I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of frugality lately. I often wonder when little tricks we use to save money crosses the line of ethical behavior and enters into the real of stealing. Three examples come to mind.

1. The Laundry Mat
My last apartment complex had a laundry mat that charged $1.25 to wash, and $0.75 to dry a load of laundry. If you emptied the dryer before the cycle stopped, you could put in a quarter to extend the cycle by another 20 minutes. The feature is ostensibly supposed to enable you to finish drying the same load, but I often used it to dry another load without having to pay the full $0.75. This meant watching the time so that I could get down to the laundry room before the dryer stopped. Since we would have spent $40 a month doing laundry, you could say that I reduced my laundry costs by 25% by literally short changing the dryer. But was this trick ethical?

2. The Movie Theater
We hardly ever go out to the movie theater because it’s so expensive. But we occasionally hit up the bargain theater for $2 Tuesdays to see an older release. The last time we did this, we spent $4 at the ticket counter, then another $15 to purchase two sodas and a bag of popcorn. So much for saving money!

I have friends who sneak snacks and sodas into the movie theater in order to save money. I once listened to an episode of the Dr. Laura Schlessinger show where Dr. Laura criticized a mother who smuggled snacks into the movie theater. Dr. Laura told the mom that she couldn’t get upset about her daughter lying to her if she herself was being dishonest with with the movie theater. Despite the fact that she’s a raging homophobe, I think Dr. Laura might have a point on this one. However, it’s hard for me to feel bad about cheating the movie theater out of $15 in concessions, when I can’t really afford to go to the movies in the first place. What about you? Do you think it’s dishonest to bring your own concessions to the movies?

3. Grocery Store Savings Card
My mom, my aunt, and I all share the same grocery store savings card, because we can accumulate points faster with three households using the card than we could alone. The store also sells gas, and you can get free gas after you spend a certain amount each month. Even if you don’t get enough points for free gas, you can still get a $0.10/gallon discount with the card. Plus you get coupons and a gift certificate for every $500 that you spend. By pooling our resources, we get those rewards much faster than we could if we each had our own card. But are we cheating the system?

What do you think: can frugality cross the line into stealing? If so, does it really matter? Will the Wal-Marts and Krogers of the world really be impacted by our actions? Or should we be concerned with the impact that our frugal tips and tricks can have on our karma? Does the universe really care if I save $10 by cheating the dryer? I’d love to hear your opinion.