Is Anything Free? Twelve Free Things We Actually Pay For

Commission free online trading is in the news. Clients likely ask: “Does that mean my trades will now be free too?” It’s a delicate subject.

A good strategy might be to establish common ground. Let’s try looking at a dozen free things that end up costing you. 1. The free inspection.You’ve seen the ads on TV. The contractor who will check out your roof for free, advising you on condition and make recommendations. In these situations, they always find something wrong. They give you a quote to fix the problem. Is it free? It didn’t cost you anything for them to climb on your roof, but you just became a prospect for this roofing contractor. 2. Accident lawyers who charge no fee unless you win.You see them advertising on TV all the time. It’s highly unlikely they would take a case where they were unsure of the outcome. Is it free? No, you are engaging their services on a contingency fee basis. 3. Free lunch with two drink purchase.This used to be back in the 1930’s, as a way to get patrons into bars. That’s the origin of the expression: “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Is it free? No. You were required to order something to drink. That incurred a charge. Lunch as “build into” the pricing. 4. Free shipping.Now we are back to 2019. You see ads online and on TV. Your purchase includes free shipping. Like the free lunch from the 1930’s, the cost of shipping is built into the purchase price. Is it free? No, because another purchase is required. If they used UPS, you couldn’t walk into a UPS store with your own box, asking them to ship it somewhere free. 5. Free gift with purchase.If you buy cosmetics or perfume, you’ve seen the signs. Spend a certain amount and they will include the gift item on display. Is it free? No, because you can’t get the gift without buying another item first. 6. Free parking.In this case, we are talking about validated parking. You enter the lot and get a ticket. The restaurant stamps your ticket when you leave. It covers your parking. Another example might be the store in the strip mall saying “Free parking for patrons of...” Is it free? No. The restaurant won’t validate your parking if you went to a movie instead. 7. Short for “Buy One, Get One.” It’s another ways of saying “50% discount.” Stores and restaurants do it. Is it free? No. You couldn’t look at two pairs of jeans and say: “I’ll just take the second one for free.” 8. Free checking.Now we get into the world of financial services. Banks offer free checking. Sometimes they require a minimum balance. They aren’t paying interest. Other times they might require auto-deposit of your paycheck into the account. Is it free? No, because they are getting the use of your cash balance, interest free, 9. Free Smart phone with plan.Some wireless companies offer these deals. It’s not any phone you choose or any plan you choose. The free phone offer is usually connected with a plan that locks you into service for a couple of years. Is it free? No, because you committed to buying a plan. 10. Companion flies free.Airlines have used this offer. You might have seen “Buy a business class ticket and...” That sounds great, but the ticket is often aligned to a specific fare category, which might be higher than what you expected to spend. Is it free? No, because you are buying a higher priced ticket or skipping the much cheaper coach fare because you would need to buy two tickets. 11. Free resort vacation.You’ve probably seen these offers from timeshare operators. You get to the resort. Stay for three nights. The only requirement is attending a couple of hour timeshare sales presentation. Is it free? No, because you are required to attend the talk. Some people will think it’s a good deal and buy. 12. Free gift wrapping.You’ve seen stores offer this service. Online firms do it too. Is it free? No, because you need to buy an item in the store. The wrapping cost is built in. Put another way, you can’t bring in gifts you bought elsewhere and ask them to wrap them for you.In these cases, the cost of the “free item” is built into the cost of an item you are required to buy. In the timeshare example, the “free vacation” is a marketing expense. In all these examples, the person told about them would say: “There must be a catch. What aren’t you telling me?