The Choice of What is Right, and What is Easy

by Ryan Guina

Last night, my wife and I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Near the end of the movie, Harry was having a conversation with Professor Dumbledore, who said, “we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Of course, This conversation had more to do with life and death than what I plan on talking about (money), but this statement holds true to each of us.

Just before the Super Bowl I went to the store to pick up a keg of beer for my neighbor’s party. The cashier didn’t know how to ring it up, or where to find the price in the book. Since I also got roped into picking up the keg for the New Year’s party, I knew exactly where to find the information.

The beer I selected was Killian’s Irish Red, which, at $80 (including keg deposit), isn’t the cheapest beer out there. In the price book, there was a $60 keg listed next to the Killian’s. I noticed the guy in line behind me look at the prices, make eye contact with me, and give me a little nod and a wink. He knew the cashier didn’t have a clue which kind of beer I was buying, and I could make off like a bandit… which I would have been had I lied.

The easy choice would have been to make (steal) a quick $20, and no one would have ever known. Except I would have known. And the guy behind me as well, but I expect he would have bragged about it to his buddies, and the drunker he became that night, the story would have morphed into how he helped some guy walk out the door without paying for a keg of beer. The guy behind me actually shook his head as I paid full price.

Big deal, right? It’s not hard to pass up $20.

You’re right, it’s not. But how about $200? Several years ago I went to a clothing store to buy a suit. Again, the poor cashier didn’t have a clue what was going on. In the midst of scanning my items, she rang up a $22 tie twice, and skipped over the $220 suit pants. Surprisingly, I didn’t even notice. I paid my bill and was walking out the door when I remembered to check my receipt to get the alterations code. That is when I noticed the error. I know, it’s tough to miss a $200 error… but I was talking to a friend and not paying attention.

Here, the easy thing would have been to go over to the alterations, pay $15 to get my pants altered, and be on my way. But that would not have been the right thing to do. For most people, $200 is a considerable sum of money. I was in the military at the time and my paycheck was about $700 every two weeks. My total bill was roughly half a paycheck, so that much money meant a lot to me. But my integrity meant much more. Physically, it would have been extremely easy to walk out that door and get away without paying $200. But I would have had a hard time dealing with the knowledge that I stole something, let alone the fact that someone else could be held accountable for the loss.

When I returned to the cashier’s line, I’m not sure who was more embarrassed – me or the cashier. Either way, I felt good when the cashier swiped my debit card and I bought my suit. I still own it.

What is right and what is easy do not always align with each other. Sometimes the best option is to do what you know to be right, even when it is more difficult.

Published or updated October 12, 2008.
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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }


I had an instructor in the Army whose favorite saying, it seemed, was “Hard right over the easy wrong.”

Sounds like you may have heard something similar ๐Ÿ˜‰


2 Ryan

Ron, way to set the example for your kids. I’m sure they will remember that!

KMC, I’ve actually never heard that one before, but I like it! I was in the USAF, and our core values are Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excelence in All We Do. I still live by those values today.


3 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

This has happened to me in front of my kids. I made sure they realized that I could have gotten away with it, but that I refused to profit from some poor clerks mistake. I’ve been in the clerk’s shoes before and it wasn’t fun trying to explain it to the boss.


4 Dividend growth investor

I agree with Ron that you have to put yourself in the clerk’s shoes. Stores these days have camera and real-time inventory systems and such mistakes could be detected and the clerk might have lost his job.

When I was a cashier for several years in college, i always tried to be extra careful when handling money, because a small mistake of even 5 cents per transaction can add up to a big variance on say 100-200 transactions/day. There is always merchandise that is tagged incorrectly so when it is scanned, people always tried to tell me that an incorrect price was rung. But some people simply tried to take advantage of this rule by telling me that the price should have been lower than it actually should have been.

Whenever cashiers give me the incorrect change i always give them the money back. Sure they are ashamed that they couldn’t do something simple correctly, but at least they won’t be ashamed at the end of the day when their drawer is over/short a lot.



I strongly believe in what goes around comes around. It’s good you did the right thing. I had this happen to me a couple of times where a cashier has given me too much change. I always return it because after working in retail, I know how it feels when your cash drawer comes up short. The place I worked for made you pay out of pocket for the shortage.


6 Becky@FamilyandFinances

I have also given change back when I was given too much and informed clerks if they missed scanning an item.
Going back to the clerk to pay the $200 is pretty amazing. I’ve seen the look of surprise on a clerk’s face when returning a single $1 bill, I can’t imagine the positive impression you made on that clerk!


7 Ryan

Jesse, I noticed you left your statement about the beer in front of your comment about the article. That just goes to show you have your priorities straight! ๐Ÿ˜‰

When I bought the suit, I was with a friend, and there were no children around. Honestly, if I didn’t bring it up, I don’t think my friend would have noticed, either. But you’re right, $200 is a small price to pay to be guilt free.


8 Jesse

Side note: Good choice in beer ๐Ÿ™‚

That being said…the $200 isn’t worth the guilt/doing the right think in front of children. I honestly believe the #1 job as a parent should be teaching children to do whats right. Money makes the world go ’round, courage to do the right thing and set a good example keeps the world a good place to live in.


9 debtdieter

Great article! I respect the choices you’ve made in these situations, as unfortunately I don’t think there as many people who would make them this way as there used to be.

I also have to respect a guy who buys beer by the keg! ๐Ÿ™‚


10 Ryan

fathersez, You’re right. Doing the right thing cannot be wrong, after all. I was planning on spending the money anyway, so it was no big deal for me to go back to the clerk and get the bill corrected. Asking for someone else to pay for my suit would just be the wrong thing to do.


11 fathersez

I like the idea of putting ourselves in the shoes of the cashier or the store clerk. Many of them are struggling to eke out a honest living and this kind of loss may be taken out from their salaries.

Doing the right thing cannot be wrong, after all.


12 Mrs. Micah

And fathersez makes a good point too. I made a $100 error with a cash register at the library. Fortunately I noticed and voided it out and told my boss so that she’d know what all that was about. And given most library fines it was patently ridiculous.

But I know that we get black marks if we’re on the register and stuff doesn’t add up right. Makes me nervous sometimes. It’s my job.


13 Ryan

I agree, deepali. Life is too short to drink cheap beer! ๐Ÿ™‚

I have no idea if waiters or waitresses get charged for missin an item or not. I never worked in that industry…


14 deepali

Hey, Killian’s is worth the extra $20.

Sometimes the waiter forgets to put something on our bill. I tend to add extra in tip to make up for it (or part of it). I’ve never known if they’d get charged for that or not.


15 Katie

Where I am employed (bar) every penny missing out of your drawer you have to pay back. Which is fine if I made the mistake. But the owner has a problem with sticking her hands in my cash register and if it is short, I still have to pay the difference. It really irks my nerves.

Integrity is always the best way to go. It may not always be the easiest path to take, but it is certainly the only way to look in the mirror in the morning!


16 Joe W

I went through the drive-thru of a Poco Loco (or some such name)fast food restaurant in Miami and gave the cashier a $10 bill to pay for $6.00 worth of food, and to my amazement she first handed me a $10 bill in change – I immediately stopped her and let her know I only gave her a $10 bill not a $20 bill. She wasn’t thankful (though that could have been due to the language difference, as I don’t think English was her first language) nor even surprised, but I left there knowing I did the right thing because at the end of her shift when the till didn’t add up it would have come out of her pocket. I too at the time was serving in the military.


17 PT from Prime Time Money

Great read. I felt like I was watching Teen Wolf at first…”give me a keg of beer.”


18 BeThisWay

You can never go wrong doing the right thing. A great example to your kids. So many wouldn’t take the same road…


19 vh

Thank you! A friend says that you get gouged unknowingly so many times at the grocery store (unless you study every single receipt and compare it against prices that are not marked on the products) that quietly accepting an error in your favor is OK. To my mind, that comes under the heading of two wrongs don’t make a right.

It’s amazing how startled clerks look when you go back to correct an error in the store’s favor. One person actually said this was so unusual that she was really impressed. For heaven’s sake, it was only a couple of bucks!

BTW, I picked up this post from today’s Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance & will link to it on Funny about Money. ๐Ÿ™‚


20 Ryan

vh, Many grocery stores actually have a policy that if the price rings up incorrectly, the item is free. I have seen that happen many times! I confess I don’t check my receipt for each individual item (especially small items), but if I notice something, I will bring it to the store’s attention. ๐Ÿ™‚


21 Thurman Senn

That is one of my favorite movie scenes. I’ve spoken with her about the scene. But I went a little further. I told her that, in the long run, what is right actually turns out to be easier and better than doing the wrong thing. Sometimes, it sounds counterintuitive, but I find it is true. I also told her that she will have people that support her doing what is right, but she will unfortunately learn that doing what is wrong typically leaves you all alone.


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