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The Surprising Cost of Free Stuff

Updated on December 12, 2015
drpennypincher profile image

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

What's Wrong with Free Stuff?

You would think taking advantage of free stuff would be a great way to save money. After all, you can't get any cheaper than free, right?

Actually, free stuff can come with costs that can bite you.

The Surprising Cost of Free Stuff
The Surprising Cost of Free Stuff | Source

You can often find great free stuff on craigslist and freecycle. Sometimes you can find a free item that meets your needs and will save you money by picking up something for free instead of paying for it. Sometimes free stuff does save you money and makes your life better. This is what penny pinchers dream about!

The problem with free stuff comes when you see something offered for free that you didn't even know you needed. Seeing it offered for free makes you decide that you need it, which can create costs you may not anticipate.

The Surprising Cost of "Free Stuff"

So how can picking up something that is free cost you money?

If free stuff generates new costs, then it is not really free! Sometimes it pays to think twice before taking free stuff.

Free Stuff Can Cost Real Money
Free Stuff Can Cost Real Money | Source

1. Costs to Pick Up Free Stuff

You will typically need to make a special trip to pick up a free item. If you add up the total cost of the special trip including gas and wear and tear on your car, the "free" item is not really free.

Some items will even require a truck to pick them up- even more expensive. You may be able to find a free piano, but you'll need to rent a truck or hire piano movers to bring it home.

It also takes time to make a trip to pick up a free item.

2. Space to Keep Your Free Item

When you get your free item home, you'll need to find a place to keep it. This may not be a problem if the item is a piece of furniture of something you will use all the time. But at some point, space will become an issue if you accumulate too much stuff.

You may end up paying to store some of your stuff at a storage facility or perhaps even decide to move to a larger place as your current residence gets filled up with stuff. Many people put sheds in their yards to hold extra stuff.

Paying more for space to keep stuff is certainly not free!

3. Fees

My "free" boat that came with my house costs about $20 per year in registration and fees. This may not sound like much, realizing that this is a 1956 boat and someone has been paying fees on it for nearly 60 years makes you realize that fees can add up over the years!

If you are lucky enough to get a free boat, trailer, or vehicle you'll still have fees to pay every year.

If this item is something you want and will use, getting it free is great. If it is just going to sit under a shade tree and never get used, then this free item is costing you money that you don't need to spend.

4. Maintenance and Repairs

Even though an item was free, maintenance and repair of the item will not be free. I think many free items are given away to avoid spending money on repairs or maintenance.

I once got a free clothes dryer that constantly needed repair. This did not turn out to be a very good deal, even thought it was free. I could have paid $50 to get a dryer that worked instead of taking a free dryer and spending time and money to keep it going.

If you get a free piano that is out of tune, you could spend hundreds of dollars getting it tuned and repaired to make it playable.

Deferred maintenance and repairs are often the reason that items are offered for free. The person giving it away has decided that it is not worth the money to fix it.

Think Twice Before Taking Free Stuff!
Think Twice Before Taking Free Stuff! | Source

5. Lifestyle Inflation

You were doing fine without having a gas powered power washer, and then your neighbor gave you his old one for free- great!

Now you have become accustomed to having a power washer, even if you only use it once or twice every year. If your free power washer breaks, you'll likely go out and buy one to replace it since you now "need" one.

Sometimes you can find starter items for free that will put you on the path to buying a higher quality item in the future when you outgrow the capabilities of your free item.

Taking a free item can set you on a course to spend money that you wouldn't be spending otherwise.

Check out my blog Penny Pincher Journal for more ideas on making money and saving money every day!

Do You Need Free Stuff?

I used to have too much stuff. My shop and some rooms in my house were packed with stuff I wasn't using, but I thought I might want someday.

Eventually I got tired of having too much stuff and too little space, so I sold and gave away a lot of my stuff.

Now I am careful when I see a free item and ask myself a few questions before deciding to take it:

  • Is this free item something I would really use?
  • Do I have a good place to put this?
  • Can I easily afford the maintenance and repairs this item needs?

If the answers to any of the questions above are "no", then you should think twice about how much taking the free item would really cost you.

© 2015 Dr Penny Pincher


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    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 months ago from Iowa, USA

      DDE, I think you can benefit from taking free stuff if you are selective about what you take. But it is easy to get carried away and take free stuff that is more trouble than it is worth...

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I don't agree on FREE STUFF!

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 21 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Christy, excellent point! You could pick up a free couch and then spend months and hundreds of dollars or more dealing with pests that come along with it.

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 21 months ago from San Francisco

      Very good points, and an additional one: be careful getting free stuff from strangers. Especially items that can not be cleaned easily (like couches and other upholstered furniture). You may be unknowingly picking up bedbugs, fleas, or termites for free along with your loot!

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 21 months ago from Iowa, USA

      FlourishAnyway, it is easy to focus on the "free" aspect without seeing all of the other expenses that can result from free stuff!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 21 months ago from USA

      Amen to all of those reasons. People spend gas money and their time hunting down free stuff and even rent storage spaces to keep their free stuff in.