When Pinching Pennies Becomes Unethical

The author of a new book crosses lines in his efforts to save money.

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For an upcoming article, I interviewed Alan Corey, author of A Million Bucks by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents, and a Useless Degree to Become a Millionaire Before (or After) Turning 30. Corey tells quite an impressive story about racking up a million dollars in assets before his 30th birthday, which he did largely through smart real estate moves.

He emphasizes the often extreme ways he saves money, which include eating oodles of ramen noodles and taking advantage of free food at art gallery opening nights. I'm all for saving money, but some techniques struck me as, well, completely unethical. He says he reused the same popcorn bag for three months to get free refills, collected free cellphone minutes by claiming to have experienced dropped calls, and picked up umbrellas at lost and founds by claiming to have left his own behind.

Corey was happy to defend his use of such techniques. He says many restaurant owners want to get rid of the numerous umbrellas they have collected in their lost and found piles. He also says he would take the worst umbrella in the bunch and that he recommends returning it to the same or another lost and found. As for reusing the popcorn bag, he says the theater doesn't specify that the free refills are for only one showing. "I never felt like I was being secretive or deceiving, but creative," he says.

When I asked Patty Park, senior publicist for Random House, whether the publisher was endorsing such techniques, she said, "We're not saying his advice is for everyone...Readers are welcome to take or leave his tips as they wish," she says.

• Readers: Do Corey's techniques cross the line?