The Hidden Cost of FREE

I know I am not the first to write about the subject of FREE and I know I won’t be the last. I also believe that deep down in our hearts we all know nothing is free. Let me tell you a little story about FREE and how it cost me $67.52.

As a small business owner I am always looking for ways to market my company. One way I have been interested in is the traveling billboard via a car magnet. I have resisted for a long time, but I got an email offer from Vistaprint for a FREE car magnet and I thought this would be a good time to take the plunge.

First and far most, the magnet is not free, you have to pay shipping and handling on it. And the free offer only applies to the very limited pre-designed options. If you want your own custom design, there is an up charge. I knew this up front so it wasn’t a shock to me. I chose a pre-designed option even though I didn’t love it because I wanted to keep cost down. (Note: “didn’t love it” is red flag code for “it won’t be used”, therefore holding no practical value.)

I paid for my FREE offer, got it in the mail at the beginning of August and still have not used it. And every time I look at it, it pisses me off that I let myself settle for something I didn’t love. And yes, there is a bit of “Buyer’s Remorse” too that I just added to all the junk in the world. Now here is one kind of hidden cost, the kind no one wants to calculate.

Sound familiar?

Now here is the true hidden cost of FREE, it came in my mailbox about two months later. A magazine called “Parenting, The Early Years”. Just in case you don’t know, I don’t have children and I will not have children, so I found it strange that I was receiving this magazine. At first I thought it was one of my friends playing a practical joke on me, it would have been a good one.

So I just ripped off the address label and recycled the magazine. I was kind of hoping it was a one-time thing. But two days ago the next month’s issue showed up. Fine, now I have to deal with this, I can’t consciously pretend that it doesn’t exist when I know it is a waste of money, time and paper. Getting this FREE magazine is costing me a lot and goes against Sage Organizing’s founding principles.

First I called the non-1-800 number to the magazine. (I have unlimited calling so didn’t add that to the cost analyst.) I was told that it was sent to me through a company called M2 Media Group in partnership with Vistaprint and I would have to call them to cancel the subscription. I then called M2 Media Group, where I played a lovely round of “ring around the rosy” with a voice mail system that directed me to email them a request to cancel the subscription. (Sounds like I am not the only one who is getting FREE stuff.) No, I am not going to email you, I want to talk to a person. Then I called Vistaprint to discuss why they sold my name to M2 Media Group.

Come to find out, the magazine is offered during the checkout process on one of Vistaprint’s many, many “add on” sales pages. I am pretty careful about them so I don’t just zip through them, don’t remember anywhere being offered Parenting the Early Years anywhere. The customer service representative
said she could cancel the subscription, but it didn’t cost anything to me. But
it did cost me. It cost me one hour of billable time, shipping and handling for
my FREE magnet, not to mention the trees that had to be cut down for that
magazine and the cost of manufacturing the magazine. All of these things have
hidden cost and they add up far beyond the $67.52 I spent.

Sage Lesson:

Don’t get sucked into FREE things you will not use.

Don’t settle for anything you don’t LOVE.

And except that value comes from usefulness not from the price tag.

Photo by digitalart @

UPDATE!: Today is March 2, 2012. Seven months after receiving the first magazine and guess what, I am STILL getting the magazine.