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Land of the 'Free'

aAlthough I’m a big proponent of “free” stuff, I’m noticing lately that most of the things I receive free-of-charge are usually worth precisely what I paid, which is zip … nada … nothing.

Lucky me. Apparently I’ve hit the telephone directory lottery. 

I assume that’s the case as my driveway was littered once again with a colorful yellow-black plastic bag, containing the remains of a once-vibrant part of our ecosystem.

Sadly, the directory will probably be regulated to paper-weight duty, at best, although the bag may come in handy during one of my daily dog-walks, so I suppose it’s not a total loss.

But, really, although I’m a big proponent of “free” stuff, I’m noticing lately that most of the things I receive free-of-charge are usually worth precisely what I paid, which is zip … nada … nothing. 

I used to receive a free weekly news publication but don’t anymore. What I’ve done to offend the gift-givers, I’ll never know, but apparently I’ve been regulated to the list of those undeserving of such largess.

It should bother me, but in truth, I’m thankful that I don’t have to clear my driveway of that freebee anymore. Sure, I’ll miss reading about the week-old happenings in my community, but I guess I’ll get over it. In truth, I never actually read the thing, but, it was "free." And I do love free stuff.

During the spring and summer, I get a lot of offers for "free" estimates on everything from lawn care to chimney maintenance and although I have no intention of getting any real work done, I usually say "yes," just to be accommodating. 

It turns out, however, that although the estimates are free, the companies involved actually expect that their efforts will be rewarded with a paying gig and are usually visibly disappointed when I respond with a “thanks, but no-thanks.” 

Just taking them up on their generous gift is apparently not enough. In fact, several of their representatives have gotten downright surly, which only serves to validate my decision not to take advantage of their services. Who wants a sour puss doing very expensive repair work on their house? You just know they’ll mess it up.

With grocery bills soaring, I take careful aim at the many circulars that attack my mail box each week. Naturally, I start with the “free” stuff; as in “buy one get one free” or “free with manufacturer’s coupon” or “buy a truckload and get 1 free” and so on.

But, upon closer inspection, I realize that I’m not really getting anything “free.” Sure, I might save a few pennies, but is it worth putting my fifth-grade math skills to the test just to find out if I’m being taken for a ride? No, not really.

So I usually pass up the bargain and wait until the item is no longer on sale and buy it at a lower price.

"Free" stuff isn’t only relegated to the private sector, either. It turns out that my state government gives out free stuff all of the time. Usually, you have to be an elected official to get it, but every once-in-awhile they offer stuff to masses. It’s good PR. 

Take health insurance, for example. Because they’ve gotten some flack for telling everybody that they have to buy it, the state decided to diffuse the resulting backlash by offering free healthcare to those who can’t afford to follow the law. 

They’ve devised a formula for who’s eligible for a freebee and who’s not. I think it goes something like this:

“Annual income divided by twelve, subtracted by the number of kids in your neighborhood, plus the  gross weight of all the green cheese on the moon must be equal to or less than the number zero, plus or minus the national debt. This determines the national poverty level, which you must match, exactly, with or without the addition of a Megabucks pick.”  

In other words, there’s no free ride here.

So, the next time you happen upon an enticing “free” offer, try not to get too excited. Most of the time you’ll be disappointed.

And that nugget of wisdom, my friend, is my gift to you.: call it “free” advice. 

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