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Everyday Cheapskate: It's Never Too Late To Do the Right Thing

Mary Hunt on

My dear readers: As I was cleaning out some old, irrelevant files, I came across something I wrote back in 2007. I came close to hitting "delete," when I realized some topics are timeless. This column really hit home with me, and I thought you might enjoy this blast from the past as well.

Did you read the news about Robert Nuranen and the library book, published by the Associated Press in January 2007? It seems that the ninth grader borrowed "Prince of Egypt" from the library and forgot to return it.

Over the years, the family reports multiple sightings of the book, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that Nuranen finally got around to returning it to the library. Yes, there was a fine, but not nearly as much as you might think once you learn the book was 47 years overdue (and that's no typo). He delivered a check for $171.32 to cover the overdue charges.

Ignoring the fact that most libraries charge a fine up to the amount of replacing the book, I believe we should honor the fact that Nuranen did all he could to right that wrong. Even at a penny a day (math is not my finest subject, but that's what I figure), I'm sure the library staff was impressed with his desire to make amends.

In the popular television show, "My Name is Earl," the lead character, Earl, who has taken one too many wrong turns on the highway of life, wins a small lottery. In a kind of epiphany, he sets out to right all the wrongs from his past. At the end of each comedic episode, Earl learns that it's not always easy to do the right thing -- but it's always right.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who used to host a daily syndicated radio talk show, signed off with the instruction to her listeners to "Go take on the day!" But that changed years ago to "Go do the right thing!"

It's not always easy to do the right thing. Take money, for example (you knew I'd get around to that sooner or later). There are ethics when it comes to money. For some reason, doing the right thing with money can be more challenging than behaving responsibly in other areas of life.

You pay for the groceries with cash, and the clerk mistakenly hands you an extra $20 in change. You know it, but he doesn't. No one is looking. Who'll know if you just keep walking? Not a big deal, you might conclude. In fact, you justify that they've probably shorted you a lot more than $20 in the past, so this just evens the score. But wait. All of that is wrong. Dead wrong! The right thing is to hand back the cash that is not rightfully yours.

 

Many years ago, you borrowed a few hundred bucks from a college roommate. There was a season of anger as you kept putting off repayment. Then you lost touch. In fact, you're not even sure where she is now. Besides, she's probably forgotten. But you shouldn't. The right thing is to repay your debt. Adding interest would make it even more right.

You once filed for bankruptcy. Sure, it was legal, and you have the paperwork to prove it. And now, many years later, you're doing well. You've really turned the corner on your way to reasonable wealth. By law, you do not owe a thing. By decency and all I know about ethical living, the right thing would be for you to go back and restore every person you harmed. And for those companies who cannot legally accept payment now that they've written off your debts? The right thing would be to take that amount of money and donate it to a charity or to someone going through a difficult time as you once faced.

Difficult? Yes. But right? Oh, yes.

The way I see it, it's never too late to figure out a way to do the right thing.

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Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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