Is There Such a Thing as Free?

We’ve all seen the ads.

Free Pan­do­ra ring!”
“Bonus 40,000 miles!”
“Free poster!”
“Free WiFi!”

But are they real­ly free? Now, look at those exam­ples above and look past the bold head­line to the small aster­isk and even small­er print.

Free Pan­do­ra ring!”* (when you buy jew­el­ry over $100)
“Bonus 40,000 miles!”* (when you spend $3000 in 3 months)
“Free poster!”* (when you pre-order the newest and most expen­sive game)
“Free Wi-Fi!”* (when you order expen­sive cof­fee from our shop)

If some­one says they want to give you some­thing for free, they’re either a close friend or using you for some­thing. Does that sound a bit cyn­i­cal? Oh well.

If you’ve ever been to a con­ven­tion before, free stuff gets hand­ed out like hot­cakes there. Pens, pads of paper, fris­bees, t-shirts, cof­fee mugs- the list goes on. How can those com­pa­nies afford to give away all that junk? The answer is, You! By using their stuff, you’re adver­tis­ing their stuff to the world, and rein­forc­ing that brand on your­self. Or, that free thing you got at the begin­ning more than paid for itself with get­ting you to start an account with them so they could charge you for fees and use your mon­ey to col­lect inter­est for them­selves for the next 30 years.

So, keep that in the back of your mind. Noth­ing is real­ly ever free.

That being said.…..

You can lever­age the perks of “free stuff” the smart way.

In my 24 years of vast knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence, I’ve dis­cov­ered some fun ways to get free things.

Free Breakfast”

In my arti­cle How to Find Hous­ing, I wrote about explor­ing a new area to find a new place to live. I had an option between a slight­ly cheap­er apart­ment, or a nice one with tons of bells and whis­tles. I ulti­mate­ly chose the slight­ly prici­er one because of the perks they offer. I have access to free cof­fee, free fruit and the free on-site fit­ness cen­ter. Now, free is free. They don’t charge any­thing extra on top of what I’m already pay­ing them, which is for­tu­nate because I give them A LOT of mon­ey each month to live there. “Free” in this instance usu­al­ly isn’t the best qual­i­ty or always avail­able. The cof­fee is a Keurig pod, and the fruit isn’t always there. They usu­al­ly have bananas, and some­times they look a bit brown. But that’s when I make lemon­ade out of lemons, or in this case banana bread out of squishy bananas.

Free Coffee

I stum­bled into work this Mon­day morn­ing a tired, sleepy-eyed wreck. I for­got my phone and had to be in ear­ly for a call with our team mates halfway around the world. Not the great­est start to the day or work week by any means.

But then a sav­ior appeared.

No, not the sec­ond com­ing.

I had my choice of free cof­fee, hot choco­late, or tea. I don’t real­ly drink cof­fee, but after a late night at the soft­ball fields, I need­ed a pick me up. I made a very crude mocha by dump­ing hot choco­late mix into cof­fee, and it actu­al­ly didn’t taste too bad. All of this for the low, low price of zero dol­lars.

In this case, free real­ly is kin­da free. I switched divi­sions and this one is much nicer in every way. Nicer build­ing, big­ger and bet­ter cafe­te­ria, hon­est to god gran­ite coun­ter­tops in the bath­rooms, free cof­fee.… it’s nice. But, like the oth­er “free” things, there’s a motive behind it. The office here need­ed to be nicer and have more perks to be attrac­tive to prospec­tive employ­ees that may trans­fer in from oth­er com­pa­nies.

Other Work Perks


This build­ing also has a staffed onsite fit­ness cen­ter with fit­ness class­es! Right there, I’m sav­ing $30 a month which does add up over time. I paid $30/mo for the last year, so that’s an extra $360 I have to spend on some­thing else this year (like all the pet fees I’ve been accru­ing!).

My employ­er also almost com­plete­ly paid for my move. I received a mov­ing allowance before the whole process start­ed, and then some of my expens­es were reim­bursable. All in all, a move that should’ve cost­ed me over $2000 cost me about $245. Next time, I’ll let them pay for a mov­ing com­pa­ny instead of doing a self-move!

I have yet to expe­ri­ence this next perk for myself, but I know of sev­er­al cowork­ers who’ve done this. Say your com­pa­ny wants to send you over­seas for a busi­ness trip. Sched­ule a vaca­tion at that loca­tion direct­ly after your busi­ness trip con­cludes, and you’ll only have to pay for one flight back instead of a round trip tick­et. Not to men­tion, put the expens­es of the busi­ness trip on your per­son­al cred­it card. You get the reward points and then the com­pa­ny reim­burs­es you lat­er! “Free” points!

Some­times, com­pa­nies will pay for oth­er dai­ly expens­es. You might get a work phone or a com­pa­ny dis­count on your per­son­al bill. (Mine gets a 20% dis­count which will be nice when I no longer qual­i­fy for my mil­i­tary dis­count!). Depend­ing on your role with the com­pa­ny, they might even give you a car to dri­ve around town. I have a friend who pays $150 a month to his employ­er. In return, he gets a new car every two years, gas on the com­pa­ny car and insur­ance paid for. I’d jump at that chance in a heart beat! And final­ly, some com­pa­nies have been known to pay for hous­ing. It can go one of two ways- either you live with a room­mate in a small place, or you’re high enough in the hier­ar­chy to get a pent­house suite with a house­keep­er.

Credit Card Churning

I’m not real­ly sure if this qual­i­fies as free, since some of it requires a bit of work. I promise I’ll do a more in depth post on how I churn my cred­it cards in the future. For now, I’ll stick to say­ing you get points for every dol­lar you spend. Some­times 2 pts, some­times 1 pt or if they have spe­cial cat­e­gories you can get more dur­ing that quar­ter. These points can be used to reim­burse trav­el costs (how I paid $250 for my round trip tick­et to Ecuador!), can be used against cur­rent bills, or you can get stuff from their mar­ket­place. You had to spend mon­ey to get those points, but at least you don’t have to pay extra for them!
Remem­ber this next time you see some adver­tise­ment scream­ing FREE at you. Chances are pret­ty high there’s a catch for some­one, and that some­one is prob­a­bly you!

What “free” things have you run across late­ly? Any free stuff that I missed?

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