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Home » Lifehack & GTD

The Ultimate List of Somewhat Shady Ways to Save & Make Money

Last updated by on 38 Comments

I’m going to need your help on this one.

Because I’m a choir boy.

Yeah, OK, not really. But my imagination and dark-side only runs so deep.

Personal finance is a game. And its likely we’ve all tried to get a leg up on the competition when it comes to saving and making money at one point or another.

Now, I’m not condoning any illegal behavior here. But I am encouraging all you readers to brainstorm and share your ideas on actions that can be used to save and make money, which are, well… somewhat shady by at least some people’s standards – yet harmless to other human beings.

This doesn’t have to be an admission of guilt (unless you want it to be). Rather, a forum for your creativity.

Maybe you simply have an idea you want to pass along for others to make judgment on the ethics.

Or maybe you want to rip in to people who have been doing something you think is not acceptable.

And then we can all jump in to tell you how brilliant, diabolical, or just plain dumb your idea is.

Here are 10 examples (that I’ve heard of others doing, of course), to get your creative juices flowing:

  1. unethical savingsSplicing cable from a neighbor or jumping on their wi-fi for free, with or without their knowledge.
  2. Charging your neighbors to share your wi-fi or cable.
  3. Borrowing a CD or DVD from the library or a friend and making a copy of it for your personal use.
  4. Taking a few (handfuls) extra condiments from your local fast food venue.
  5. Sneaking a snack or drink in to a bar, sports venue, or theater, when it’s against their rules.
  6. Trying to pass off an expired coupon to a retailer or restaurant.
  7. Sending non-media mail as media-mail with the USPS.
  8. Sneaking past a premium-content website paywall through URL manipulation.
  9. Tethering your smartphone, when it’s against your service provider’s TOS.
  10. Playing “angry customer” just to get a discount (even when you aren’t really angry).

You get the idea… So share, judge, and have a wholesome time.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


38 Comments »
  • Frank says:

    I have to say that I definitely bring my own snacks to the movie theater. First, the markup on soda and popcorn is just way too much for me to conceptualize. Two, I can’t get myself to eat/drink poisonous concoctions while watching a movie.

  • Mike says:

    Borrowing a DVD from Netflix and copying it for personal use.

    Eat cheap (sandwiches, chips, and water) during a business trip and bank the leftover per-diem.

    Attempted to use someone else’s Kroger plus gas points by typing in a random number on the pump pin-pad… It hasn’t worked yet.

  • I read it on another site, but taking advantage of lost & found’s is another tactic. Picking up free phone chargers at a hotel or a free umbrellas at a restaurant were mentioned. I too do not feel great about doing stuff like this, but these items are a dime a dozen in lost and found’s and most likely will never be retrieved.

  • ryan says:

    I take items off the shelf at department stores and return them for store credit. (I actually never have but every time I’m at kohls I think of how easy it would be)

  • Kyle says:

    Whenever I watch White Collar I think about what “shady” things I could get away with. I’ve seen people talk about weird things when ordering goods online.

    Apparently on certain sites while your order is “processing” you can hit the back button and it doesn’t charge your card, but completes the order and you get the merch delivered. (I have no idea what sites this works on, if it actually does at all)

    And soda machine hacks where you trick it into thinking you put money in and it gives you a soda for free.

    Never tried them though!

  • Greg says:

    If I needed a tool or electronic device for a short term, or to tide me over until the better-priced item arrived from an online order, I would go to the local big box retailer who I despise, purchase it there, use until my long-term fix arrived, and then returned the original purchase.

  • W at Off-Road Finance says:

    Lot of small fry stuff here. Here’s a few non-trivial legal ones.

    – Run a penny auction web site. Note: apparently illegal only when combined with Ponzi scheme.

    – Professional gambling. Not necessarily illegal, but shady by most society standards. Some things, like booking sports outside a casino, are very illegal. Good money if you’ve got the skills though.

    – Survivorship bias in financial funds. Create 10 hedge or mutual funds. Take highly volatile positions in all 10. Close the 9 that perform the worst and keep the one winner. Pimp the hell out of its “exceptional” track record. Bonus points if your sales materials include “outperformed 90% of funds for the last 5 years”. Collect management fees.

    – black hat SEO/internet marketing

    – Use high pressure sales tactics in a market where people don’t have the mental stamina to say no. For example, selling caskets.

    – Solicit for a dubious religious ministry which has only one major financial outflow: your salary.

  • cjpitt says:

    I have definitely signed up for things just for the bonus or free promotional period knowing that I would cancel before having to pay.

    For websites that require signing up for a mailing list for a discount I have a throw away email that I never check. I also have a fake facebook account for all of those likes that I don’t want my real friends to see.

    The ultimate somewhat illegal money saving scheme I ever heard of was a guy who lived in a storage unit for about 6 months instead of paying rent somewhere else. It was climate controlled and had lights/electricity so he just set up a bed and slept there. He showered at a nearby gym and either ate out or cooked simple meals on a hotplate.

    • Jeremy says:

      On your first point, I am recently engaged and we found that many stores have special gifts and/or bonus coupons for registering. Crate and Barrel gave us a free little vase and everyone seems to have $20 giftcards to Shutterfly. We got our engagement pics in a coffee table book and will get all our thank you cards for the cost of shipping.

      We’re currently considering the moral arguments of going and registering at places that we know give gifts or coupons and just never telling anyone that we’re registered there.

  • Stve says:

    I’m surprised by this post.. it encourages dishonest behaviors. This is the first low of your site that I’ve experienced.. Encouraging stealing? Seriously…

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Can you please highlight exactly where I encourage stealing? (I don’t approve of stealing, btw)

      • Ryan says:

        I would love to ask you a question but can’t seem to find your contact info. What would be the best way to contact you? I can just post it here in the comments I guess, but it is about a topic i have not seen you mention (is money related tho), and therefore not related to this. FYI, it is not personal advice, it is about a general topic.

      • Matt says:

        Number 3. People go to prison and have large fines for flouting copyright laws.

        I must admit, while most of this is fairly benign, it has left a slightly unsavoury taste….not that I have not participated so here goes.

        When skiing, rather than paying extortionate altitude taxes I’ll make sandwiches and grab a few condiments to help them down.

        I’m also always amazed at how much food is thrown out, particularly at bakers. All the stuff made fresh that morning is in the skip in the evening. I’ve benefited from a little Biffa Binging.

        I’ll often make use of introductory prices. If the service is worth it, I’ll stay, but if not, I’m outta there.

  • Branden says:

    There’s a line all of these cross, and that’s cheating others’ hard work and their own businesses.

    Copying a Netflix DVD is fine with me, since you are paying for the service anyway. As far as I’m concerned, you are free to do whatever you want with the DVD as long as it doesn’t impact Netflix or another customer’s viewing experience.

    Creating fake charities and churches to collect money for yourself? Money or not, I’ll sleep well knowing I’m not at the bottom of the barrel in regards to being “frugal”…jesus

    • Jeremy says:

      Agreed that there is a line, but I think the intriguing part of this whole post is to find out where that line is for different folks. You make the point about copying a DVD not hurting Netflix, but I have a friend who got Netflix when it first started with the ‘two DVD at a time package’. He’d get it, copy it and send it back the same day. He did this for about six months until he had hundreds more movies than he even COULD watch in the upcoming two years and canceled the subscription. In this case, Netflix was definitely hurt as they paid WAY more in shipping than their business model was set up for and they lost a subscriber. It’d be pretty easy to make the argument that if you make a copy and keep it for personal use, it also hurts the movie studios, distributors, and Walmart (or wherever you buy your DVD’s) even if in some small way because that was one less DVD purchased.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’ve downloaded a bittorrent here and there and am not judging any Netflix copiers out there, just pointing out that nearly everything that will be on this post DOES affect someone in someway and it will be interesting to see where people draw that moral line!

  • Debt Free Teen says:

    Sharing trash service with a neighbor. Or dumping it at work.

  • cakeboy says:

    Most bakeries will give a free cake tasting to engaged couples with no obligation to use their services. Of course, there is not way to verify if you are actually engaged…

    This is usually done by appointment, so you can plan a fun date that way. Just need a buddy who is willing to play along with the lie. And an engagement ring really helps. You can even do this with your spouse for years after you are already married (just remember to take off the wedding bands).

  • britney says:

    Adding an item you don’t need/want to your cart to hit the free shipping limit, then returning it in store as soon as it arrives…

    Also, waiting until that month’s credit card statement closes before returning a purchase for which you got cash back… (it often doesn’t reverse)

    I used to work for a store that, at purchase, allocated the value of $/$$ coupons among the items purchased… So if you returned one item, you’d only lose a portion of the coupon. Many people figured this out to get most of the discount if they didn’t want quite as much as the coupon required.

  • Kate says:

    Registering for big tickets items on your wedding registry like a $700 vacuum cleaner and $1400 chair because you know Great Uncle Joe would gift them to you, only to return them for what you really need, cash. I did not do this myself but have friends who did.

  • G.E. Miller says:

    Some of these are appalling! I can only hope ya’ll are highlighting things your immoral friends have done.

    Sharing trash with neighbors? That’s harmless, fun savings.

    • cjpitt says:

      If you think sharing trash is fun how about “stealing” it? Dumpster diving or driving around and picking up free stuff can be a big money saver if you can stomach it. It’s especially easy around moving season at the end of the summer. Lots of apartment dwellers are moving out and dumping their lightly used Ikea furniture to the curb. You can even be on the lookout for larger appliances that you could sell as scrap metal. It’s illegal in some places, though.

      • Victoria says:

        That is the BEST idea I’ve heard so far. Think about the possibilities on college campuses after move-out weekend and all throughout the summer! For most of that stuff you wouldn’t even have to dig through trash because the dumpsters get so overflowed people (lazy students on a time limit) just start setting things on the ground.

  • Jason says:

    Couponing. Though I didn’t do it (my ex-gf did), it saved me more over the years than all of your items combined, and them some.

    In 2010 and 2011 not once did I ever buy body wash, bar soap, shampoo, detergent, razors, toilet paper, paper towels, contact solution or deodorant. There were also many many other perks consisting of food, drinks and various items.

    Now, this took up a good amount of time for my gf, but we were college students and my gf actively liked doing this stuff (don’t ask me why), and obviously with the perks I would never complain. She also kept a spreadsheet of the various stores where she did her couponing, and if I remember her 2010 balance sheet correctly she got ~$3,200 of retail price goods for all of about $500. That’s approximately 85% off. She knew what she was doing.

    • Tim says:

      I have never kept track of the amount saved.. but on a per transaction basis I averaged in the 70-90% off most of my toiletry goods at stores such as CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid….

      I haven’t actually paid money for Toothpaste, body wash, deodorant, of shampoo in several years… It was really good in 2008-2010… recently the good deal have been harder to find… but I stocked up back then and still using my stash..

      Cheers!!

  • Ornella @ Moneylicious says:

    LOL…you are too sneaky

  • Savvy Scot says:

    Some VERY interesting ideas here guys! :)

  • anonymous says:

    eating free breaktfast at Hotels your not staying at.

  • Erno says:

    My university library had a giant shelf of “Free Books” that anyone could take. I visited the library every couple weeks just to see what the shelf held, then would turn around and sell them on half.com. Made a few extra bucks!

  • Veronica @ Pelican on Money says:

    Lol, I’m guilty on at least 4 of the items listed here. Heyyy, when times are tough have to hack our way past the premium paywall stuff one way or another!

  • ask for items on freecycle and sell them on Ebay. I met a guy who almost made a living of it.

    use free wifi just outside McD or Starbucks.

    Or if you go inside, share a free refill soda with your partner and leave with the cup full.

  • Tomas says:

    I read somewhere that buying clothes, wearing them and returning them in a state that they couldn’t be resold was more costly than all other forms of burglary and theft combined.

    Personally, I like taking 0% introductory APRs for balance transfers I don’t need and just investing the credit card company’s money for a year…

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Ooh. I like this post.

    #1: Jumping on a neighbor’s wi-fi for free no longer works since I believe a technician will now password protect a router by default to keep others to subscribe.

    #3: I do this all the time, also w/ Blockbuster.com.

    #4: done that.

    #6: only works on self-checkout machines and male (mostly unless they’re gay) cashiers.

  • anonymous says:

    Drive without car insurance

    claim other peoples kids for tax credits

    live in an apartment with 20 other people

    go to a bar with a fake credit card and not pay your tab

    do “beer Runs”

    buy coke and sell it as crack cut with baking soda

    steal other peoples gasoline with a transfer pump

    work in cash to get the most government benefits and not pay tax

    borrow friends stuff and pawn it

    by pass gas and electric meter to get free heat and power

    cross the border illegally

  • Julie says:

    How about keeping the old college id around for the student discount…? Guilty as charged…

    • Tim says:

      I will be a life time student for this reason… Where I live bus rides are free with a student ID!! Though I admit, I’ve never used the bus… I ride my bike all the time.. I can’t stand being constrained to a schedule.

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