4 Times When “Free” Is Not Really a Good Thing

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Who doesn’t love free stuff? There’s a certain thrill to getting something for free, even if we don’t actually need the item. From free samples at restaurants or stores, to the free bin at garage sales that makes kids (and sometimes us) stop to look, free items are generally looked at as positive.

However, as wonderful as free items are, sometimes we really don’t need the items, and occasionally, the free stuff isn’t really free. Also, sometimes free stuff actually hurts our goals. As hard as it is to say no to free stuff, sometimes we need to do it. It can be difficult to determine when free is a good thing, and when it isn’t. Here are four times you should say no to free stuff because it won’t actually benefit you, and may even end up distracting you from your goals, or making you spend money.

1. When an item will destroy your goals

Perhaps you have been working hard training for a marathon. Whether you want to be the first man to finish, or you simply want to do your best, some free items might distract from your goals. For example, you wouldn’t want to go out and drink all night the day before a race, and accepting free drinks or an unhealthy dinner could sabotage your race the next day, even if your friends or the waiter wanted to celebrate your hard work. According to RunnersConnect, you shouldn’t try new foods or stray too far away from your regular diet right before a race, and your last big meal should be two days before the race.

The same is true if you are trying to reduce clutter around your home, or you are hoping to slowly upgrade your furniture over time. As appealing as the second-hand couch sitting on your neighbor’s yard might look because it’s free, be sure to think about the repercussions of this free item; if you take it inside, you will be moving away from your goal to have nicer things, and you will have a couch that needs to be moved later. Some free things are not worth getting.

2. When you won’t use it

Yes, the free TV sitting on your other neighbor’s yard would be a great deal, but if you already have three televisions and the TV is simply going to sit in your garage, you shouldn’t pick it up. The same is true of free items at garage sales, and other free items offered through the mail or at a store. It’s hard to say no to free stuff, because it feels like a great deal, but that doesn’t mean you should say yes.

There are so many free items out there, but bringing items home that you won’t use just wastes space. Think about the little lotions and shampoos that many hotels offer for free (you’re paying for the room though); are you ever going to use those again? If not, don’t take them.

3. When the item isn’t safe

Often, if people can’t sell their junk at a garage sale, they will set it out on the street and wait for other people to pick it up. There are many items you should never buy at a garage sale. According to Dave Ramsey, car seats, bicycle helmets, kitchen appliances, cribs, and even running shoes should be off-limits. The same is true if these items are in a free bin or on the street; you can’t tell if a bicycle helmet or car seat has been in an accident, and that means that you or your children could be harmed in a crash. Shoes are meant to conform to your feet so it isn’t a good idea to pick up free (used) athletic shoes.

4. When there are strings attached

The buy one, get one idea is a wonderful marketing tool. Since most of us like free things, the idea of getting two-for-the-price-of-one, or essentially getting one free, is exciting. However, this is really only a good deal if you actually need the item. If you end up with two items that you won’t use, and you paid for one, it’s hardly a good deal. This marketing ploy is common at grocery stores, and also for As Seen on TV ads. According to Marketing Teacher, this is called promotional pricing, and such pricing (like buy one, get one free) is very common. Remember that you are actually spending money in order to get something “free.”

Sometimes there are other strings attached to a free item. While a twenty minute survey doesn’t seem like a big deal if you get a free dinner after, be sure to understand that your meal isn’t actually free if you consider the time you are spending. Also, signing up for free items online will often result in multiple sales emails once your email address is added to a database. Many free items come with strings attached, so it’s important to consider whether or not you want to spend the time deleting emails, filling out surveys, and so on.

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