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Where’s the Line Between Taking and Taking Advantage?

This article was written by in Family and Life. 8 comments.

Archetypical contributed a great comment to my last entry, Surviving (and Thriving) on $12,000 a Year, with a very different take on Donna Freedman’s story:

I think frugality is great, and there are certainly things we could all do without, but I refuse to glorify this woman who gets praised for leaching off of everyone.

If only we could all get paid alimony because we refuse to get a job or if only we were all comfortable stealing food from starving children via the food bank maybe we could all be as frugal as her. She even mentioned that she would get food stamps if she could. It seems almost miraculous that a system which allows people to misuse it so regularly found a way to at least not shoulder her fake burden on society as well!

This woman is an example, certainly, of how you can try to put a positive spin on the most dispicable of activities.

I had ended up cutting my thoughts on toeing the line between accepting “charity” and sponging off of others out of my last entry since it took the entry in too many directions, but Archetypical’s points are valid and worth addressing separately.

I do feel that it’s fantastic to be able to live on low funds, but not if you’re always taking from the system and not giving back, and not if your activities are costing your friends and family, making them the sponsors of your lifestyle. I can’t speak for Donna Freedman, but the two friends I mentioned manage to toe this line very well. In fact, they’re always giving me things they picked up, “paying it forward” with things they no longer need, and bringing me home-baked goods (a plus-two in my book). If they didn’t have money on hand to contribute their percentage of the dinner costs, they’d make up for it by bringing wine or doing the lion’s share of the work.

It’s a delicate balance, and I do disagree with doing some of the things Donna suggests in her article on a long-term basis. Public services like welfare and the food stamp program are meant to provide short-term assistance to those trying to get back on track. We pay in, then collect only if needed. My assumption was that Freedman would pay society back in the long run for what it gave her, but then, I can’t say that for sure. Things like freecycling, however, I can completely support – it’s a system good for the landfills as well as for us.

When I reread from Archetypical’s perspective, there are certainly some things that cross the line of what I’d be comfortable with. I consider myself an “ethical consumer”, which basically means I believe in spending more to support the things I believe in. I pay extra for green energy, for example, or to buy my vegetables from the local organic farmer instead of the local Wal-Mart, but that’s another topic which deserves its own entry.

It’s challenging to balance that with frugality, but I think there’s certainly a happy medium to be found here. The couple I spoke follow practices much closer to what I believe in, and I’m glad to be able to share their story as a comparison and contrast to Donna’s.

That said, I’d love to know: where’s that line for you? At a certain point, taking advantage of opportunities can become taking advantage of people. Do you know someone you feel is saving himself at the expense of someone else, or toeing that line well? How do you manage to give back?

Published or updated October 11, 2007.

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About the author

Along with her partner, Sasha owns and manage six residential rental units. Sasha endeavors to support the causes and organizations she believes in through more conscientious spending practices. View all articles by .

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I think it makes sense for people to help one another through bad times and then be willing to help others.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I’m all for paying it forward and helping my fellow man on an individual basis, but I have a total sense of entitlement when it comes to the medical, dental and vision care that should be provided to every citizen at government expense. Since it is not, and since there are many policies that I do not agree with, I would be glad to take and give back as little as possible. However, I’m not interested in food stamps or food banks. We are not big spenders and prefer to save, and would like to take ourselves and our savings out of the country when we have reached our goal. Money just doesn’t seem to do much good here. It is far more valued, along with human beings, in other countries. The Guatamalan dishwasher had the right idea, and one that should be studied by Americans who could prepare themselves by being savvy of laws meant to oppress.

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avatar 3 Luke Landes

Sasha: I agree with your post here. Frugality doesn’t mean all take and no give… that’s more like what I would call “cheap.”

As far as the government goes, there is certainly an attitude amongst some people that one should take advantage of the government as often and as much as possible. I’ve seen that up close… people on disability who shouldn’t be… lying about unemployment… I could go on.

I do kind of cringe when those stories are freely told to me without shame. Part of that attitude is funded by my tax money. I want the programs to be there for people who truly need them, and I just accept that there’s a certain population who will take advantage of that beyond what they probable should.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Fraud, I don’t agree with. Claiming benefits that you are entitled to is fine. Although I don’t want people to cheat the system and I think that it should be written as fairly as possible, its more important that people get the help they need.

I mostly equate it with tax. I don’t think its ok if you lie on your tax return, but I don’t expect you to pay more that you owe either.

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