Previews, Coffee & Other Gratis Pleasures

A cup of coffee, poured from the pot at the back table in the fabric shop. (Well, perhaps a cookie, too. Or three.) Internet surfing, served up cost-free at the local Starbuck’s. (The really frugal customers just order hot water…or bring their own drinks.) A weekend of cable, sampled during one of the previews – and you have no plans to subscribe.

Is it right to take advantage of these freebies?

Some say no. This isn’t a frugal thing — it’s swiping something you have no right to. Reading a book, lounging comfortably on a bookstore couch, with no intention of buying it, has the same grabby feel. (Even worse, copying recipes and such out before you return it to the shelf.)

Others argue that these free-and-easy pleasures are nothing more than making the most of opportunities. “Taking a business up on an offer they made freely is not stealing,” one comments.

The struggle is more, I think, in your attitude. It’s not the item, so much as the extent. If your neighbor offers an apple from their tree, do you sneak back late at night and strip their orchard, on the grounds they meant for you to take everything?

Going online for an hour at your local McDonald’s is one thing. (A large drink will only set you back a buck — a small courtesy.) Hanging out all day, especially if you purchase nothing, is another. Watching the preview weekend is fine — getting your neighbor to jack the cable box, so you continue to get it free, isn’t.

It’s hard to know sometimes when to stop, especially when your frugal urges kick in. One uncle, otherwise a kind and thoughtful man, can’t resist clearing off all the sugar and creamer packets on the table at the restaurant — on the grounds that they’re included in the meal. (I’ve wondered if he ever tried to stuff the ketchup bottle down his pants, for the same reason.) He would think nothing of grabbing all the courtesy mints in the bowl, as well, if he could get away with it.

But the sauce packets tucked in the Taco Bell takeout bag? Throwing them away doesn’t prove anything, except a willingness to waste. (Besides, they come in handy when bringing your lunch to work.)

One of the local hardware stores, bless ’em, has a popcorn cart out back, with bags to help yourself. That fresh, warm popcorn can hit the spot between errands. And a bag’s small. Maybe I should take several…wait a minute.

Are you taking more than one, when it’s clear that one is offered? It’s easy to do. Even worse, do you take a quick look around before you do it, just to make sure no one’s looking? Better stop — and check your attitude.

This post is by staff writer Cindy Brick. Cindy is a quilting expert with several published books on the subject and has also had many published articles on a variety of subjects. You can visit her business website at or visit her personal blog.

2 thoughts on “Previews, Coffee & Other Gratis Pleasures”

  1. The free services are there for use as a way of enticing customers into the store or buying the product. I don’t feel guilty using Panera’s wifi while I’m there eating lunch or watching a movie on a cable channel’s free preview weekend. But, as you point out, there’s a fine line between using a courtesy service and abusing it. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to spend all day in a Starbucks using the internet (and plugging in my devices to charge) without purchasing anything but to buy a small drink and sit there for a couple of hours doesn’t bother me.

    • I agree with you. Even though I’m a tight fisted miser I don’t think I’ve ever crossed the line to abusing a freebie. I’ve probably skirted the line a few times though. If too many abuse a freebie then it ceases to be available so it is best not to abuse it.


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