Post No.: 0020
The word ‘free’ seems to have a very special attractive meaning to people when they see it. We should really value the cost as €0 (or whatever currency) rather than nothing because not all costs are monetary. We should consider not just what we’re getting but also what we’re giving up, and most of all look at the all-important overall net value or price we must pay (e.g. a €20 item with free shipping is the same as a €10 item with a €10 shipping cost, or a free item with a €20 shipping cost, for instance).
‘Buy 2 get 1 free’ or ‘50% extra’ tends to sound better than ‘33% cheaper’ even though they all effectively result in the same per-unit price. A ‘50c’ (in the euro) tax rate sounds better than a ‘50%’ tax rate but they’re again the same things. Many people also don’t understand that a higher university tuition fee but which doesn’t need to (possibly ever) be paid back until and unless one earns over a certain amount of income (which would therefore mean one will be earning a decent amount of income – decent enough to afford it) isn’t by definition onerous; even though it may feel onerous to the student because they’re fixated on the absolute number and the concept that tuition fees are usually paid upfront. It’d therefore arguably be better to call it a ‘graduate tax’ because that would be more accurate to how it’d be paid (rather than repaid) since it isn’t essentially an upfront cost at all and it depends on one’s level of subsequent earnings. These examples show how a simple rephrasing can fundamentally turn the understanding and perspective of something that doesn’t itself materially change.
Anyway, things aren’t truly strictly free if you must pay or do something (anything) to get any part of it, even if you don’t have to pay money to get it. People can sometimes irrationally put a lot of their own precious time and effort into trying to get something that is labelled as ‘free’!
For example, if you see an offer like ‘coffee for €5 and a free slice of cake’ – it is equivalent to it saying ‘coffee and a slice of cake for €5’. I mean, you can’t exactly take the cake without paying and say to the café owner, “Well that bit was free”(!) You may be tempted to think that it’s somehow a higher quality coffee when it’s phrased in the first way but that’s a very big assumption (and indeed if so, the cake could therefore be possibly going for ‘free’ because it’s actually nearly past its best before date?) You may find that the price for a coffee on its own is still €5 but that might be a ‘decoy’ offer that no one is expected to go for because it is dominated by the ‘coffee and cake’ option. And when you think about it – €5 for just a coffee is already on the high side, especially if you didn’t go into the café intending to get a slice of cake with your coffee.
Calculate any costs or gains over time or over the full duration of use too. For instance, work out for your own circumstances whether buying a mobile phone handset outright will be better than on contract. In just about every single case, these handsets are not being ‘subsidised’ by the profit-making carriers (as some used to believe) – a contract deal is essentially a loan agreement for the full cost of the handset, plus interest, and the total you have to pay over the next 24 months or so includes within it this entire loan repayment.
So the key is to look at the total cost (in money, time, effort and so forth) for the total amount of things you’re getting and ignore words like ‘free’ if you need to do absolutely anything to claim any part of it – including things like giving up your contact details and other types of personal data. No app or service is technically for free when it’s really in exchange for your personal data, and sometimes also your time and attention if you must watch some adverts now and again.