The Money Savvy Mommy: When Free Isn’t Really Free

by Mira Reverente

If you do receive something for free, accept that there may be strings attached.

If you do receive something for free, accept that there may be strings attached.

What’s the catch? That’s what comes to mind when I hear that something is free.

I’ll admit it. I love free stuff as much as the next person. Who doesn’t? But unless you’ve been living under a rock for much of your adult life, you know they aren’t really free right?

Free ebook offers? They want your email address. Free product trials? They want product reviews. Free seminars? They want a captive audience so they can sell more products and services. Free consultations? Again, the goal is to get you in the door, get your contact info and sell you whatever they’re selling.

I’ve heard so many stories. Lawyers who get ambushed at dinner parties for free legal advice. Restaurant managers and owners who regularly get prodded for free meals or drinks. Even my dentist friend says she has people opening their mouths at social events, asking for dental assessments. The list goes on and on.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to write a press release for free or proofread a resume for free. Aside from having way more on my plate now, I’ve decided that enough is enough. I am taking myself off of the “free wagon.” I am running a business just like everyone else. Just as I don’t expect someone to print my business cards for free, I also shouldn’t be expected to provide my writing services for free.

Here are some things I learned in the process:

Get out of the “receiver mentality.” Don’t expect to receive things for free or for people to work for you for free. Pay fairly or pay their advertised rate. Expecting free stuff sends the wrong message, that you are undervaluing products or services. Sure, go ahead and negotiate but pay up.

If you do receive something for free, accept that there may be strings attached. Always. Especially with family or friends, this is always a slippery slope. I once had a friend who owned a day care. She would often offer to watch my daughter for free after school. I offered to pay all the time but she never took my money. One day, she called asking for a ride to the airport downtown during Friday rush-hour. I couldn’t take her because it was such late-notice. In retrospect, I don’t think she was asking for repayment of all the free after-school care she provided, but I would have felt better knowing I didn’t owe her anything or had to repay her at some point.

Try for an even trade instead. The lady who cuts my hair once asked for help with content on her Facebook page and offered a haircut in exchange. That I love. Fair is fair. Decide on your hourly rate and aim for an even exchange. Say your hourly rate as a personal trainer is $100 and someone wants to exchange protein shakes for a one-hour training session with you, make sure you get $100 worth of protein shakes. Don’t be afraid to speak up or call the deal off.

Have you ever been on a freebie conundrum where you expected something for free or the other way around? Do share!

Mira Reverente is associate editor of CVH and a longtime journalist whose work has appeared in many local publications. Her first book on money came out last fall. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for more money savviness tips or check out her new blog.  

2 Responses

  1. Linda C.
    Linda C. August 31, 2016 at 7:55 am |

    I appreciate this article. As a small business owner of a brick-and-mortar business, we are constantly dealing with people who want us to match the price of online stores. Those sellers are usually out of state so they don’t charge sales tax and their rent is often much less than ours. So they can sell things much cheaper than a business that pays rent and taxes and also gives back to the local community. We try to educate people on the value of buying from a local shop, where you can try it on, who will be there if the product needs service or if you have questions. I know it’s hard to pay more for something — we all love a bargain — but it might just end up being worth it in ways you can’t fathom.


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