When It Says FREE! Look for the Hidden Price Tag

I couldn’t pass it up, and I mean that literally. Someone had dumped it right in the middle of my shortcut through the back of a neighborhood shopping center. I had two choices: Hit it head-on or stop to investigate.

Closer examination revealed a unique piece of furniture. It was a child-sized, solid wood, combination five-drawer-dresser-wardrobe. I dragged it to the side of the road and found it to be fairly intact. It would need a little work, but it had definite possibilities. Even in its needy condition, it was FREE!

Had this item appeared in the classified ads or at a garage sale with a price tag, would I have been so eager? Not likely. It wasn’t on my list of needs, or even my wants. But FREE? That’s different. I’ll take it!

Haven’t we always believed that FREE means we get something for nothing? That, if it’s free, it’s good? That there’s no obligation, no strings attached? Well, we shouldn’t believe that.

Rarely does anything really come for FREE. Before you accept anything that seems to be FREE, you should look for the hidden price tag.

Price Tag: A Purchase. FREE with purchase only represents something free to you if you would have made the purchase anyway. If the freebie is what closed the sale, you didn’t get anything for free at all. You only paid less than you would have otherwise.

Price Tag: Privacy. The concept is you get something free, like e-mail or Internet access, in exchange for your private information, which the giver turns around and sells for a profit. Or, you get a chance to win a car in exchange for filling out a form that similarly collects your private information. So, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, provided you are fully aware of what’s going on and are willing to pay the price.

Price Tag: Maintenance. If you’ve ever been taken in by a FREE puppy, you know about this price tag. Even pets  from the animal shelter are anything but free. First, there are medical exams and shots, neutering and licensing. It can cost $100 or more to rescue a dog or cat from the pound. Considering all the years that follow, a free pet is not free.

Price Tag: Repair. Remember my FREE dresser-wardrobe? Turns out it wasn’t free after all. I spent about $20 on new drawer pulls, $16 on stain and hours on repairs. I still need to do something about the wardrobe door. I suppose by the time it’s presentable, I will have spent at least $50, not counting my time. All things considered, it is still a fabulous bargain and a piece that I adore because it has a story. But it was anything but free.

The next time FREE grabs you and starts to reel you in, stop and pay attention. Think this through. Don’t fall for it before you take a close look at the real price tag. If you find it’s too expensive, walk away. On the other hand, if it’s something reasonable, you might just want to load it up and drive it home.

Does a FREE item grab your attention? I’m sure you have great stories about how FREE drew you in. Please share them in the comments below!

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9 replies
  1. Carol Meeker
    Carol Meeker says:

    After I read your post, Mary, I went back to my email inbox. At the top of unread items was my daily email from my favorite online clothing store. You will never guess what was in the subject line: “buy two items get the third item FREE!” I wish I had a nickel for every time I succumbed to that sales pitch. Thanks for the reminder that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

  2. Pigoff
    Pigoff says:

    I so agree with you but there are still things out there that are free and worth it. I just got a bag of grain free dog food (4.5 lbs) in the mail. Yes I had to give them my email address but they mailed it to me totally free. I love trying new brands of dog food and even if I didn’t have a dog I would get it and donate it to a food bank (yes they give out dog food if they have it) or a dog pound. They can give it out with adoptions if they don’t need it. I have a special email account that I check every few weeks just for freebies. Follow Hip2Save and she puts out the freebies (legitimate ones). I have gotten so many free things it isn’t even funny. I can always donate it if my family, friends, or neighbors can’t use it. You can also join Freecycle and get free stuff too. My washer just died, my brothers window unit just died, and the car is in the shop all in a week. Can’t buy one so a used one works great for me. I don’t care how old it is as long as it works. My favorite score on Freecycle was the antique desk (with province) and a bird bath from the 40’s. Love freecycle.

  3. Gail Mills
    Gail Mills says:

    I had to smile when you mentioned the FREE puppy. About 7 months ago our friends gave us a free puppy, we didn’t know he was developing demodex mange. He ended up getting a severe skin infection. So after spending around $100 on different treatments, then $300 at the vet, then $200 to have him neutered and the continuing costs of medications, he has become a very high dollar FREE dog!

  4. Pigoff
    Pigoff says:

    I used the JC Penney cards on those BO get one for 1c several times. You can even use them on clearance so you can get a lot of clothes sometimes.

  5. Pigoff
    Pigoff says:

    I love getting free clothes at JC Penney. If you are careful you don’t even have to pay tax. They give away those free $10 off $10, $20 off $20 and $100 off $100 a few times a year and we have really scored. I got the $100 off $100 two times. We did go over the $100 but we did get $102 worth of clothing for $2 plus tax. My brother gets the $10 of $10 a lot and buys two t-shirts for $5 each and doesn’t pay any tax. My granddaughter loves getting the coupons and can’t wait to get new clothes. LOL I couldn’t do it without the coupons for sure.

  6. Mary Hunt
    Mary Hunt says:

    Good one! That’s a pretty popular type of promotion these days. UInstead of dropping the price on all of the items and letting you get a good deal on one piece if you want, this tactic makes sure you buy three! They don’t see it as giving you one for free … they see it as a small price reduction to score a triple sale. And statistically, they can count on a customer falling for it and buy three, even if all they want is one. Marketing—you gotta’ love it I guess, but in a way it’s just a fancy term for consumer manipulation.

  7. Pragmatist
    Pragmatist says:

    My parents found a small, 3-drawer, solid wood end table that would be perfect next to their bed. My dad sanded and painted it to match their decor, and all was well . . . for awhile. Then, my mother noticed a little pile of sawdust next to one leg of the “freebie.” Termites! After several attempts to spray the heck out of that end table (which also damaged the paint that had been applied), they finally gave up on it. Tip: if you have a piece of furniture that may be infested and you know someone (neighbor, friend) whose house is being tented for termites, ask to put the item in their house during the process. This saves you the cost of having fumigation of a single item performed by a pest control company.

  8. Josie Platanella
    Josie Platanella says:

    When my daughter was ten years old a family friend passed along a large pony. FREE !
    We were thrilled.
    It was mid December, We decided he would be a great Christmas present, and a surprize.
    Then it began.
    We needed to add a stable and fence a half acre area for him to run. Ca-ching!
    Then there was the hay and oats and then straw for bedding. Still not too bad for a free pony.
    After a few weeks we found out about the large animal Vet, the Farrier and whoever else needed to come to the house to trim his feet float his teeth and otherwise keep him healthy and handsome.
    Free indeed.

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Maybe the FREE part in all of this (aka unintended consequence) was the education you got. I think you can now promote yourself as a Large Pony Expert!


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