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Something for Nothing

Call me a skeptic, but whenever I hear the word FREE, my eyes automatically narrow. Maybe it’s a throwback from working in the school cafeteria in the sixth grade, but I’m a true believer in the adage, Ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Those were the days that in order to actually get our lunch free, we had to do something to earn it.

My job was to scrape discarded food off the trays into a big black garbage can. Before that, gruel was plopped onto a tray where the kids would stir it around with a fork a bit before handing it over to a kitchen-helper brandishing a rubber spatula. At first it totally grossed me out and I had to force myself to look into the garbage can or risk slopping waste on the floor. It was like peering into into the disgusting bowels of a vomit-infested black hole and I fought the urge to hurl the contents of my own stomach into the mix. After awhile, the jumble of mishmash began to fascinate me. It was like gazing into a Jackson Pollock painting. Gross became Engross.

Even so, I swore never to accept another free lunch. Which brings us to the issue of the Something for Nothing mentality that entices people like a fishing lure. I have to ask, is anything ever truly free? I contend that for every freebie, somebody, somewhere pays for it. Care to challenge that?

Challenger: What about a Buy-One-Get-One-Free promotion?

Contender: This could apply to anything, but say you’re talking about a pair of shoes. You may think the second pair is free, but in actuality, the price of a dozen other shoes (including your own first pair) was raised to make up the difference. Nobody is in business to lose money.

Challenger: What about Rewards Programs?

Contender: Again, this could apply to any number of things, but let’s focus on Credit Card Rewards. credit card companies require retailers to pay enormous fees to fund their extravagant prizes, who ultimately pass off the expense to their customer.

Challenger: So Credit card companies actually do get a free lunch?

Contender: Pretty much. And as credit card companies eat their decadent meal, the retailers are going low-cal and the consumer is duped into thinking he’s getting gourmet for nothing. I might add that if you don't pay off the balance of your credit card every month it's like exchanging a sale item that's "20% Off!" for "20% More!" That's a good deal for someone.

Challenger: What about coupons?

Contender: Somebody has to make up the price difference. It might as well be the supplier, who can absorb it easier than you, so that could be a personal win—in the short term. I'd say if you've got the time, go for it.

While we’re on the subject of getting Something for Nothing or rather, Nothing for Something, let me just mention Gift Cards. Did you know that of the 26.3 billion dollars worth of gift cards sold last year, only an estimated 8 billion were redeemed? This is great news if you’re giving a gift card purchased from your own place of business. Otherwise, a better option might be to give money. It's a guarantee that cash won't get lost in a wallet somewhere or expire, so everybody wins. Well, except the gift card business. If someone wins, someone loses—I know which side I'd choose!

I once heard a guy suggest that 47% of Americans are subs​​idized to some degree by government assistance. Whether these people are perceived as winners or losers is of couse, relative.

The issue of getting something for nothing is complex and multi-colored—much like the vomitus black hole of a garbage can. I suggest stirring it around a bit with your fork and then dumping whatever you don’t agree with. Who knows? Maybe the results will be chef-d'oeuvre!

*Favorite Comments: "I finished reading your ever-so-funny "Something for Nothing" and "School Programs". Where do you get your inspiration? I'm reading a book by Brian Grazer called "The Curious Mind" and he talks about the importance and value of staying curious. Is that how inspiration comes to you? I'm curious"

Actually, My inspiration (if you can call it that) comes when I sit at my computer to write. I am always surprised at the direction I go.

"...I hate the enticing ads for FREE!!! Nothing is free!!!! And you gewt what you pay for."