Not Feeling Guilty About Freebies

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?

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11 Responses to Not Feeling Guilty About Freebies

  1. Eleanor says:

    My guilt trip comes about when we are traveling and stop to use the restroom at a convenience store or McDonalds. Hubby and I feel compelled to buy SOMETHING. SO, it’s usually a fountain soft drink (we prefer them to cans, anyway) or two apple pies for $1 at McDonalds. Nothing expensive, just a “thank you” for clean facilities.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    It seems the basic questions here are whether I’m willing to spend money because I feel guilty about getting something for free or because I feel some kind of loyalty to a local business owner. My answers are no and no.

    I never feel compelled to make a purchase just because I’ve been given something for free. When businesses offer free items, they are hoping to make some direct sales (as well as indirect ones) based on that freebie. However, they would be foolish to count on those sales. That all of the free merchandise could be taken without ANY additional sales is a chance they take. The way I see it, if a business is willing to give something away, no strings attached, I’m more than willing to take it, no strings attached. It doesn’t matter if the business is national or local.

    That said, I don’t take freebies I don’t want or can’t use.

    I rarely listen to public radio. I sometimes watch public television. I’ve been known to donate to both, but never feel obligated.

    Truthfully, I resent people and businesses asking me to buy things or to give donations, whether it’s a national retailer or the kid next door. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll decide on my own what goods to buy and which causes to support.

  3. Jay Gatsby says:

    Use of restrooms costs a restaurant literally pennies, and that restroom has more than been paid for by other customers. Besides, you probably wouldn’t use the restroom of a restaurant (e.g., McDonalds) that you wouldn’t patronize on another occasion. Consequently, you’ve either paid for your use of the restroom already, or will on a future visit.

    As for other freebies, businesses know that there are people who will take the freebie but not buy anything. This is already compensated for in the business model.

    Don’t feel guilty about freebies. After all, they’re free!

  4. Free things from merchants are a form of advertisements. They hope we will return to buy the item the next time, or buy accessories to the free item when we go to get it.

    Take all the free stuff you can get.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  5. Ann says:

    I only take freebie if they’re something I’d use and don’t feel compelled to buy anything.

    When I’m traveling, I’ll use a fastfood chain for a pit stop. Sometimes, I’ll buy a fountain drink or something else, but only if I’m thirsty or hungry. :-) I figure they get my business on other occasions, so…

    With digital tv (and refusing to get cable), I can no longer get PBS… and I miss it! I’ve donated occasionally, but find myself getting resentful towards charities, etc. that dun me again… and again… and again… and again just because I donated once.

    Nope, no guilt here regarding freebies! :-)

  6. Jackie says:

    Using the restroom at a fastfood place like McDonalds – guilt free. I eat there often enough, usually via the drivethru, so I feel that for all of the time I saved them money by not eating in, that they can give me a few free restroom visits. However, if I’m driving in an area I’m unfamiliar with, I will buy a fountain drink or bottle of water if I stop at a gas station just to use their restroom.

    Other things, I don’t feel guilty. The business offers freebies for a reason, so I feel no guilt in taking them up on their gamble.

  7. Natalie says:

    Believe me, no guilt here! Whatever is being offered for free, I’ll take it and if I can’t use it I’ll give it away!

  8. persephone says:

    Free is free. I don’t think twice about getting something for free. Why should I?

  9. Matt says:

    my good nature sometimes does make me feel guitly if it isnt a store that normally purchase from, but people will normally try to justify their actions thinking that society owes them something.

  10. spicoli says:

    I will take anything if it is free. If I can’t use it, I’ll find someone who can. That said, I won’t make a special trip to store or restaurant to get a Freebie unless it is really big. As a result, I usually only get something for free when I am in a store to buy things.

  11. Lisa says:

    Responding to Ann, I agree about being dunned by charities. I donate and then they send me mail that is cost equivalent to my donation and they sell my name to others. I only want to donate without giving my name because of this.

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