I love to get free stuff. Don’t you?
The problem with free is that it doesn’t mean something is really free. It just means that someone else has paid for the product or service instead of you.
Recently, I was surfing around the Wise Bread archives, and I came across a post on how to get movie rentals for free. Well, that sounds interesting, right? As I read through the comments, I found that some readers were really appreciative for the tip while others thought taking advantage of the coupon codes was either cheap, an assault on capitalism, or downright immoral.
Then the same discussion came up again. While dealing with the topic of student loan debt forgiveness for people who work for non-profit organizations, it was clear that some individuals are concerned that free to you means I get to pay (through tax dollars) for that item — in this case, student loans.
Should we take advantage of free offers?
In order to answer that question, we would first need to evaluate why some products are offered free.
- A free item might be free because the cost is included in your purchase price. So, for example, when you buy French fries at McDonald’s, you can get ketchup free because the cost is already included in the price of the fries. These free items are not intended to replace your personal supply of ketchup. Thus, it would be inappropriate to get ketchup at McDonald’s if you are not a paying customer.
- A free item might be an incentive to try to get you to try and ultimately purchase a paid product. When you sign up for a new service, they might give you a ‘free trial.’ Many of the products I’ve purchased had an initial free trial. In each of these cases, they want you to enjoy the free product because if you like it, you’ll remain a paying customer. In these cases, the free offer is limited in length or functionality in order to give you a taste of the product.
- A product might be free as a part of a rewards or thank you promotion. Some restaurants give you a dessert or meal for free on your birthday. On other occasions, if you buy four nights, you get one free. In each of these cases, free is a reward for extra spending or simply a way to say thank you.
- A free item might mean that someone else has paid the cost of the product. At times, I get free books to preview. That just means the publisher has covered the cost of the book. When we receive gifts, they are free to us, but the price was paid by another.
A cautionary note: When you are dealing with a company, it is best to assume that something is free in order to generate revenue. There still is no such thing as a free lunch.