Saturday, October 23, 2010

For you! Absolutely free!

It's the #1 word for getting attention. 
There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Or, if you say it a lot and want to sound geeky, TANSTAAFL
I would go further and say TANSTAFFA - there is no such thing as a free anything.

I didn't pay for it, so it's free!
Not quite.  If it costs you nothing, then it's free.

I am a major fan of freecycle and I've used it both as a giver and a receiver.  Use it wisely!

When someone offers you something for free - an object or a service - resist that first natural "ooh, gimmee" response and think seriously to yourself about what it will cost you.  I challenge you to tell me a story about something that cost you absolutely nothing.
Do look that gift horse in the mouth, and carefully.  Who's sharing the bedroom with the horse?  Will the neighbours complain?  I lived without it before - was I really looking for one of these?
Hidden costs of free things
  1. All too often, free really means selling your contact information for the goodie.  Once you have provided that information, it stays on that company's database for an unknown time, even if you later request not to be contacted.
  2. Reputable companies will swear up and down that they do not sell on your details.  Many of them are telling the truth.  But none of them have perfect security systems (mainly because they don't exist) so each time you transmit your details you are risking having them in unintended hands.
  1. There are entire Web networks dedicated to sharing information on free stuff - I've had a play myself.  You can spend hours trying to find something cool and free.  You have nothing better to do?
  2. Free stuff is sometimes almost good enough to use - and then you spend a bunch of time, energy, and sometimes money on it.  And sometimes then you still don't like it!
  3. When you have scored a free thing, you have to figure out how to use it and where to put it.
  1. That free thing takes up space, whether you manage to put it out of sight or let it become visual clutter.
  2. Without a conscious effort to release old things when you acquire new, we all know what happens to our living space!  And is the new thing really better than the old?  (More on this later...)
  1. A free sample in the supermarket means you will feel increased pressure to buy a product not on your shopping list. If you have children with you, you may hear that pressure very loudly!  Roleplay the possible outcomes of having the free sample - how often is your life better afterward?
  2. Free samples in the post will usually be followed up by some other commercial contact requiring attention.
  3. A free service ("one room cleaned for free") never is.    
It oughta be illegal to use the magic word free when it is actually just a discount.  If you must pay money to get something free, it's not free.  It is cheaper.  Maybe.

New lamps for old....
Or in this case, mobiles.

I couldn't resist it when my sister generously offered her older mobile to me - it's so much cooler than mine, whose bells and whistles end pretty much at the predictive text...

I passed my old one on to Mom and she now even uses it!   So it's a win-win scenario.  Until...

The more bells and whistles, the more things to go wrong..
The touchscreen on the groovy mobile suddenly broke.  (I did type "stopped working" but honestly some impact may have been involved.)

The groovy mobile is now frustratingly disabled.  The only key which works for screen selection is the centre one.  No keys are programmed to choose options displayed on the left or right.  But that only affects unimportant tasks like Answer Phone...Yes
But did I really want to talk to that person anyway?  Hmmmm....
And I can't delete any text messages.  And it's stuck somehow out of predictive text mode and I can't change it.  Oh, I can trawl through 10 menus and find the option to change the mode, but the Save Changes button is displayed on the left.

I could go on, but I can't really go on with this phone.  Some dogged research later, a few hundred dollars, and a couple of weeks' wait and I have another nice new cellphone.  You may be unsurprised to hear that I chose one with no touchscreen.

What If?
If I had not fallen for the temptation to upgrade for free, would I still be happily using a simpler cellphone and not needing to buy new?  I really don't know.  Anything could happen - if I had my old cellphone I'd be much more likely to break it than Mom is!  But I can't help wondering...

What's the point?
It is admirable to be generous with the things you don't need, and there are many great reasons to accept things you do need.

But it pays to ask yourself the same smart question with free items that you do with purchases:
Will the benefit outweigh the cost?
 Have you been bitten by the lure of a free item?


  1. My husband's work place gives out loads of freebies. Some of it is actually very good quality stuff -if you need it. One year they gave everyone these trendy bikes. We gave it to my brother. The brand name backbag is used daily by my husband, and (again brand name) sheakers get some action too. A couple of t-shirts I use for painting. The foul smelling "unisex" cologne got quickly removed from our house. Countless other things never even came in. My husband has gotten quite good at just leaving it to others.

    Most companies freebies are always utter junk though. I've gotten strange confused looks when refusing freebies hehe :)

  2. That is SO true. It is only free if it didn't cost you anything and if you needed it.

  3. We've gotten a few nice giveaways via my husband's job - but also more baseball caps than an army could wear!

  4. @Every - And even with free stuff like kids' clothing that I really need, I still need to spend time sorting it and space storing it. It's quite a production!

    I still believe I'm ahead compared even to buying thrifty, much less new, especially given the high quality of the hand me downs we're lucky enough to get. After all, shopping takes time too.