Minimalism and Your Money

The intersection of a minimalist lifestyle & personal finance

The Best Things in Life Are Free?

We’ve all heard that saying, “The best things in life are free.” And while this may be true 95% of the time, it is not always the case.

The Lawnmowers

Take my lawnmower(s) story as an example. A few years ago, my next door neighbor whom I had become friendly with decided to downsize and move away. Larry was meticulous with his lawn, so I’m sure he was disgusted by what mine looked like, but never said anything. Anyways, for some reason he had two lawnmowers in his shed. Well, I’m sure you can see where this story is going, but Larry offered me both of his lawnmowers, for FREE!

How could I pass it up?

A Troy Bilt and a Honda lawnmower that seemed to be in perfectly good condition despite their age!

Who could say no?

Photo by Daniel Watson on Unsplash

Well, I should have. Larry moved in September, close to the end of the mowing season up here in New England. So, instead of trying out one or both of his lawnmowers, I finished cutting my grass the last few times with my own. I then crammed all three into the shed for the winter.

The next spring, I opened up the shed, eager to try out my new toys. I decided that I would try out all three lawnmowers to figure out which one was best. I would then sell the other two and make a few bucks. Sounds like a great plan, right?

Well, long story short, one of his lawnmowers wouldn’t start while the other had a wobbly wheel that I couldn’t seem to figure out. And after about 3 hours and two trips to Home Depot down the street, I gave up and went back to my original lawnmower. Larry’s two ended up at the end of my driveway for someone else to figure out.

How much did free cost?

So what did I lose on these free lawnmowers? I lost about $20 in parts at Home Depot, for a problem I couldn’t fix. That hurt a bit, but the real slap in the face looking back on it was the 3 hours I spent trying to fix them along with the other times I spent thinking about my growing mower collection. Losing money drives me nuts, don’t get me wrong. But losing time is the real problem. Those hours could have been used to hang out with my wife, to play in the yard with my son, or even to watch a movie. Money can be earned back, but there is no recouping lost time. Time was one of the main reasons I turned to minimalism in the first place.

Instead, my “free” stuff cost me.

Why Can’t We Just Say No?

I recently asked the Twitter community about their experiences of regrettable free additions. Food was a popular response along with all that free junk that we all accept every time we go to a conference. So why is this? Why do we say yes to stuff we don’t really want? There is definitely some strange psychological pull when it comes to free stuff. It’s as if we can’t help but accept it even if we know it will clutter up our homes or increase our waistlines.

Free Hershey’s Kisses

In 2007, Kristina Shampanier, Nina Mazar, and Dan Ariely conducted an experiment. With one group, participants were given the option to buy nothing, purchase a Hershey’s Kiss for one cent, or purchase a Lindt truffle for fifteen cents.

50% took nothing, 14% purchased the Hershey’s, and 36% bought the Lindt. With the second group, they simply reduced the price of each by one cent, thus making the Hershey Kiss free. 39% declined, 42% chose the Hershey’s, and only 19% purchased the Lindt. Despite the fact that the price was only reduced by a penny and even though both chocolates were reduced, people were three times more likely to choose the Hershey’s Kiss!

Three times more likely!

Just to save a penny? Are you kidding me? But it’s true. And we’ve all been guilty.

Avoiding the Pull of Free

Clearly human beings have a predisposed notion toward free, so what can we do about it?

  • Simply be more mindful. Take a moment to be aware of what is offered. Do you really want it?
  • If you are entering a situation where you know free things will be available, decide ahead of time what you would actually want.
  • Use the Hershey’s Kiss method. Would you purchase it? Even if it only cost a penny? If you say yes, then it’s probably worth taking.
  • Use the 24-hour rule. This stems from the rule for purchases, especially large items, but the same questions can be asked. Will you regret taking the free item 24 hours later? Will it be used or just take up space?
  • In the case of free food, are you hungry? Will you regret eating the food later?

What about you? What are some free things that you have regretted accepting? I look forward to your comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Yes! Something that is often free of monetary expense will often cost you in different ways. I have been guilty of spending more time than I should lining up for ‘free’ food at launches, having the free samples in grocery stores (but generating waste through single-use plastics), and going out of my way to pick up free clothing from buy nothing groups which didn’t suit me anyway.

    There are also plenty of instances where something free still costs you more money anyway. Anyone ever bought a food product as buy-one-get-one-free, when you didn’t need either in the first place? Or get enticed by ‘free with purchase’ gifts for cosmetics you didn’t need to buy?

    We all need a bit more intentionality when bringing things into our lives, ‘free’ or otherwise. I am getting more conscious of the obligation to responsibly dispose of or pass on any item that enters my life at the end of its use for me. Once I consider an item’s ‘end of life’ – whether it be contributing it to our growing landfill or having the hassle of finding it another home where it would be of use – it certainly reduces my compulsion to accept or buy the item in the first place!

    Congratulations on the blog launch. Keep up the great work.

    • minimalismandmoney

      Exactly! Thanks for such a thoughtful response and the kind words. The buy one get one has gotten me more often than I would care to admit, but like you, I try to now be more mindful of my consumption, whether paying or not. Thanks again!

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