My neighbour has a huge lemon tree in their garden. They never use the fruit. Is it acceptable for me to grab a few without telling them? It's not like they would notice. - Citrus Stealer, Auckland

It depends on your school of ethics. If you're a consequentialist, the consequences of pinching a few lemons are almost nil. Your only risk is getting caught in the act and then having to explain yourself. Stealing a few lemons from a tree cannot harm anybody.

But, if you subscribe to duty-based "deontological" ethics, you're in the moral wrong to grab that citrus. Deontologically, you are going against the generally-accepted rules of being a good neighbour and respecting the rules of boundaries.

Whether ethics factor into your decision to take - or-not to take lemons is up to you. If you decide to go ahead and snatch yourself a little round salad seasoner now and again, just make sure you are taking "a few" lemons, as you say. Don't go all cat burglar and do a mad dash in the night with a plastic supermarket bag.

What are the rules around asking for a refund? Am I allowed to refuse store credit and demand my money back instead? Credit Crunch, Auckland

Here's the good news: any store with a sign up that says "No Refunds" is acting illegally. This may mislead anybody who walks in the door about his or her rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act.


However, in most circumstances to be able to "demand" a refund requires a product or service to be faulty, and the seller or provider must be first given the option to repair or replace. When the problem is minor, the seller or provider decides the remedy, not you. When the problem is major and cannot be fixed, you get to "reject" the goods and can be firm about getting a refund.

There are also refund opportunities if you are unhappy with the timeliness of installation or delivery of a product or service. The Consumer Affairs website outlines what your options are in these situations.

For change of mind purchases, it's up to the individual store to decide its policy on returns. The Warehouse, for example, is famous for its no-questions-asked refund policy. The only exemptions from the Big Red Shed's 12-month money-back guarantee policy are items with copyright (DVDs, video games, etc.) and items where sanitation becomes an issue, such as underwear and earrings. Most other stores will only allow you to exchange your item for something else, or let you leave the store with credit for a later date. There's nothing you can demand outside of that.

However, you may encounter stores without a written returns policy. Where you've purchased something from, say, an independent Ma-and-Pa-type homewares boutique, you may be able to convince the proprietor to give you a refund out of the goodness of their heart. If you've bought something and realised you already have one at home, or are given a gift you don't like, you might - I say might - be in luck if you plead your case and beg for a refund.

I am a personal trainer and have recently been training friends. How do I bring up that I want to start charging them for my services without it being awkward? - Workout Worries, Auckland

Is it too late to start charging your mates? Photo / iStock
Is it too late to start charging your mates? Photo / iStock

Because you didn't charge your friends in the first instance, your best bet is to "launch" a new programme that differs from their current training, tell them how excited you are about it, and ask what they think a "fair" rate would be for an hour-long session.

In doing this, your friends feel they are involved in your business, because this rate will go across the board to all clients. Also, if you've been training these friends for more than a month, chances are their exercise regime needs changed up anyway so they can continue to see results - so if they say "can't we just keep doing what we're doing" you have a good comeback.

When it comes to talking about money, give your friends a "mate's rate" discount on the figure they suggested for all other clients. This will make them feel like they're still getting a good deal out of you, and won't hold any grudges. If they're good friends, they will already be worried they were taking advantage of you in the first place and will be happy to pay.