Free Isn't Necessarily Free

Free is king in our house, and recently, I have been trying to evaluate each "free" item we happen upon. For you see, for us - free isn't necessarily free. Often there has been some associated cost, such as additional money, time, and/or clutter in our life. As I look back at all the free things we have accumulated over the years, this is what I found our "costs" to be:

Furniture: We have accumulated a lot of free furniture over the years through various means. When we moved into our first home, my parents gave us a set of dressers from my grandmother. While very nice, and made of solid wood, they showed wear and tear that prompted my husband to spend many hours refinishing. A similar story accompanies two beautiful, antique pieces of furniture in our living room. Both were salvaged from the end of people's driveways in our neighborhood, and both required many hours of refinishing along with the cost of stain and polyurethane. Our children are magnets for free rolling desk chairs. We have 3 extra ones floating around the house getting in my way. Since both children will shortly be moving into apartments, I have checked my urge to throw them out. Same with the multiple futons we accumulated after my brothers moved. Right now we are to the point of trying to get rid of furniture, but in our early years, the free furniture was worth the extra time and cost to fix it up.

Family moving items: Beware! They are usually so eager to get rid of things, and because it usually happens with a quick deadline, you tend to take more than you need. Just the other day, I was looking at a box of things my mother gave me wondering why in the world I still have it. We are not using anything in it and I don't need anything in it. Try to take only what you need and were planning on buying, or something that truly brings you joy and enhances your life. Otherwise, you will end up like me with more clutter. I stood strong on a few items, but it took multiple "no thank you's" to do so, such as the antique cut class crystal glasses that even the antique shop wouldn't take. Guilt also plays a big part in family "heirlooms" that then clutter up your home.

Lawnmowers by side of the road: My husband loves these, and my dad loved Hoover vacuums. Unfortunately, there is a reason there are on the side of the road. Both probably have something wrong with them. My dad collected Hoovers for parts and was pretty good at throwing them out after taking the parts he needed. My husband has been spending lots of time, along with money, to fix the lawnmowers. Make sure you are prepared to spend some money upfront or in the near future if you decide on taking these free items.

Gifts: How free are gifts? It all depends on who you get them from. Oftentimes, you feel an obligation to return the favor. Or, you feel guilt to keep an item you don't really want. I am struggling with how to approach our extended family to eliminate gift giving. My mother loves to buy lots of small items she thinks we will enjoy which I feel obligated to keep, and it just clutters up our house. With my in-laws, obligation is huge and beware of not sending a gift for an occasion that someone has sent you a gift for.

Store "Freebies": The Target ad often has a deal where if you buy a certain amount of something, you get a free gift card of a certain amount. Tempting isn't it? However, you are usually buying more than you need at that time. Sure, you can stock up, but that may tie up your money and you may not use up the items for a few months. Also, the gift card forces you to go back to the store where you usually buy more than the amount on the gift card. Kohl's Department store often has $10 off $30, or even a free $10. In the first instance, I wasn't going to spend $30 to begin with and in the second, it is hard to spend just the $10. Either way, they seem to get more money out of you than you intended. In the past, I usually went for these deals, but this year I have been trying very hard not to.

Attractions/events: Free tickets to an attraction or event sounds wonderful, until you add up the cost of parking, food, and drinks. Rarely have we gone to an attraction with free tickets and not purchased something to eat or drink. If the attraction wasn't on your "must do" list to begin with, it will cost you more than you anticipated. When free tickets come our way, I try very hard to evaluate the "cost" we will incur.

What items have you received for free that really weren't free?