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The Morality of Frugality

How far is too far in our quest to save? At what point does our behavior change from being frugal to being cheap, and in some cases, to stealing?

This has been a pretty big focus lately in some of the articles I’ve enjoyed and I think it’s time we delve in and figure out what’s ok and what’s taking advantage of lenient policies. This will be the first of several questionable situations and I’d like to get your feedback about how each situation should be handled.

Let’s take Lazy Man and Money’s dilemma:

He bought a TV 4 years ago from Costco, knowing that if something were to happen, he could always return it. That’s their policy, and when it broke a little while ago, he knew that was an option.

If it happened a year after purchasing the TV, I think almost everyone would say that returning it is acceptable, because we expect a TV to last more than a year. After 2 years, and that’s still within a reasonable time range, in my eyes.

After 3 years? 4 years? Where’s the limit? Does anyone think 7-8 years is ok? That would mean buying a TV now and then getting your money back after all that time, and then turning around and buying a new one with that money. So if you buy a TV now, you’ll be able to basically upgrade for the rest of your life. How wrong is that?

On the other hand, the people at Costco instituted this rule. They knew that some people would use the policy and they thought that overall, it would be good for business. They had to assume that while some people would take advantage of it, others would forget about it and not use it when they could (and probably should). If it evens out in the end, it ok to be one of those people who uses their policy to your advantage?

My take is that it’s still acceptable to return the tv, especially in this case. The TV had a known defect, so I don’t think it’s much of a question here. If the TV was simply old, I think it depends on the standard life of the TV, and at a certain point, it does get ridiculous to expect to get a full refund. In my opinion, the standard should be the length of an extended warranty. What’s the longest warranty you can get on a similar product? That’s the length of time you have to return it.

A quick look on Best Buy indicates that for TVs, 4 years is their longest warranty. He was within that time frame, so I absolve lazy man of any wrongdoing and he should be able to clear his conscience.

What do you think? Was he taking advantage of the rule or was he within his rights? I love hearing your feedback, so let me know what you think in the comments below!



  1. I would return it in a heart beat. Costco sold a lot of TV by offering that guarantee. He said he did not shop around because Costco offers the guarantee. I don’t think he is taking advantage of the rule at all.

    • @retirebyforty, I agree, but at what point should he say that he doesn’t deserve it? After 10 years, can he still take advantage? Should we all be buying everything from Costco and then never have to pay for electronics again?

  2. 4 years? I don’t see anything unethical about it, they can reject the return. I had a DLP TV (not cheap) die after about 3 years, not the lamp, the main board. I dumped it, as LCDs came down enough to buy one. When the larger one drops some more it will replace this one, which will go into the gym, and the gym TV to the dance studio for my daughter. It’s all part of the big plan. Paid for by me doing most of the basement finishing myself. Converting my sweat to big TVs.

  3. Definitely within rights to return. I think the burden of policy falls on the retailer here. If they have a policy that’s bad for them, it’s up to them to fix it, not up to the consumer to figure out what is acceptable or not.

    As a note, I have a friend who works for a bit consulting company and did some work for a national retail chain. I asked him a lot about rewards programs, coupons, and so on, since I definitely am a money loss for places like CVS where I totally work the coupons/rewards/etc. He told me that the retailers have done serious calculations on these kinds of things (rewards, warrantee offers, etc), and savers like me (or in this case, returners like this guy) are barely a blip in their systems. Essentially they’ve calculated these people in, and determined their profit from others far outweighs it (like here, people who are enticed by the lifetime returns, but never take advantage of it). Again, convincing me the retailers have done their due diligence, so I’m fine to do mine.

    • @Valerie, I agree that he has the right to do it, but since people like him make the company lose money, we have to look at not just when it’s allowable, but when it should be encouraged and when he’s crossing the line.

      Do you think if he had the tv for 10 years, would it still be ok to return it? Where’s the limit?

      Even though the company planned for some people to do this, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

  4. hat is wrong? It is great marketing for Costco. REI and Nordstrom has a similar policy. I feel very secure in making purchases small and large at either store.

  5. LL Bean has a similar policy. I love their flannel sheets and I had 2 sets over 10 years before I bought 2 more sets. Anyway, the second round that I bought started to pill after a couple of washings, but I didn’t really fuss about it and you only use flannel for a few months of the year anyway. Then the next year, I was really bothered by it and I really regretted my purchase.

    I decided to return them and upgraded to the Supima sheets which were more expensive. They have made me much happier. Yes, it was 2 years before I returned them, but I felt fine about it. I also think a higher return rate will hopefully prompt a change in quality control + testing standards. I am loyal to LLBean and will always buy my flannel there. To me it’s a good business policy.

    • @First Gen American, In your case, you should be taking advantage of this policy, because the product didn’t live up to your expectations. But what if you used them for 5 years and then thought that the wear and tear was lowering the quality. Would you still have returned them and upgraded? Or just purchased new ones because 5 years is beyond the normal life of sheets?

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