photo credit: hugovk via photopin cc

photo credit: hugovk via photopin cc

I remember reading once a long time ago that “free” is one of the most powerful words in the modern world. I agree. “Free” is sexy and enticing. Who doesn’t want to get something for nothing?

But is free stuff really free?

I got to thinking about the real cost of “free” and came up with the following six situations where “free” comes with a hidden price tag.

Free shipping – I love to order from Amazon. You, too? Okay, how many times have you added one or more items to your cart just to get the free shipping?

You go online to buy a book for $11.95 and then you search for something that will bring your total purchase up to $25 or more – the magic number to get free shipping. So you end up spending an extra $13.05 minimum to save $3.95 on shipping!

The real cost of free? Today’s unplanned purchases become tomorrow’s clutter. And we all know how clearing clutter – even just thinking about clearing clutter! – robs us of joy.

Free magazine subscriptions – You buy something online and lo and behold, your purchase qualifies you for not one, but three free subscriptions to your favorite magazines. Free? Really? Sign me up! Wait. What happens after the free subscription ends? Right. You get billed for the renewal.

But the real cost of free in this case comes when you end up with so many subscriptions that you don’t have the time to read the subscriptions you’ve already paid for.

Food for thought: The average person can keep up with three monthly subscriptions. Instead of adding to your magazine pile (or piles), consider canceling a few subscriptions and requesting a refund for the unused portion.

Free gift with email subscriptions – Do you have a tendency to subscribe to email lists because you can’t resist the free guides, ebooks, videos and what-have-you? Yeah, me too. What you end up with is digital overload. The real cost of free downloads is the added time it takes to wade through your email messages every day.

Here’s a tip for you: With, you can quickly review all of your subscriptions periodically and unsubscribe from the ones you rarely, if ever, read. (Ironically, it’s free.)

Free promotional items – How many coffee cups, key rings, and tote bags do you need? Wait. Let me rephrase that question. Do you need more than you already have? Yeah. I didn’t think so. Real cost of free? Cluttered spaces that could be better used as cozy homes for things you love and use.

Try this the next time you are offered a freebie: Just say “No, thank you!” with a big smile. No further explanation is needed. As for what to do with all the freebies that are cluttering up your drawers? Donate them. Give them away. Get rid of them.

Buy one, get one free offers – “Buy one, get one free” can be a good deal. But what happens when you buy more than you need on a regular basis? Before long, your home starts to look like a warehouse. And if you’re stockpiling, you may be overspending.

Next time you find yourself considering a “buy one, get one free” deal, ask yourself: Do I really need two of these right now; i.e., can I use two within a reasonable amount of time? If yes, do I have the room to store the second item? Where exactly will I store it?

Free samples – My husband and I went to our favorite farmers’ market today. Most of the vendors there offer free samples. Do you know why they do that? For the same reason a salesperson will have you try on that beautiful hat or test drive that flashy sports car. They know that when people try, they are more likely to buy.

Armed with that knowledge at the market today, I sampled some handmade chocolate, a green smoothie, coconut milk, nectarines, plums, jalapeno relish (whoa, that was hot stuff!), garlic spread on pita bread, and goat cheese. What did I end up buying? Only the goat cheese because it was the only thing I sampled that was on my shopping list. You do make and bring a shopping list and stick to it, right?

I will confess that it took a lot of willpower not to buy the dark chocolate bar with almonds and hibiscus. The real cost of that free sample? Six dollars for a small bar. Maybe next time.