Saturday, September 15, 2012

The morals of mooching from an employer

Mostly, I don't mooch from my employer.  Mostly.

My general philosophy about frugality is, that getting other people to pay for the stuff I use isn't really frugality; it's just shifting the cost to somewhere else.  It's mooching, not conserving.  That's why, when I stay in hotels, I don't take a new shampoo bottle every day.  It's part of why I seldom use coupons (although avoiding stores is probably a bigger reason for my lack of coupon use).

I make a lot of personal photocopies at work, but I make sure to pay my office back for those.  (To make this less of a hassle for everyone involved, I pay in batches:  I have a paper taped to my shelves with slots for 143 tick marks; that's because at 7¢ per copy, 143 pages of copying costs $10.)

I don't take office supplies home.  Actually, it's often the other way around.   I'm fonder of wooden pencils than most people I know, and I've bought several sets of pencils marked with special mathematical statements for the professors and students in my department.

So, I'm not a moocher, much.

Until it comes to food.  And then, I sing a different song.  Because if there's an event on my campus that has "free" food involved, I don't get all hoity-toity about how someone else is still paying for it.  No, I show up, and I eat that food.  I come with empty pockets, and I leave with a full belly.  And often, I bring plastic bags and bring extra food home.  (See this post for my technique for mooching food in a decorous way -- it's not really as tacky as I make it sound here).

So, what's the moral difference between taking paper clips and taking pasta?

Well, here's a justification in my own head.  And that is, at any event that offers food, the hosts want people to come.  They really, really want to lure people in, and food is the bait.  The reasons for offering food come in many forms:  To get people to come hear the artist they've invited to speak.  To celebrate a professional milestone in a public way.  To build community by breaking bread together.  Perhaps even (hypocritically) to give the impression to others that their program is a popular one.

In each of these cases, there's an event where attendance matters.  And I'm a warm body.  I'll add:  I'm usually a warm, enthusiastic body.   I get a kick out of art talks and retirement speeches, even from people I don't know as well as I should.  And I do love building community.  But the thing that always gets me is that I go scarf down yummy canapes and crudites, and the organizers of the shindig come thank me.  

Would I do this even if food were not involved?  Eh, sometimes.  Last night, I got to take the boys to a local baseball game, courtesy of the college I work at.  We didn't touch the concession stands ($5 for a pretzel?  $3 for a soda?  Really!?).  But snagging tickets to the game -- that was a treat!

But my mooching habits aren't as pure as the driven ground-ball, by any means.  Because truth is, I just love mooching food.  It's taken me a while to find a way to justify this to myself, but the explanation definitely comes after the fact.

Food.  Especially food that is free . . . to me.   I love it.  I mooch it.  I scrounge it.  And afterwords, I invent a rationale and pretend that I'm being moral all along.


  1. LOL I am the same way we LOVE food and if you offer it for free well we will be there! But really some of the other stuff like taking office supplies or packets of sugar and sauces from restraunts is more stealing really than mooching and in the end, the cost gets passed on to paying customers in the form of higher prices.

    Blessings to you for the comment you left me, that really touched me!

  2. Here's my deal with food versus paperclips: if you don't eat the food, and no one else does either, it gets thrown out. If you don't take the paperclips home, they sit in a drawer to be used later. That's the difference.

    1. Good point! (And it makes me laugh to think about eating paper clips). -MM.