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When Should You Pass Up Free Stuff?

June 14th, 2006 at 12:09 pm

I've been thinking lately about the fine line between prudent frugality and rank scavenging, when it comes to the opportunity to get something for free. I ride a commuter train into the city every weekday morning, and I feel it's eminently practical to pick up one of the daily newspapers left behind by other commuters at the end of the trip. The paper's free for me, and that's one less getting trashed or having to be recycled. But I'm in a quandary about how much stuff I ought to take for free. There are two city papers, a suburban one, a couple of national papers, even occasionally a tossed magazine, that I can pick up if I am willing to fish through the trash bin. I've gotten over the creepy feeling that I look like a homeless person poking through the papers, but how much can I read each day anyhow? Truthfully, I'm happy enough with just one paper.

A week or two ago, some promo people were on a downtown street handing out gum samples. One guy, instead of passing out a package or two to a customer, held out a cardboard box full of gum packages and said "take all you want". So I grabbed a huge handful. Such a deal! The only problem is....I don't chew gum! So I gave away lots at work and saved a few to give to my nieces and nephews. But again, I wonder - should I take something that's free if I won't use it? Why not pass on it and let someone else - gum chewers - have the opportunity?

So I'm going to try to pass on the free stuff unless I really plan to use it. My home is cluttered enough with not only the things I use but with the stuff I don't. I'm on a campaign to reduce the mess - although it's very hard (for me) to throw out something that isn't outright trash yet. There are other options, donation (and tax deduction, perhaps), re-gifting, and recycling. The point is, if I don't need it, it's wasteful to accept it, and maybe I should pass it by.

4 Responses to “When Should You Pass Up Free Stuff?”

  1. Kate Says:

    You make some great points. Just because something is free, doesn't mean we need to take it. I worked in journalism for years, and very often journalists will flock to an event because of "free food." But such events were often very resistable to me -- I didn't want to spend the time schlepping to the event. The "free" food just wasn't worth it.

    You remind me of a pet peeve: Frugal-minded people who chalk up dinner at someone else's house to a "free meal." Sorry folks -- that's just tacky.

  2. MoneyHoney Says:

    Say "free" and people's eyes light up. It's just human nature I guess.

    I think you're wise to take a free item only if you're going to use it. That's really the idea behind living frugally - not wasting.

  3. yummy64 Says:

    I am more and more coming to the same conclusion. Its great if something is free but if I don't use it, and I can't think of someone to give it to within a short period of time (a week or less) I don't take it. Why bother, cause I'm only going to pitch it when I'm in the mood to declutter.

  4. jodi_m Says:

    I have had these same thoughts too - and came to a similar conclusion. If I won't use it, or give it right away to someone who will, I'll pass. I need less stuff in my house, not more!

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