10 Things That Used to Be Free

free air

We live in a world driven by commerce. In today’s society, we hand over our hard-earned cash for things that used to be considered common courtesy. Whether it’s a sign of our economic woes or plain, old greed, we seem to find more and more ways to wring a little more money out of each other. Here are 10 examples of things that used to be free, but you now have to pay for:

Air and Water at Service Stations

This may be the best-known example of once-free items, at least for those of us over the age of 20. The coin-op air compressors on the side of the service station have become commonplace. There’s almost always a water hose somewhere, too, although the shutoff valve may be locked. Not so long ago, retractable air and water hoses were located at both ends of the pump islands, free for anyone to use, anytime.

Service at Service Stations

The term, “service station” was once accurate. If you bought gas, you’d not only have it pumped for you, your oil, water and tire pressure would be checked and your windshield cleaned. There was no such thing as “Self Service”. These days, unless you live in a state where you can’t pump your own gas, you’ll pay more per gallon to have a station attendant do it, and he may or may not clean your windows.


Here’s an example that got an early start. In 1935, the first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City, thanks to a man by the name of Carl Magee. Apparently it was a popular idea, since there are now an estimated five million plus meters in place in the US.

Using the Bathroom

Curse the sadistic mind that thought of the pay toilet! There’s no need to go into details here; when you’ve gotta’ go, you’ve gotta’ go. There’s something very wrong with having to pay to prevent personal embarrassment because of a normal bodily function. Fortunately, these are losing popularity, probably due to the fact that they are one of the most vandalized devices on the planet.

Television Transmission

For some time after television made its debut, it was a simple idea. Transmit pictures and sound over the air to be received by antennas connected to TV sets. Programs were few, most were broadcast live and they were supported by sponsors who advertised during the programs. Our technological advances have brought us much more complex and expensive alternatives, through massive satellite and cable networks. In the US, we pay an average of $60 – $150 per month to bring the programs we want to our homes. By the way, the sponsors still run their commercials on all but the most expensive channels. One more reason to consider reducing your TV consumption.

Drinking Water

We’ve come a long way since the day when drawing a nice, cold drink of water from the well was enough to slake the worst thirst. We pay for our drinking water on several levels these days. Most pay for municipal water that many us don’t trust or simply don’t like, so we buy bottled water. If the bottled water tastes a little bland, we buy more expensive bottled water with flavoring added. For a really intense drink, we can buy water with electrolytes, vitamins and minerals added for that extra little “kick” to get us through the day. We love our water and we’re putting out good money to prove it.

Treating the Water That Leaves Your Home

It’s obvious and an accepted fact of life that most of us who live within the city pay for our tap water. Did you know you’re probably paying for it twice? Look for the “sanitation” or “sewer” fee on your next water bill. It’s calculated from the amount of water you use, on the basis that all of it now has to be transported to the waste water treatment plant as sewage. Think about that next time you water the lawn or garden. It’s a good reason to collect rain water.

Directory Assistance

Remember when you could dial 411 – or 0 if you’re older – on the telephone and talk to a nice lady that would not only look up a number for you, but make the connection at no extra charge? No? Well, the good news is you’re among the majority. The bad news is that you and the rest of the majority are paying a fee each time you use Directory Assistance. In fact, you may be paying a service fee even if you don’t use it.

The Great Outdoors

Communing with nature used to be a simple matter of visiting the nearest state or national park or forest. Our government set these lands aside for public use and by golly, all we had to do was go find an open campsite and make sure we cleaned up after ourselves and didn’t feed the bears. Thanks to government spending cuts, those public lands are still there for us to use, but you’d better bring your wallet. With gate fees as high as $25.00 per car at national parks, campground fees of $10.00 and up in state and national forests and even “day use” fees for most recreation areas, you literally can’t even hike for free. If you do visit national parks a lot, definitely invest in a national parks pass.

Public seating?

Yes, my friends, someone has finally devised a way tocharge his fellow man for sitting in public. The penalty for non payment is painful. I’m aghast.

I shudder to think where the next step might take us. What other things can you remember that were free that now cost money?

(Photo courtesy of St_A_Sh)

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3 Responses to 10 Things That Used to Be Free

  1. bobebob says:

    If you look at the link at the end of the bench video, it appears to be an art piece by Fabian Brunsing as opposed to a serious attempt to charge people to sit on a bench.

    But given my take on his project, I think he would agree with the rest of your article.

  2. Minny says:

    Here in the UK it used to be a ‘coin in the slot’ to use lavatories. Not so now – mostly, there are exceptions but usually it’s free.

    That is why older people here say ‘spend a penny’ because that was the general price.

    When using public lavatories back in the day, I remember the female members of the family holding the door for the next until we had all ‘been’ so as to only spend one penny.

  3. Very interesting. I know that over the next few days my brain will be churning to come up with more…

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