talking to a “trusted friend” is great, but it really doesn’t substitute for a trained professional, especially if it’s marital counseling, where you really need a neutral third party. And nevermind the question of medication… I would view counseling as a medical expense – non-negotiable. Sure, if you can get it in-network from an acceptable provider, do that to save money, or get generic medications, but cutting counseling altogether is risking their happiness to save a few hundred (or even thousand) bucks.

  18. Jim says:

    I’m sorry, but your alternatives to buying the book and the coffee come off as low class and shady.

    You are taking advantage of other people’s work and money to avoid spending money on things that aren’t free.

    Instead of recording the book’s contents on tape, how do you think the book store owner would react if you asked them to photocopy the page for you at no cost?

    Also, the coffee shop isn’t a place to loiter or conduct personal business for free. It is a venue for PAYING customers to enjoy the product they bought.

    Your questionable activities in avoiding “frivolous” purchases is impeding on other people’s ability to honestly earn money.

  19. Just this morning I was at the mall and was tempted to buy a cookie. What stopped me wasn’t the cost of the cookie but rather the cost of the drink i would want to buy when I got thirsty!
    And I agree with other commenters regarding the book: had you been at the library I wouldn’t have had a problem, but at a bookshop? A bit on the edge of ethical, in my opinion.

  20. I, for one, defend Trent’s actions. I assume the business associate bought a coffee, so the coffee shop got $6. Sure, if Trent also bought a coffee, they would have made $12. But, if the coffee shop didn’t allow anybody to sit down who didn’t buy something, the meeting would have been held elsewhere and the coffee shop would have made -$0-. As for the bookstore, yeah, they can put all of the books under lock and key so nobody can view them. But then sales would drop dramatically. Businesses are smart and factor all of this in. All of this is totally fair game. If the businesses lost money because of this they would change their policies. That’s the way I see it at least.

  21. Becky says:

    I’ll agree with Frugal Bachelor, at least regarding the coffee shop. If no one at the meeting bought anything, I would definitely agree that something should be bought to “pay” for using the space. As long as one of the two people bought something, I don’t see a problem. It’d be the same as if my husband and I bought one hot chocolate to share.
    The recording at the bookstore is a little more questionable. Reading a section of the book wouldn’t bother me. They have cushy chairs there for a reason, after all! But recording what you’re reading from the book? I don’t know….

  22. Kate says:

    I have to agree that recording a portion of a book in a bookstore is a mite unethical. Better to do it at a library. I have to say, though, that I often make mental notes when I am looking at books in a bookstore–oh, to have a photographic memory! :o)

    I don’t think getting water at a coffee shop is out of line, though. They offered him a comp water and it was a brief meeting. If both people didn’t purchase anything and sat at a table to conduct business then, yes, it would have been out of line. My husband and I usually share an entree when we eat out–although I do leave a tip as if we ordered two entrees.

  23. Mrs. Micah says:

    If Trent’s friend was taking up the table already–then not ordering coffee wasn’t theft or low class or shady. Going to a coffee shop on his own, just ordering water, etc, that would be different.

    Also, putting the book on the wishlist actually means that someone might PAY for it for him. Instead of getting it from the library—I presume that reserving it from inter-library loans if it’s not at your own library is probably also low class or shady? *sigh*

  24. Leslie T says:

    I’d like to comment on the cookbook issue. Yes, bookstores have books out there to glance through, so you can determine if a particular book will meet your needs. You found a book that was exactly what you were looking for and an author that had put in the effort to carefully describe a procedure that you were trying to learn. The right thing to do at this point is to buy the book. Not that you had to, but because it’s right to reward people who do good work that you will benefit from.

    There is a difference between frugal and being cheap. Being frugal is making sure that you spend money in productive ways. Being cheap is refusing to spend money at all, even when it’s appropriate.

    (The situations varies somewhat if you are really too poor to be able to buy the book. That is, if it’s a choice between buying the book and buying food, for example.)

  25. Jim says:

    Mrs. Micah – your presumption is incorrect, but I’m guessing you already know that.

    I’m suprised you cannot see the different between using a library’s resources and avoiding paying for information by copying it without anyone’s permission.

    And what Trent did IS shady. I seriously doubt that Trent asked the manager’s permission before using his voice recorder, because he knew that the manager wouldn’t give it.

  26. Sandy says:

    I think those of us into living frugally often find ourselves whether to cross our toe over the lines of ethical behavior. And I think we all have a different location for where that line is.
    We can talk ourselves into (or out of) any situation. Today, for example, my family had one of these situations. We were going to check out of our hotel, and we stayed in a hotel that offered free breakfast, free coffee all day, and a free happy hour, which included alcoholic beverages. My 9 year old, knowing it may be her last time in many months that Fruit Loops will pass her lips due to my food restrictions in my house, wondered if she could fill a small container that we had with us full of them to bring home. So, my line was….well, in the 3 days that we stayed here, we passed on the afternoon coffee time, and had only 2 beers with the free happy hour. So, I said yes, she could fill it up to snack on the way home, and I filled up my husband’s and my coffee travel mugs, too. Ethical? Some might say absolutely not, but there is always a shade of gray, and while if we had partaken of all that the hotel offered at the time it was offered, we likely would have said no to her, that it was just for the guests for breakfast at breakfast time. But we didn’t, and so I figured it was built into the cost of business.
    As far as the main points that Trent wrote about in this article, I found them helpful. I think the main point with all the technology available to young people, and as fast as it comes out and as expensive as it is, it would really pay to sit out the latest offering, and see how it affects your life. I’ve gone most of my life without a cell phone, but just recently started carrying one with me for emergencies, not for chatting. I’m not sure I have that much to say to anyone, and certainly not so coordinated to drive and talk at the same time. Only the schools and a few assorted people have the number, as it gives me the creeps to think that anyone can reach me at any time day or night…just my old age talking, I guess! It also feels as if technology is taking over much of life experiences. Never played a game on the computer (busy hanging out laundry and doing other life chores) and Wiis kind of make me think that children may never have to actually throw a real bowling ball or pick up a tennis racket, and feel the thrill doing well in a real game actually feels. They sound like fun, I guess, but I imagine we’ll help keep the bowling ally in business. Please don’t take offense to what I’m saying, it’s just that as my generation lost the arts of canning,baking and doing many things for ourselves (work related) due to technology, fun is now going to all be done on a screen, and games will no longer be actual “brick and mortor” but a world on a screen and not in the real world. That, to me, also seems really creepy.

  27. Mrs. Micah says:

    Jim–at what point do I have to put down a book in a bookstore if I’m not sure I want to buy? Can I read the introduction? Skim a chapter? If I don’t buy it, do I have to forget about it?

    Seriously…I flip through books all the time (very carefully, I wouldn’t want to hurt their resale value) and I might buy 1%. Another 5% I check out at the library and the rest I never come back to.

    Now, I don’t actually copy stuff out, but I sometimes write about it on my blog because it’s in my head. Or I look at quilting patterns and remember them in my head. But I don’t buy the book because the book on the whole isn’t worth it. I have a good memory–I could probably look through the recipe and remember it.

    Where does one draw the line? Am I low class and shady yet? Or would I have to do physical copying?

  28. Jim says:

    Mrs. Michah – retaining information from something you read, even if it is from browsing, isn’t the issue. Book stores welcome customers to peruse their wares – this isn’t anything new. But what Trent did was different – he copied the information so that he could get the full benefit that he wanted without having to pay for it.

    The specific copying/recording of the information is what I take issue with.

  29. Mrs. Micah says:

    Well, hopefully someone will buy Trent the book and make an honest man of him. ;)

  30. Keter says:

    I have to agree with the comments against the reading of the book into a voice recorder…that is definitely illicit copying; the only thing worse you could have done was if you had taken a picture or made a photocopy of the pages. Putting it on your wish list only partially redeems you. Shame on you; that wasn’t frugal, that was exploitative.

    I also have to agree with the comments against the failure to buy a coffee when using a coffee shop to meet meeting a business associate. In fact, I find that objectionable for more reasons than listed. First, coffee shops have been a savings for me as an independent contractor: they are a perfect place to meet clients and associates, and sometimes we take up a lot of table space and a lot of time. But we buy. All of us, even if it’s just a soda or juice, because we WANT TO RETAIN THE PRIVILEGE of meeting there. Worse, you asked for a free water…which by law they are required to give you, even though it costs them money for the cup or to wash a glass…so you actually COST the coffee shop money. That wasn’t frugal, either, it was rude. And in the long run, if enough people do this sort of thing, it will cost all of us when we no longer have an inexpensive and comfortable place to hold impromptu business meetings. BTW, you could have taken the cost of the purchase off your taxes as a business expense because you were there doing business.

  31. guinness416 says:

    I want to know where the hell you go for coffee where it costs six bucks :)

  32. !wanda says:

    What’s the real cost to the coffee shop owner if Trent goes there and conducts a brief meeting without ordering anything? All Trent does is take up space. As long as the coffee shop is calm enough that he’s not taking up space that could be going to a paying customer, he’s not incurring any costs to the coffee shop. (OK, ordering the water is pushing it, but water is cheap.) Plus, coffee shops promote loitering. So many people go in and order the cheapest thing off the menu and sit for HOURS sucking up the free electricity on their laptops, and the coffee shops are evidently OK with it.

  33. H-Bomb says:

    I agree with !wanda. We have tons of coffee shops all over Saint Louis. For the most part these places could give a poo if anyone purchases anything. They know they will make the money off the ones that do. Several I have been to have free games, magazines and wi-fi. Specifically knowing people are going to sit there for hours on end. If someone goes in and does order a coffee for 6 bucks and it is gone in 30 min but sits there for 4 hours doing research online does this make them shady? No. And as for the book. It may have been on the line of questionable but look at it this way. Borders and other stores have couches and on these couches you always see people sitting, sitting and you guessed it, reading. I bet 80% of these people are not buying these books and then going back into the store to read.

  34. Jim says:

    hope you at least tipped the server for bringing you the free water. Other than that, I doubt anyone cared that you didn’t order anything. If the place was full of customers with a line while you used up a table for your meeting while drinking free water, they might mind.

  35. Sense says:

    why not take a picture of the page with a camera phone or digital camera?

    joking. it doesn’t bug me too much that Trent did these things, but here’s my two cents anyway:

    i’ve always been of the mind that if you are sitting in a coffee shop or cafe, you BUY something. This crosses the line to cheap, not frugal. technically, it ‘isn’t fair’ for someone who DIDN’T buy something to enjoy the same atmosphere and amenities of an consumer-based establishment the same way a paying customer does. Not that I haven’t ever nursed a coffee or dessert with friends to stay longer at a cafe/restaurant, but you get my point. you gotta pay something, even if it’s a token buy–i hate this like i hate tips for water from a bartender (seriously?!), but WTH, it’s the accepted and polite norm…you aren’t exempt because you’re trying to save a buck. If everyone did this the cafe would go bankrupt (but be full of people) and the bookstore would never sell a book. geez.

  36. jm says:

    Reading a book in a bookstore into a voice recorder isn’t being frugal — its being cheap.

    Another commenter hit the nail on the head. The line is drawn where Trent basically stole the information from the book that was useful to him TO AVOID HAVING TO BUY THE BOOK.

    Why even use the voice recorder Trent? Why not just tear out the pages you wanted and took those up to the front to purchase?

    The point is not that the store allows you to read their books as much as you want in store. Everybody does that every day. The line is drawn when you take that information home with you by creating an unauthorized mechanical copy of it. The point is that Trent not only thinks its acceptable to copy copyrighted information without permission from the copyright owner, which is in fact illegal in the US, but then has the nerve to openly brag about it on his blog, and even has the cajones to congratulate himself for being frugal and encourage others to do the same thing. I’m sure if everybody took that liberty, book selling would soon become a very unprofitable venture.

    Also, fair use doctrine doesn’t apply here. Fair use is there to allow copies of part of a copyrighted work mainly for academic purposes and debatably for making backup copies of media you own (although that has never been tested as far as I know). Not to AVOID PURCHASING THE BITS OF THE WORK THAT DON’T INTEREST YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE BEING CHEAP.

  37. Michelle says:

    I think we’ve forgotten the point of Trent’s original post — learning to forgo unnecessary purchases in order to achieve/maintain financial freedom. We have to learn how to say “no” to ourselves when the purchase isn’t consistent with our long-term financial goals. We also need to carefully think about every purchase we make.

    So, in that spirit, I say good for you, Trent. Now, how about a cup of coffee? Just kidding!

  38. jm says:

    PS, just so I’m not being a total dick about it, I applaud your decision not to buy the TV and the Xbox360. That is frugality in practice, and something to be proud of, IMO.

    The coffee thing seems OK to me as well. If the owner was OK with it (ie didn’t ask you to leave), I don’t see it as unethical to conduct your business there, even if nobody in your meeting purchased anything at all.

    The owner probably knows if you have a good experience there, you are more likely to return and thus more likely to purchase something in the future, so the cost of you using a table is outweighed by your potential future business.

    @the people balking at the $6 coffee, I have seen $9 coffee in chinatown in philly. Just coffee. Not a frou-frou starbucks sugar drink. Supposedly everybody I know who has tried one is skeptical, but after taking the first sip goes, “Yup, that’s some damn good coffee — totally worth $9”.

  39. Ryan S. says:

    I often jot down the name of the book I see in a store that I’m interested in; if I’m =really= interested in it, I’ll buy it, but I usually try to borrow from the library first. I typically get gift cards for BN or Borders for the holidays (like this year, again) and use them in combination with coupons.

    That said, I 100% agree on dealing with frivolous purchases. I’ve really been wanting a notebook to replace my long in the tooth iBook for awhile now but I’m trying to put things off as long as possible!


  40. infix says:

    Just curious: what was the name of that Italian cookbook?

  41. infix says:

    “Why even use the voice recorder Trent? Why not just tear out the pages you wanted and took those up to the front to purchase?”

    It’s not even close to the same thing. Tearing pages out of the book would render the book unsellable. That would indeed have been stealing. But what Trent did had no negative effect on the book’s value.

    “The line is drawn when you take that information home with you by creating an unauthorized mechanical copy of it. The point is that Trent not only thinks its acceptable to copy copyrighted information without permission from the copyright owner, which is in fact illegal in the US”

    This is hilarious. He read part of one recipe into his voice recorder. It was probably way less than a page worth of info. That’s well within the “fair use” provisions of copyright law.

    What if he had checked out the book at the library and then copied that page before returning the book? Would you be outraged at that as well?

    Come on people, enough with the moral indignation. He read a couple of paragraphs into his voice recorder. No laws were broken. The store owner lost nothing. How else is Trent to know if the ‘trick’ outlined in the recipe book really works if he doesn’t try it out in his own kitchen first? He put it on his wish list, so he may indeed end up buying that book later (or someone may buy it for him), but if he’d never stopped to browse the book and make that quick recording he never would have bought the book anyway. However, given that Trent has many cookbooks already, it could turn out that that particular recipe was the only thing valuable for him in that book anyway, so I have no problem whatsoever if he never buys the book (or if nobody ever buys it for him).

  42. beth says:

    Like you, I have a question I use when considering a purchase, or when I’m clearing out clutter I already own. Mine is just a single question:

    If this item weren’t available, what would I do?

    That’s usually all the reality check I need, and rather than putting the emphasis on my ultimate fantasy/worst fear, it focuses on my own resourcefulness.

    The first time I asked that question, the item was a plastic travel case for a bar of soap. What would I do if it didn’t exist? Well, I’d just wrap the soap in a baggie, which takes less space in the suitcase anyway. Decision made! No soap holder for me.

    When the item is one that I do need, the same question illuminates my motives. For example, if pricey running shoes weren’t an option, I’d buy cheaper good quality shoes. But if those didn’t exist, I’d have to run in worn-out shoes and risk injuring my feet (or give up running).

    So, asking “what if this didn’t exist?” tends to help me zero in on what want, and whether I need the object in question to acheive that goal.

  43. Lincoln says:

    Another great post. I find that the choice these days leaves me paralysed to decide and I end up not buying anything. This although sometimes a little annoying is also a good little trick of my subconscious. My laptop needs a new battery but I keep delaying the purchase in hope that some special deal will let me get a cheaper one. It’s unlikely but the £89 is still in the bank.

  44. Cheryl says:

    All of the ideas for talking oneself out of purchases is great. For me I always check price comparison shops before heading out the door. If I see something in a shop that I want I do the same thing when I get home.
    Just curious here on the recipe thing….Did you do any research on finding the recipe any where else? There are many times that I’ve found an older version of a new recipe just by checking it out online. Also, he could have done the copying at the library if he didn’t want the whole book.
    To me I think one does what one feels they must to cut corners. I personally won’t buy a brand new book. I’ll shop for it secondhand. Or trade it on paperbackswap.com.

  45. Kate says:


    I applaud your methods to avoid unnecessary spending this week on most counts, but strongly disagree with they way you handled the cook book. That is theft. Think about how long it took the author to test that recipe, to make sure they weren’t stealing the recipe, to edit it, and to bring the book together.

    A better move next time would be to check out the book from the library. The library purchases the book for public use. That way, once you’ve checked out the book, you can study the recipes to your heart’s content!


  46. Matt says:

    You have became way to cheap for me. If you have money and something makes you happy get it. Don’t steal for other people to save money. If you kid really likes Fruit Loops look for a coupon are just spend the extra 50 cents.

  47. Two Nickels says:

    I too, am looking for ways to cut spending, and while I’ve had friends trying to talk me into buying a game console and other things (laptop, bigger TV, etc), I have resisted thus far. After playing theirs for a while, I think I made the right decision. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make up for the $300 HD Tivo I bought just before all of my favorite shows went off the air for a to-be-determined length of time.

  48. Julie says:

    So…when is the cooking lesson on making pasta coming, Trent? (Like the one you did on making bread…)

    IMO, I don’t see any difference in using a voice recorder to take “notes” than if you had sat down and copied the part you wanted into your little notebook. But I also think the fair use thing applies to very small amounts of information, not just in an academic or educational context.

    My two cents…for what it’s worth, I’ve always been very concerned about fair use and copyright law as I am a professional musician and it is very disheartening to see it misused and abused by people all over the internet and in public performance situations. Many don’t view it as stealing — they think the entire world is public domain — and that authors, musicians, publishers and researchers already make too much money. How will they know if I steal five cents worth of their material? It’s more the principle of the thing, since there is basically no way to police the fair use of published material and our government seems to have more important things to do (if you listen to the news you don’t need examples…LOL!)

  49. vh says:

    Musicians, photographers, and artists (in my observation as a magazine editor) seem a lot more savvy about copyright than writers.

    Hey, folks: The people who bring us entertainment, truth, beauty, and how-to-do-it advice have nothing to sell but their words, their music, and the physical product of their art. If we think we’re entitled to those products for free and just rip them off at will, then pretty soon musicians, photographers, artists, and writers will simply quit doing their art and writing their books, articles, and poems. A great deal will be lost to each of us than the bucks it costs to buy a book, a CD, a photograph, a painting, or a sculpture.

  50. Andre says:

    Aren’t there people who just sit in book stores and read books? Aren’t they all stealing by using the merchandise, but not paying for it? But, no one chases them out…

    Kudos for getting a good pasta recipe! It’s like having to buy a whole CD when you want only one song.

    As for the coffee, sure it’s not exactly fair, but J.K. Rowling would have never written Harry Potter had she not sat in a coffee house several times a week without buying anything. Now, that coffee house is famous. Conclusion: let’s not forget about karma.

    Lets not forget about the meat of the article either. I’m gonna copy down these points and put them in my wallet somewhere to remind me. I would also add an incubation or cool off period to the list. I hate buy something in the spur of the moment…

  51. jm says:

    “It’s not even close to the same thing. Tearing pages out of the book would render the book unsellable. That would indeed have been stealing. But what Trent did had no negative effect on the book’s value.”

    In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, there is no difference. Both practices are unsustainable. A book isn’t just an object you buy to take home and put on your shelf. That object is only the container for the real value, the information the book contains. If you just take that value by some other means, the book ceases to have value to you, just as much as if you physically tore the pages from the book.

    Yeah, somebody else could come along and buy the book, but that is not the point. Maybe nobody will come along and buy it, where Trent could have bought it, but decided instead to simply steal the content.

    If everybody does as Trent did, there would be no more bookstores, and yet he is advocating that we all follow his example.

    And there is a HUGE difference, again in my opinion, between not buying a $2000 TV because you can squeeze a few more months out of your current one, and not buy a probably $10 book because you can simply steal the content you need for free.

    One tip is indeed being frugal, is sustainable (ie everyone can do it without ill effect to society in general), and is admirable. The other one is just being cheap.

  52. jm says:

    Also, just to clarify: its not so much that he personally copied from the book that really bothers me about it, its that he’s telling everybody else in his subscriber list, probably thousands of people, that its ok to do the same thing, when its really not.

    So now we are talking about potentially thousands of unsold books because everybody here will think its perfectly OK to go over to Barnes and Noble and copy down recipes because they only like one or two from the book.

  53. Eileen says:

    I too feel that reading sections of the book into your voice recorder while in a bookstore is inapprpriate. It is perfectly fine to “audition” a book–but that is what libraries are for. And the libary would charge for a photocopy. HUGE difference between just memorizing it and making an illegal copy. Not only unfair to the bookstore, but to all the rest of us who deal with higher markups charged by the bookstore to compensate for these loses.

  54. Richard says:

    Going back to the actual topic of the post, the biggest factor for me is that I spend so much time thinking about my future and what I want that I hate spending money on silly things when I could remove the last of my debts or invest it for more passive income. This also helps because I’ve been self-employed since I graduated a year and a half ago; thinking about what I really want and why keeps my highly motivated to both increase my income and use my money well. There was a time not long ago where I would have thought available credit was almost the same as gift money, but now handing over money – whether I pay for it now or later – feels like I really am paying with an arm and a leg because I know there are many other things I can do that will make me happier.

    You don’t need to pay for things with cash (as many people say) to feel the pain of handing over your future one piece at a time. If you don’t have specific goals and plans it’s a lot easier to get distracted by things that don’t help you.

    (If copying a paragraph from the book is a big problem for the author Trent should be complaining loudly about the people – there are probably many – who benefit directly or indirectly from his work and don’t pay him the full value of their gains. He could probably buy the store if they did!)

  55. Judy says:

    While I agree with your premise, why is counseling a choice? If you had a kid with Type 1 diabetes would insulin also be a choice?

  56. M3 (and family) says:

    Sorry, Trent, the whole family agrees with many of the posters. (Yes, I share your “wisdom” with my sons and my husband.) The television and the xBox 360 are good examples of good decision making, but the book and the coffee shop are questionable ethically. If the pasta-making knowledge was so important AND you didn’t want to pay for it, you should have done an exhaustive internet search or gone to your local library. The family says you stole the information. As for the coffee shop, if you hadn’t wanted to pay to meet this person, you should not have used someone else’s establishment. You could have arranged the meeting to take place at your new home…already paid for, no conflict. Sorry, but you dropped the ball on this one.

  57. Sandra Jensen says:

    Ouch! Trent – I love your site – and appreciate the thought you put into this post. I think maybe you (we) are still trying to find your “center” for spending. Can being too much of a (former) spender make us too frugal at times? Your posts on charity giving, including “L’arche Tahoma Hope” shows you are NOT selfish. Lincoln said today, “I find that the choice these days leaves me paralysed to decide and I end up not buying anything.” I think he has the right idea. We are all still trying to find our “center” for spending. We need to realize it will NOT be the same for all of us. Keep up the great ideas. Happy New Year to Everyone!

    Sandy – listening to the snowmobilers race down the ditch in front of our rural home in So. Dakota. :-)

  58. finleyrl says:

    I agree with those who posted their comments about the bookstore; that borders on tacky and thievery, in my opinion.

  59. Bill says:

    I hope all the critics will run down to their local courthouse and pay the fine next time they exceed any local speed limit.

  60. Eileen says:

    Bill, I gather that means you “approve”. That is your right as it is our right to disapprove. And I hope I am on a different street while you are exceeding the speed limit. When the cop stops you will you tell him, but it was only 5 miles and only for 5 minutes? See how far that gets you.

  61. infix says:

    And the libary would charge for a photocopy. HUGE difference between just memorizing it and making an illegal copy.

    You could check the book out and scan it at home for free. Scanning a small number of pages would fall under “fair use” provisions of copyright law. Now laws broken either way, but for some reason everyone is complaining about the voice recorder in the bookstore case, but they would not complain about scanning a few pages from a checked-out library book.

  62. infix says:

    “Now laws broken either way”
    Should be:
    “No laws broken either way”

  63. Anna says:


    The library book has been bought and paid for, and it’s available for public use.

    The book in the bookstore has not yet been bought and paid for.

    Several people seem to have confused obedience to law (e.g. the copyright law) with what is ethical and appropriate and not sleazy. There’s a difference. All kinds of actions are legal but are nevertheless not honorable.

    Jim, in his first post on this thread (4:36 pm Dec. 29), got it right and articulated the issue very well. I recommend rereading his post attentively.

  64. Eileen says:

    You are correct Anna. This is not so much about laws, but about principals of behavior. And Frugality does not excuse us from doing what is right. My Mom used to say “if you were the other person how would you feel.” Doesn’t matter if you got caught and/or broke a law, some things are just not appropriate.

  65. Kate says:

    I wonder what Trent must be thinking as the number of postings on this topic grows, but I am glad to see such spirited debate over what is ethical and legal in the matter of copyright. As technology changes, the proper use and copying of copyrighted materials may seem unclear and people may knowingly or unknowingly break copyright law.

  66. Jillian says:

    Never mind the ethics of the coffee and the book, the part that got me was that Trent was at the coffee shop with a potential business associate and didn’t buy anything.

    I know you shouldn’t spend money just for the sake of appearances, but this potential associate is sitting across from you in the coffee shop weighing up what type of guy you are and right now he just thinks you’re weird and cheap and is wondering if he did something wrong in suggesting meeting at a coffee shop.

    If I were meeting a potential business associate for the first time I would go out of my way to build as much ‘common ground’ as possible between us. Emphasize our similarities, not our differences. Six bucks (or perhaps a cheaper option) is a small price to pay to help a potential new business associate feel at ease at your first meeting. Sometimes you’ve got to keep a lid on your beliefs until the relationship has a chance to get established.

  67. Eileen says:

    Yes, by now I wonder if Trent is realizing that it would have been more economical to spend the 20 or so for the book and 3-5 bucks for a drink? He himself has mentioned realizing it makes more sense to buy high quality replacements that will last. Sometimes a short term expenditure saves you money in the long run.

  68. Tina says:

    All of this discussion reminds me of the argument that my family always has about using a public restroom. If we go into a gas station to use the restroom, should we buy something from them? My husband says a public restroom is public and therefore the public can use it without charge. I feel like a creep if I walk in, use the loo and walk back out without making a purchase. [shrug]

  69. infix says:

    “I know you shouldn’t spend money just for the sake of appearances, but this potential associate is sitting across from you in the coffee shop weighing up what type of guy you are and right now he just thinks you’re weird and cheap and is wondering if he did something wrong in suggesting meeting at a coffee shop.”

    Well, perhaps the potential business associate was meeting with Trent to discuss something related to this blog or money management – in that case they might find it impressive that Trent was able to walk the walk and talk the talk.

    “The library book has been bought and paid for, and it’s available for public use.

    The book in the bookstore has not yet been bought and paid for.”

    Anna: that’s completely irrelevant. The argument can be made (and in fact has been), that libraries are “stealing” book sales because of the free availability of the books there. It sounds like you would have to agree with that argument if you want to maintain some sort of consistency in your thinking.

    So what if the library bought the copy of the book; aren’t all those people who check it out at the library instead of buying it in fact “stealing” under your argument? It’s possible that thousands of potential sales have been lost for each book that the library has in it’s collection.

  70. Eileen says:

    Infix, I find your statement about the library irrelevant. The Library system has been around since the days of Ben Franklin. It is an established procedure that every author and every reader is well aware of. The Library purchased the book, and borrowers are free to make use of it. Yes copyright laws still apply and everyone is “on their honor” not to break those laws. A decade or so ago that wasn’t an issue as few people had copiers and scanners in their home, now it is more of a problem. But you still are not supposed to do it.
    Trent was more than welcome to visit the library and sit there and copy whatever he chose. A library is supported by taxes and is not for profit. But it is cheesy to go to a bookstore, which is a business, and treat it as a libary.

  71. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    This opened up some interesting arguments. I view bookstores as places to browse books – I have no hesitation and see no ethical problem with taking notes from those books. It’s no different than taking notes from a library book, except that I might actually be compelled to buy the book at the bookstore.

    As for the water, again, we’re only at the place because someone intends to buy coffee. If someone says, “Meet me at the coffee shop,” I don’t feel a need to buy coffee – I don’t drink it.

  72. H-Bomb says:

    I view Trent’s recorder as his pensive 9speaking of J.K.R). He has so many thoughts and ideas running around up there, I can imagine it being hard to find a specific one at any given time. I am sure the information he recorded was just a small amount, a bit of information he did not want to forget. It would be like going to look at paint colors and recording the names and brands to refer back to later. “insufficient kneading and not running the dough through the roller more than once”
    I am sure this is information you can find anywhere online, but he had the info right there so he made a quick “mental” note of it so he could pull it out later, for himself mind you, not to reproduce and use for profit. It would be like scanning the front page of a newspaper without putting money in the machine to purchase the whole thing and then have a conversation about the headline with a coworker later on.

  73. Andrea says:

    Yet another weigh-in. Trent’s advice about weighing and evaluating when to spend money is spot on, which is what keeps us coming back. The issue of “theft” of intellectual property or taking advantage of a business by using their facilities but not buying anything is quite another matter and I agree strongly that is an ethical violation at worst, a very slippery slope at best. I believe the two are unrelated except for the small point that our own cost-saving techniques should never be at the expense of the kindness or hospitality of an individual or a business. Passing up a Starbuck’s fix is one thing; hunkering down there, using their clean tables, WIFI and heat on a cold winter’s day without buying anything is quite something else.

  74. Mohammed says:

    1) The book is still in the store, at full retail price. So the store owner will get his/hers, soon.

    2) It’s on the Wish List AS WELL. So, potentially 2 sales for the book. Author gets double his/hers!

    But, Trent – how about just mentioning the name/author for everyone here. A bit of free advertising should be sufficient to pay it forward, right? I think bookstores (online and footfall) have both had some free advertising out of the article!

    A poor man came over to a restaurant, went into the kitchen and smelled the soup. The chef complained. The case went to court for a financial settlement. The judge shook some coins in the chef’s ear and said, “The sound of money should more than cover the cost of the smell of soup.”

  75. Ro says:

    Interesting arguments each way. I’m inclined to go with the “that’s just too cheap” crowd. I don’t know anything about fair use laws so I can’t really speak to that, but it does seem a bit skeevy to record something from a book in a bookstore, sorry. And even if coffee was ordered by your potential business associate, I think just ordering the water was really cheap. If you don’t drink coffee you could have chosen something else. Honestly, my family does lots of business with really wealthy people, most of whom, if they sniff cheap, they will take their business elsewhere. I’m not saying that’s a great thing on their part, but it’s the truth.

    However, by far the greatest problem I see with your piece is your “advice” on cutting out marriage counseling. Hopefully you have never been in a position where you needed it, but if you do, going to a trusted friend is not the solution by the time you get to that point.

    So basically the usuable info in this piece boils down to don’t buy expensive electronics you don’t really need. :)

  76. tightwadfan says:

    “I view bookstores as places to browse books – I have no hesitation and see no ethical problem with taking notes from those books. It’s no different than taking notes from a library book, except that I might actually be compelled to buy the book at the bookstore.”

    No. A library has bought that book, so the author has been compensated even though you haven’t personally bought the book. And your taxes support the library so you have contributed to the resources you are using.

    ” If someone says, “Meet me at the coffee shop,” I don’t feel a need to buy coffee – I don’t drink it.” ”

    I agree, if you are just meeting at the coffee shop, but if you are conducting your entire meeting there and taking up a table, at least one person should buy something. And every coffee shop I go to sells non-coffee items.

    In your defense, I have to say maybe we’ve been too hard on you, I don’t think what you did at the coffee shop and bookstore was that bad. I do think we need to make you aware of the iffiness, though. When you start on the frugal lifestyle, if you are also trying to live an ethical life, you have to watch out that you aren’t crossing the line to being cheap. Sometimes it can be tricky. The Tightwad Gazette contains a very good essay on this issue.

  77. beth says:

    Chiming in late, but I don’t think anyone has made this point: I hope that you consciously choose to purchase from this bookstore, even if it costs a tiny bit more, to repay them for the free use you’ve been making from their items!

  78. infix says:

    “No. A library has bought that book, so the author has been compensated even though you haven’t personally bought the book. And your taxes support the library so you have contributed to the resources you are using.”

    If you want to be pedantic, the bookstore has purchased the book for resale.

  79. Ryan says:

    infix, I think those are two different things.

    If, and I’m saying if, we consider what Trent did to be stealing, then the book store did lose money in the form of opportunity cost. By copying some of the text into a voice recorder from a library book, no one loses money since the library book was likely provided directly from a wholesaler or was donated by other citizens who purchased the book at some point.

    I don’t know, I can agree with both arguments…it’s a tough call to make.

  80. rstlne says:

    “If you don’t need it, you don’t buy it” is commendable but it is possible to take that mantra too far. All you really need is food and shelter. (No clothes needed if you don’t go out. :) ) But think about what the world will be like if everyone only used food and shelter. I don’t think that extreme is better than the debt-laden consumerism we have now. Sometimes, you have to consider that it may be worth spending a few dollars here and there to support what you want to see in this world.

  81. Ellie says:

    Dear Trent,

    Life is short.

  82. m_s says:

    @infix: libraries pay royalties each time a book is borrowed, whereas most bookshops operate on a sale-or-return basis, so they don’t actually pay for the book until someone buys it.

  83. Sarah says:

    I agree with other commenters that counseling is NOT a frivolous expense. Psychotherapy is a form of medical treatment that is a necessary health expense for many, many people. In some cases, it’s preventative care that may or may not be warranted, but for many people, it is NOT a choice.

    I have to stress this point because the attitude that mental healthcare is “elective” has led many insurance companies to only provide the most minimal coverage for mental health expenses. I am very fortunate to live in a state where mental health parity is the law. If I didn’t, I would likely be living on the streets, like so many others with severe mental illness do.

    If someone is suffering from chronic physical pain, it’s obviously worth some expense for them to get proper medical treatment. The same is true of someone who is suffering from chronic psychological pain.

  84. aj says:

    What on earth is more frivolous than a waterproof radio? Didn’t this question occur to the 85 other people who bothered to respond to this post?

    If your sister-in-law is showering for long enough to actually listen to something, she is wasting energy and water.

  85. Beth says:

    @m_s – I really don’t think libraries pay royalties based on book use. I worked in one for years, have my master’s in library science, and have never heard this before.

    On the other hand, on a library tour in Toronto I learned that in Canada, libraries DO pay authors some money, based on either holdings or circulation (I can’t recall what the metric is), so perhaps you’re thinking of a different system.

  86. JJ says:

    I call BS on this – if anyone actually FOLLOWED this advice, they’d spend money on food, clothing, and shelter alone and spend the rest of their time sitting in the middle of their unfurnished apartment counting piles of coins ala Scrooge McDuck. Lord knows you’ll never watch a movie (unless you download it from Limewire), meet with friends for drinks (unless the bar will let you sip water for free), or get help in saving what is sure to be a VERY troubled personal relationship.

    Every step of this list leaves no room for value judgements – either it’s essential to your survival or it’s unnecesary. You don’t come off as ‘frugal’ here. At best you’re downright miserly cheap. At worst maybe a habitual small-time thief.

  87. Bill says:

    Like I said before, those crticizing better be running down to their local courthouse and paying the fine/court cost every time they exceed the speed limit.

    That’s a black and white issue – no shades of grey there – you owe the fine even if no one caught you.

    If you want to impose such an exacting standard on the OP, the rest of us expect you to live up to it as well.

  88. Ryan says:

    These are great ideas. Here is another: audit yourself. If you use a credit or debit card and have the ability to review your past purchases online, do so. Take note of wallet draining patterns. Also look around your house or apartment at all the crap that you have bought and question whether its value has or has not endured.

  89. mike says:

    They have cookbooks at the library.

  90. Nicole says:

    Reading the recipe into a voice recorder is not illegal, and, therefore, in my view not unethical. It’s simply not stealing. The book goes back on the shelf to be sold, hopefully, to someone else. Lots of bookstores now allow you to sit and read books and magazines these days without buying them. While doing so, you can also take notes from those books, and no one will stop you. Reading into a voice recorder is essentially the same – just faster and more efficient, so the book goes back on the shelf faster for someone else to buy. In the old days, bookstores would not let you do this, but times have changed. They realize it is a better business policy to lure people in with the offer of free reading, while hoping that nine out of ten will end up buying something on impulse. Being the one fish in ten that takes advantage of the free bait without getting hooked is the very essence of frugality.

  91. anna says:

    Don’t do the voice recordings or notetalkings in the bookstore anymore. It’s not illegal, but trust me: the bookstore employees aren’t going to be happy with you. They don’t complain, because they’re generally not allowed to do so, but that’s not the same as saying it’s all right.

    I don’t know the issues relating to intellectual property, but the store is a for-profit industry. Unlike the library, which is supported by taxes, the bookstore is a for-profit business.

    So the only way that store is getting money is from the books it sells. So when you copy from the libary, the librarians still get paid. When you copy from the bookstore, the clerks don’t get anything. And it’s not even like a coffeeshop, which can expect a even an hourly sale of the same product: you can buy the same item for as long as you can stand to drink it. But once you’ve gotten the information from the book, you don’t need to buy it anymore.

    Browsing the book to see if you like it (even if you decide not to buy) implies that you would buy something if you liked it. Reading a book you like so you don’t have to pay is totally different: you don’t plan to spend money there at all. And then sending it your Amazon list is worse: now the sale isn’t even at the store you were visiting. So not only is the clerk not getting paid, but the city isn’t even getting the tax revenue.

    It’s not any more difficult to make the trip to the library and get a library loan…so please don’t confuse the two. A bookstore, no matter how comfy the chairs and how nice the staff, is not a library. If people keep treating bookstores as if they were (not to mention outsourcing the sales on Amazon) you’ll just see fewer stores around, or less workers in the stores you do see — when sales are down, the easiest way to cut cost is by cutting payroll.

    So use your tax dollars wisely if you want to be frugal, and support your local businesses if you want to see any* of the money recycled back into your community. Please don’t encourage your readers to confuse the expected use of these two types of businesses.

    Even a big box store is better than the out of state one, just from the jobs it employs.

  92. anna says:

    again for emphasis: just because employees don’t confront you, it doesn’t mean they’re approving of your actions. It may very well mean they’re not allowed to confront you to complain about it, as they’re most likely not the proprietor.

  93. Andrew says:

    I often note down the ISBN numbers from books I see at bookshops (especially those tempting catalogues at the end of exhibitions) so that I can get them for free from the library later on. Am I really any different from Trent in this respect? I am still recording information from the book in order to get something I otherwise couldn’t afford.

    How many people criticizing Trent for copying something from a book are piggybacking on their neighbor’s WiFi? (What, *none* of you? Sorry about that then! ;)

    Seriously though, the chances are more than even that any book you pick up on a bookstore shelf is going to wind up pulped anyway. A little more predation from people who just might be tempted enough by a bit of ‘shady’ browsing isn’t going to thin the herd any too much, and it might just see a few more books sold. Wise booksellers know this.

    Did anyone read that story a few months ago about a certain college bookstore stopping students from noting book details because the students were using the, er, knowledge, to acquire the books at a more competitive price elsewhere? I was vexed.

  94. m_s says:

    @Beth: it certainly is so in the UK, but the situation might be different in the US – as you say, there’s a different approach in Canada too.

  95. R. Webber says:

    I must admit that I didn’t read all 94 comments before deciding that I MUST reply to this uber-snob drivel. But I did look at a large number of them, and NOBODY (in the non-random, unscientific survey I conducted) mentioned anything close to the items I will henceforth elucidate:
    Item 1- What ever happened to keeping on-task in the electronics store? Did you find (and buy) a shower radio for your sister-in-law?
    But, I digress from my attack: The 46″ LCD TV certainly sparked the right things a week before Christmas. In the spirit of ‘giving’ (or at least ‘sharing’) several very ‘Christmas-y’ considerations got coal thrown smack in your family’s face: Your current decade-old TV, with the cloudy corners, is clearly getting in the way of your enjoyment of why it is that you bought it for in the first place – watching TV, which requires a video channel that your current set is struggling at providing against the insurmountable onslaught of increasing entropy. Your enjoyment of the programming you’re paying for (one way or another) is being systematically degraded, and you are so tight that you impose a schlump video channel on your wife and kids, degrading the enjoyment THEY are depending on YOU to provide. Not a very ‘loving’ home that you’re providing for your family, and certainly a magnificent lesson in ‘tight-wad dad’ you’re teaching your kids in the best possible way they can learn it: by example. If you had a conscience, and merely for the ‘my great dad’ lesson to your kids, IF YOU HAVE IT AVAILABLE, the cash acquisition of said ‘video channel’ would send a strong message of your love and concern for them, keeping them home because of enjoyment rather than the “No, I’m not going out ’cause I don’t have any money” line they’re texting to their friends. Remember, ‘Poverty is not a state of WALLET, but rather, a state of MIND’. I don’t know who said it, but I’m quoting them, with my own two cents worth of “…and they’re right.” thrown in for whatever it’s worth. No charge.
    Item 2- Wait a minute: “Playing Halo 3 and Bioshock [online] with [your] cousin…” There’s something missing from your story: How was that possible if you didn’t have at least *access* to an XBox 360? (Maybe this answer is obvious; I’m not a gamer.) Please understand that I don’t *eschew* ‘gaming’ as some high tech way of mindless diversion; I’ve got too many ‘games’ IRL to keep me busy, entertained, and periodically, nicely profitable.
    Assuming there is a way out of this logical knot, my response is this: By NOT buying your own XBox 360, or perhaps arranging for periodic access to one in some friendly manner, you’re denying your cousin a very important element of growing up that he “practically begged” you for: Time spent, very enjoyably, with *you*, even if that time is spent online, at a distance from your personal presence. This builds relationships which build emotional stability which he will be glad, eventually, that you provided. A recent survey announced that, looking at successful people (success being measured by freedom from abusive relationships with substances, money, and other people, contrasted with an enjoyable life experience, stable families and careers) had close relationships with 2-4 same-sex people that exceeded 10 years in length. By refusing to “join in little reindeer games”, you’ve knocked a major stability pin right out from under the kid.
    Item 3- Others have already commented on the obvious larceny of your “reproducing these contents by any means…” so the question is not of your guilt, but of the fine. My family has been in freelance photography, writing, and publishing for a number of generations, often in spite of your kind, and periodically we have observed ‘our stuff’ reproduced in publications (and on the web) withOUT our permission or knowledge, and extracted large sums from offenders who thought they could get away with it. Copyright infringement cases are often EASY to prove, and fines BEGIN at $100,000 per illegal copy, so keep that in mind next time your itchy finger heads for the ‘record’ button, and hope that you’re not ‘caught in the act’ by in-store surveillance equipment. I’ve often bought a book or image that *exactly* hit a particular need, even it was only a single line or very small fragment of an image, in as much as a ‘thank you’ to the author/photographer as anything else. The resulting payoff is that I’ve got the WHOLE WORK now at my fingertips to enjoy, and I can’t tell you how much it means to be able to then absorb more of the ‘why’ that makes the ‘what’ so enjoyable. I hope your pasta continues to be smooth and luscious, and from this day forward and for the rest of your life, my hope is for it to sour in your mouth as you recall these words of scorn.
    Item 4- The coffeeshop incident is frosting on the cake. *Business* is business, and you clearly crossed the line. You mentioned that your meeting was with a “potential” business associate. While I will AGREE with you, that the “big ol’ $6 coffee” was probably WAY over what would have been appropriate, that issue could have been nicely and discretely addressed by a $1-$2 item, and would probably have impressed your potential client with your ‘frugality’ rather than blowing him out of the water with your uber-money-grubbing tight-wad-ish attitude toward ‘playing the game’. If I were your ‘potential’ client, seeing how ‘stingy’ you were would have given me cause for alarm at how ‘stingy’ you might be in providing the service I was considering paying you full market rate (or higher) to perform for me, and thus, my clients. NO SALE, jerk!

    My comments here have been intentionally sharp with the hope that you will re-think the ‘me’-centered perspective of your expressed views. We’re here on this planet to be CREATIVE and to SPREAD AROUND the good things that our creativity produces. The beneficiary of our creativity is not only our own enjoyment in being creative but in sharing the benefits of our work. The fallacy of clutching to your heart those “little green pieces of paper” as Douglas Adams put it, is so dramatically illustrated in life and nature that it’s shocking that you’ve managed to get this far without realizing the obviousness of it. Dollars removed from the economy lose value and thus prevent the good things from happening when others re-spend (or ‘invest’) them in support of their own situation. Food, when withdrawn from the normal cycle of preparation and consumption ROTS, and is of no value to anyone other than the rare wise person who can creatively re-inject it back into that cycle.

    Please don’t get me wrong on this: being *frugal* is smart, it’s wise, and it’s the right thing to do, but it’s got to be *balanced* in its exercise. Just as much as too loose a financial hand will bring down your house, too tight a hand will choke off the love and creativity you were born with and are expected to pass on to your family and those others around you. The “Law of the Harvest” is in full effect in this situation, and the better we understand it’s application, the more likely we are to be generous without being stupid, and frugal without wishing we didn’t have to pay the negative consequences of being too “anti-generous”. “The Law of the Harvest” is universal, and simply stated, says that you get back the same stuff you plant, after you plant it, and more than you planted. When you disproportionately cut back on what you plant, it should not be a surprise when your harvest drops precipitously. If it drops too far, then you don’t have enough to eat, and then you die, as surely you should. Then you get to *really* understand the fallacy of the “stuff” game: “The one who dies with the most STUFF wins.” Wins exactly WHAT? because you can’t take it with you. And all the work you put into collecting it goes pretty much to waste as I’ll probably buy it on eBay for 10 cents on the dollar, and hopefully when I’m finished with it, I’ll be able to find someone who can make good use of it and GIVE it to them.

    ‘nuf said.

  96. Jane says:

    Great blog! Found you from Frugal Hacks. Anyway, for years my weakness was decorative items. What I realized though, was that the ‘fun” was in the store. I enjoyed imagining how the item would transform my decor much more than the satisfaction once at home. Very few purchases actually do transform decor. In fact, sometimes an item would actually sit in the bag unopened at home for a day or two. Clearly not needed. To satisfy my urge to shop, which was something of a stress reliever for me, I switched to thrift stores. It is so much more fun! It’s rare that I find something that I want so there is this thrill of the hunt thing going. Then if I do find something it is usually pretty cheap. And, I don’t feel committed to save these items for the rest of my life.

  97. Liz says:

    In Australia the libraries pay a nominal fee to the authors to replace potential lost royalties income from the sale of their books. I’m surprised they don’t do this in the US.

    There is always a fine line between being cleverly frugal and being cheap. The restroom example is a good one. A PUBLIC restroom is one in a park that is provided for (here anyway) through local government, paid for through rates. One at a fast food establishment or gas station is not a public restroom as it were.

    I HATE McD’s and refuse to spend money there, but sometimes, when you need to use the bathroom it’s the only place around. So, I use their restrooms and then put a donation into their “Ronald McDonald House” box. They still benefit from my being there and I’m not supporting their ethics or buying their rubbishy food…

    Just my $0.02

  98. Karen says:

    I agree with the other posters – for me, copying (electronically or otherwise) something out of a book crosses the line. If you want to be frugal and not buy books, use the library. When I get interested in a subject I frequently take five or more books out at a time ON THAT SUBJECT. They can get almost any book you would currently pick up in the bookstore.

  99. allyssa rea says:

    alright; i really feel compelled to put in my 2 cents.

    first of all; to all the people saying the coffee shop needs the money for rent or whatever etc.
    it was probably starbucks or something of the like, and they really aren’t going to miss that $6, nor is their product worth $6, and people need to realize that. and also, they got their money either way, because even though the author of this article didnt purchase anything, the person that went there to meet with him might have, thats one of the reasons why places like starbucks or what not give free water, or free drink coupons, or free wifi, in hopes that you either bring a friend, who will purchase, or be tempted to get something else, its all about bringing the customer into the store.

    and second, recording a recipe on his voice recorder, is not theft, nor is in immoral. think about it, say its a large cookbook, about…cupcakes? okay, well say you bake cupcakes all the time, and have other cupcake cookbooks. but, in this one cookbook, there is a special recipe you’ve been looking for, and the rest are recipes that do not interest you or you already know…should you pay $30 dollars for one recipe and then let it sit on your shelf collecting dust? no… i’ve personally done something similar with the camera on my phone. most bookstores have couches, and people go and read the whole book, or magazine while there, once again, all about getting the customer in the store.

    and i’m not even that frugal of a person, sure, i combine coupons and loss leaders, and cook cheap meals. i stay in as much as possible, but the money i save usuallu only half goes to the bank, the other half is spent on designer clothing sadly enough.

  100. GEoff says:

    Anyone who is against reading at bookstores or making notes from a book in a bookstore because the author does not get paid is also defacto against libraries, borrowing books from friends, and buying used books. \

    My wife and I both read the same copy of the last Harry Potter book, was that stealing from the author? Should I have purchased my own copy?

    Really these arguments are ridiculous.

  101. Lisa says:

    “I HATE McD’s and refuse to spend money there, but sometimes, when you need to use the bathroom it’s the only place around. So, I use their restrooms and then put a donation into their “Ronald McDonald House” box. They still benefit from my being there and I’m not supporting their ethics or buying their rubbishy food…”

    Great idea/alternative, Liz! On occasions when I’ve been out travelling and needed to use the restroom but didn’t need anything to eat or drink, I’ve struggled with this. Now I will look for a donation box at the cash register before leaving. Thanks!

  102. dianne says:

    Geez people, Trent said he “read aloud a section” that described the process he was having difficulty with! No where did he say he lifted the entire recipe – it makes perfect sense to me. Plenty of people access bookstores frequently as sources of reference. I’ve done this before – I don’t need a $25 watercolor book (another one) but I see something in a book I want to try. Or a writing prompt or idea. Believe me, if bookstores didn’t know people were doing this, and welcome this, they wouldn’t offer tables and chairs and beverages to enjoy the absorption of information. We will be back to buy something else eventually! Now they don’t offer copiers and for good reason. But a section of a recipe – maybe a kneading technique or something? I don’t see any issue with that. Get.A.Grip!

  103. Becky says:

    Aside from the hefty debate over the voice recorder, I agree with the premise of this article. I am often tempted by “sale” and “clearance” signs even when I don’t need it. I love something an acquaintance recently said: “Fifty great bargains can still put you in the poor house.”

  104. Heather says:

    It’s funny how 2.5 years can change things – the comment about piggybacking on neighbors’ wifi? 2.5 years later almost everyone has wised up and put a password on their wifi.

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