There are lots of crafty things people do to save money. Some are good ideas, some are lousy ideas, and some are downright criminal.

Below is a list of these things, beginning at the top with "eating the free food at an art opening," which I consider to be completely acceptable, to "writing the wrong room number on the hotel bar tab," which is plain thievery.

Personally, I've tried the little things, but rarely do I do something that rates over a 20. I consider the items at the top to be healthy, harmless acts, but I've seen people balk at them, so they are included. Sometimes a person's behavior is dictated by a regular moral code, but if a scheme is tricky enough--or anonymous enough--it can get special attention.

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The Cheap Things


  Juggling credit cards balances for lower interest rates 2
  Eating the free food at an art opening 2
Buy a pack of gum at any store that accepts atm cards, get cash back to avoid ATM service fee 2
Leveraging a close family member's death to decrease a bill 2
Reading the entire magazine at the bookstore 3
Parking at a meter with time remaining 3
Bringing your own wine (not on the list) to a restaurant so you only pay corkage 6
Using the toilet in Olive Garden without buying anything 7
Buy CD, copy CD, sell the original on eBay 7
Join and re-join AOL under different names to get an infinite number of free hours 8
  Ordering only a cup of soup at a French market-style restaurant and rounding out your meal with 5 pieces of complimentary bread and jam. 8
  Camping out at a buffet through two meal times 8
  Taking lots of ketchup sachets from Burger King to avoid buying a bottle 8
  Getting your friends to write letters to your boss describing make-believe scenarios in which you provided fabulous service in hopes that you will get a raise. 8
  Cashing long-distance carrier's promotional checks when you have a pick-freeze enabled on your phone 8
  Failure to inform your server of unbilled beer/food 9
  Sneak into a high school for the cafeteria  9
  Buying tickets online so you can choose "Student" and get in for 5 bucks 9
  Doubling-up on a sale that is one per customer 9
Spackling the wall holes in your apt with toothpaste to get security deposit back 10
Double-occupying a hotel room after paying single price 11
Sneaking one more friend into the drive-in theatre 13
Taking advantage of a new lower price by buying new merchandise and returning it with your old, high-priced receipt. 13
Sneaking food into the theatre  14
  Dodging the conductor on an Amtrak train 14
  Renting a house for $600 and getting four roommates who pay $150 each. 14
  Opening a joint bank account with your grandmother to qualify for the no-fee senior's package 14
  Sneaking into a hotel to use their pool/gym 14


  Borrowing unused bandwidth from afar via wireless networking 14
  Ordering as many pay-per-view movies as your dish will allow with the phone line unplugged, since you're canceling service anyway. 14
Buying a CD, scanning the cover art, downloading all the songs & returning it unopened 14
Failing to notify a utility company for unbilled service 15
Buying a CD, recording it and returning it 15
Paying for one movie and seeing two 20
Taking two newspapers at the newsstand 20
Removing your front license plate to avoid red-light/traffic camera detection 21
  Robbing the lost and found of clothing that fits 21
Using the collect-call verification process to get information transmitted for free 22
Putting the correct address on the return address of an envelope so it gets sent "back" for lack of postage 25
Stealing pens/paperclips/notepads from work 25
Buying one cup of coffee at a diner and sharing the refills with your friend 26
Dreaming up an imaginary price-match challenge at Circuit City 26
Making long distance personal calls from the office of the guy who just quit 26
Using the postage meter at work 30
Stealing milk crates 30
Unauthorized sharing of an internet account 30
Tearing expired coupons in such a way that the expiration date is missing 30
  Get the dole, (unemployment) but do something crafty like make furniture or baskets and sell them at weekend markets for cash. 31
  Establishing underground trade relations between neighboring retail workers 31
Stealing cable with a pirate cable box or dish 31
Inflating the scope of damage after a car accident to get more money/repairs 32
Lying about your kid's age to get discount tickets 33
Eating seven free samples instead of buying something 33
Lying about your age to get a senior discount 33
Wearing a dress one time to the big occasion, then returning it 34
Eating Brach's Candy or grapes in the supermarket, and then not paying for them 34
  Bringing Tupperware into a buffet and sneaking out with a second meal 34
  Returning a book after you have read it. 34
Lying about the quality or exaggerating the faults of a flight so you can get frequent- flyer miles 34
Buying a video camera and then returning it after your kid's birthday party 35
Picking flowers out of the park/neighbors yard instead of buying them 36
Using your companies FedEx account number for non-work related shipping 36
Kinko's textbook manufacturing 38
  Repeatedly buying and returning a textbook until the course is over. 38
  Sneak overdue video rentals back into the store, place them on the shelf, then prove to the clerk as you check another video out that you *did* in fact return the video on time by showing that the video is there on the shelf and available for rental. 38
  Sharing food at a buffet with your non-paying friend 38
Downloading unregistered software 38
Hiding CDs behind the display in a store so that you can come back by on SuperSale Monday and buy them at half-price 39
Re-using your cup at Taco Bell by refilling with soda again and again on different trips 42
Joining a CD club with a fake name for the twelve CDs for a penny 42
Switching the item numbers in the bulk foods aisle to get items for less 45
  Re-using old/discarded city bus transfers. 45
  Sabotaging a piece of hair after your salon perm/hair color to get a refund, then going back and fixing the piece you wrecked with a box perm or color from K-Mart. 45
  Buying a computer, then opening it up and taking the ram out. You take it back, and claim that there was no ram in the computer, and insist that they give you the proper amount. 45
  Filling your water cup with soda at Carl's Jr 45
  Telling people at work PCs or printers are broken so they tell you it's okay to take them home 45
Saying it is your friend's birthday to get a free dessert 46
Using some other company's FED-EX account number 46
Falsely claiming you found a hair/bug/it was cold/ to get a free meal 48
Ripping buttons off of clothing to get discounts 50
Buying a coat at Marshall's or Ross and returning it to Nordstrom for cash or credit 50
Saving a webpage from an online store to disk, editing the sale value, then printing and price-matching the product at a real store 52
Making counterfeit stamps for your buy-ten-get-one-free coffee/video/carwash card 52
  Buying a second answering machine that looks like your old model, and returning the old one in the new box 53
  Sabotaging your hard drive to take advantage of your extended warrantee before it expires 55
  UPC/price tag peeling or replacement 57
  Switching plastic sleeves on new and used LP's with cheaper ones 57
  Starting nuisance lawsuit for settlement money 57
  Calling for credit for long distance calls to numbers you aren't going to call again 57
  The night before you move out of your apartment, tell the pizza delivery person that the order is very late and that the shift manager told you not to pay. Tip $3.00.  58
  Writing the wrong room number on the hotel bar tab 60
  Returning your digital camera to the store after removing the extra stick of memory 60

This is not a "how-to" guide. I am publishing this list because I believe that exposing these techniques will curb them...and I think it is pretty funny.

As a young man, I realized I had a special attraction to crimes that were clever. Mugging? No. Defeating software copy-protection? Yes. Shoplifting? No. Photocopying UPCs and re-labeling boxes? Yes.

Of course, "clever" is relative. Sometimes a clever scheme is one that is one that can be done without risk of detection, and sometimes it is one that is so ingenious that no criminal or shopkeeper has thought of it yet. Those are the ones that I like seeing in movies, like the Grifters, Paper Moon or the Usual Suspects. In fact, some schemes are so brilliant that the temptation must be terrific.

But be warned that the people who operate stores aren't flying blind. The Home Depot on Folsom Blvd. has a bulletin board full of "recovery stories" about switched tags and UPC fraud. It is great to think up schemes, but having a good imagination is no excuse for criminal behavior.

I'd like to name the values above, perhaps as "Daytons" or "Waltons." Unfortunately, I don't think anyone would want such behavior named after him or her. Suggestions?

Anyway, the more people know about them, the less clever they are, and (I believe), the less people will be tempted to engage in them. Drop me a line if you know of any really clever ones. (I'd love some international additions/cultural differences).

In November, 2002 John Harman of Virginia introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe's short story Diddling-Considered as one of the Exact Sciences. c.1850

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Last updated Nov. 22, 2002.

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