Like most people, I love to find a bargain. A BOGO deal coupled with a great coupon is a cause for great pride. A 90%-off clearance sale where I can find things that I will actually use is a great thing. A 50th anniversary celebration at a restaurant that rolls back its prices to 1959 is a really cool, must-attend event. You probably agree with me or you would not likely be visiting this site.
When I get the best deal possible — namely when something is free — I don’t feel quite as good. In fact, I feel bad at times. You’ve probably seen free deals advertised, usually at new restaurants. Free coffee or free desserts or free appetizers are offered in the hope that once the restaurant has your business, you will return and become a regular paying customer.
There are other times that businesses offer freebies that come with a hidden expectation of payment. For example, public radio offers commercial free broadcasting that its listeners can enjoy throughout the year. For those listeners, the broadcasts may offer great enjoyment. At the same time, someone has to cover the costs of those radio stations, and the stations’ want listeners to contribute to the payment of those costs by donating to the station.
There are also freebies that most people do not even consider. For example, have you ever used a rest room in a restaurant or a store in which you were not eating or shopping? After all, by using it, you are contributing to the costs that the establishment incurs.
I know some people will gladly take everything that they can get for free. Sometimes, I just can’t do it. A lot of my decision-making has to do with the relationships I have with the proprietors of the places offering free things. I often wonder, however, whether I am being intellectually honest with myself when I explore how I feel about getting things for free. Here is my hierarchy:
Free Stuff from Faceless Entities: I listen to our local public radio station every day. It is a full time jazz and blues station and the only station with that programming in my area. I really enjoy it and I have won tickets and products as a result of being a listener. As a result, I felt bad listening to the station this week while the station conducting its annual pledge drive. I’d like to donate to the station but my wife and I have many other causes to which we donate. I just can’t justify another donation and I feel bad about that, but not bad enough to dig into my wallet for the cause. At the same time, I know that if I had face to face to interaction with someone at the station, I would be too embarrassed not to donate, just as I would if a neighbor came to me trying to raise money for a cause.
Free Stuff from National Chains: If I know that a national chain is running a promotion, I do not feel all that compelled to buy something when I go to a store to take advantage of the national promotion. I know that the national chain is trying to get me to become a long term customer by giving me something for free. I am willing to give the chain a chance and I view my effort to go visit the chain in order to participate in the promotion as the consideration that I give for the benefit of getting a freebie. If I never buy another thing in the store, that’s OK.
For example, my son and I waited in line at an ice cream store last year on the first day that it opened. The store, a national chain, was giving away one free sundae per month (for sixteen months) to the first twenty-five customers. My son and I were among the first twenty-five and we (usually he) have enjoyed two free sundaes every month for the past fourteen months. Although we occasionally visit the ice cream store when we are paying customers, I feel no guilt going into the store to get our freebies each time we turn to a new page of the calendar.
Free Stuff from Local Businesses: This is where my frugality breaks down. I like to support local businesses. I believe it is good for our local economy and it is usually good for me, as well, because I like the quality that many local businesses offer. Unfortunately for me, that usually means that I cannot walk into a local business without buying something, even if I have only walked in to use the rest room. Since I know that the proprietor recognizes me as a customer, and often knows me by name, I feel that if I am getting anything for free, I am also taking something away from the business. I like to think that I am also giving something back to the business to balance out the equation.
Do you ever feel compelled to purchase things just because you are getting something for free? Do you feel that if you listen to public radio, you should necessarily make donations to it? Does it make a difference to you whether a business is local or national?