What is Free

In the United States, we toss around the term free without really defining what we mean.  What does it mean to you?  Does it mean no monetary costs?  Maybe.  Does it mean we can do anything we want whenever we want? Possibly.  It may be time to truly define what free should mean to all of us.  The meaning of Free has to be same for all or it will mean nothing for any of us.



Have you ever used a bathroom in a restaurant when you weren't a customer?  Have you ever grabbed extra napkins from the self-serve counter at a fast food joint?  Taken snacks into the movie theater to avoid the high prices at the snack bar?  If you have done any of these things, technically you are stealing money from these businesses.  Sure you say, I didn't take any money out of the register so I wasn't stealing.  I eat here all the time, so I should be able to use the facilities whenever I want.  The snacks at the theater are just so expensive and I already paid for the movie.

All of these are justifications, but they don't change the underlying problem.  If you do any of these things (and many others) you are stealing from the business in question.  Because there is no direct cost to you, many believe there is no cost (free).  That is not even remotely true.  Costs for goods and services are based upon a model of accounting for supplies, labor, utilities, etc.  If you use the bathroom at a restaurant and don't buy something then that business misses out on recouping their costs.  One person doing it probably won't damage the business, but what if it is one a week, a day, an hour.  How many people need to take advantage of this business before the business can no longer offer their product or service for a fair price? If this happens, then the business owner is forced to cut costs elsewhere (along with quality), increase costs or remove other options that you may enjoy.  If you steal from the business, eventually you will be stealing from yourself and your neighbors through reduced services or the closing of businesses.

Free to you does not mean free for all.  Using the restaurant bathroom as an example involves the following costs: supplies (towels, cleaning, soap, toilet paper), water, electricity, sewer, dedicated space that can't be used for another service (real estate costs), zoning costs (based upon the number of bathrooms and impact on the sewer and water system of the local area), maintenance and time of staff or owners to clean and maintain.  When you look at all of this, it may only equate to pennies each time a bathroom is used, but pennies add up and soon they become larger and larger amounts of money.  If a business is putting out all of these costs and recouping nothing from the consumer it won't be long before your favorite restaurant will be the newest out of business restaurant.  Think about that before you try to get something for free.

This blogging platform is another example.  We publish our blog weekly from this "free" site, and you read it from your platform of choice.  Our time goes into putting all of these posts together, writing them and posting them.  It takes time away from our other activities (some of which make money for our families).  The blogging platform has costs of their own.  They have to pay for hosting, back end software and distribution.  All of this costs money and when aggregated over the vast number of blogs posted here costs quite a bit of money.  The only way to offset these costs is to place advertising links throughout the posts.  It works, but it certainly isn't free.

When you see no cost or free in advertising, remember that just because you can't see the cost doesn't mean that it doesn't cost someone something.  We are all special and unique in our own way, but we all need to pay our way.  Remember that businesses want to encourage you to use their goods and services, but in the end they need to sell you something to remain viable.  Often they don't want to be so open about it, but we will be.  Patronize your favorite restaurants, theaters and other businesses.  You may not realize it, but you will miss them when they are gone and by then it will be too late.

The same rule applies to our government.  There are many hard-working individuals working in our government, but there are also many who continually try to deceive the American public.  Whenever you are told that any program or law is supposed to reduce costs to the American taxpayers, you should be skeptical.  A politician's version of "free" usually means free to them not you.
Remember that knowing is half the battle in changing behavior.  Now you know so it is time to challenge all of the programs that claim to save money but somehow always seem to cost more than ever imagined.