Something for nothing. It’s the best feeling, isn’t it? The free ticket to the gig, the five bucks left stranded on the footpath. We all love getting things for free, but what are the costs involved and is there a sting in the tail?
According to Angela Self from the Globe and Mail, research shows that people will always opt for the free deal even when it makes no financial sense. Researchers at MIT conducted an experiment- you have the choice of two Amazon vouchers- a $10 gift certificate for free of a $20 gift voucher for $7. Unanimously, people chose the free option, even though you had more value ($13 as opposed to $10) with the second option. When actual dollars was attached to that question, the results flipped in the opposite direction.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen for the free add-on. The gift with purchase that I didn’t really want and was absorbed into the cost of the product anyway. If you think you’re immune to this kind of thinking, then look back on your purchasing past and think if you’ve ever bought a second top you didn’t love because it was two for one. Or you spent $110 on two pairs of jeans instead of just $60 on a pair you were really happy with.
Companies wouldn’t offer free things if there wasn’t something in it for them. Unlike good-hearted philanthropic societies, these people are in it to get you into a certain spending behavioural pattern and keep you there. Sounds a little paranoid I know, but think about it. The ‘free’ phone attached to a 24 month marriage, where I continuously overspend my cap and have since paid for the phone a million times over. The fee-free credit card which you get ‘just-in-case’ and end up racking up a huge debt on. Free is a deliberate policy on the behalf of companies to get you involved with their products and ending up paying for them. Look at me with my iPhone. There is no way on this earth that I will let iPhones go until the next big advance in technology, the result of the ‘free’ phone I got with the plan.
Negotiating the world- and the knee jerk response- of free is a matter of working out in your head what your priorities are. Have you ever spend several hours at the computer screen, downloading version after version of free software? Whereas if you’d actually just paid the price of software straight up you could have done several hours work and earnt the price of the software several times over? Time is money, and ‘free’ things can suck a lot of it.
When Free Is Good
Free is great if you want to try out several different things without committing financially to any one thing just yet. Free is fantastic if you have tones of time on your hands, and are a bit short of dosh. It’s a winner if you can remember to cancel your free trial and take advantage of all the features without getting your credit card charged. If you can stay organised, trying something out for free can be a great way to do a bit of market research and then spend the money on something you actually know will work.