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The Silliness of Paying For Things That Are Free

by Gip Plaster on April 12th, 2011

Here’s something upon which we can all agree: There’s no reason to pay for something that’s free.

Are you paying for free stuff because you’re getting it from the wrong provider? Do you shell out for services from one company when another company offers them at no cost?

While paying for something that’s available for free sounds ridiculous, millions of people are doing it every day — and that’s no exaggeration. They pay because of brand loyalty, because they haven’t done their homework or because their brain cells are so far apart they have different postal codes.

I have two really good examples, but I have a mini-example first. Ready?

Drinking water.

I’ve heard of people who pay hundreds each month to get drinking water in small plastic bottles when fully tested and certified water is already included in their rent payments or already being purchased to flush their toilets. In addition, a nice portion of it is available in a somewhat-more-biodegradable-than-plastic cup for free at many fast food restaurants. Great spewing fountains of it — called water fountains, actually — are also available near public restrooms and even in some workplaces.

Good example, right?

Now, here are two even better ones.

The I’m-Paying-For-Nothing Checking Account

Simple banking services are often available for free as a way of getting you into a bank’s branches so it can sell you other services like loans, certificates of deposit or investment products.

If you live in the U.S., you shouldn’t be paying a monthly fee for a checking account. In fact, if you keep a large amount of money in checking, the bank should be paying you interest. This is true in some other countries, too.

Most large banks in the U.S. charge for checking now, but many smaller ones don’t. The trick for me was finding a smaller chain with locations in the right place.

In January, I got a letter from Compass Bank telling me they would start charging me for my checking account.

While Compass Bank has lots of locations nationwide, I only ever used a few of them, and I never signed up with them anyway. They bought out the bank I chose when we moved to our current home, and since they continued to offer the same services at the same (free) price, I stayed with them.

I settled on free checking with Bank of Texas. Since they have two locations between here and my mother’s apartment and two others on streets I often travel, that’s good enough for me. They also refund ATM fees charged by other banks if I find myself ill-prepared while on the road.

Banks have the right to charge whatever they like as long as it’s within the law. And I have the right to choose a company that offers what I want for free.

There’s no reason to pay for checking in Texas. And there may not be any reason to pay where you live either.

The Cheapest Flat Repair In the World

I’m a big fan of Discount Tire, a chain with 750 locations around the country.

While they try to upsell their customers with free replacement certificates and other questionable add-ons like many other auto repair companies, smart customers know to decline junk fees.

More importantly, Discount tire repairs flats for free, offers free rotation and can pull up your history at any location.

After a long day out last Monday, the tire pressure sensor on my 2009 Camry came on. (While this Camry is inferior to the 1999 Camry I had before it, these sensor have saved me hassles at least three times.)

We immediately aired up the tire in a grocery store parking lot with our portable air compressor, then I looked at my watch: 6:24 p.m. There was a Discount Tire just across the street, but they closed at 6.

Turned away by an employee and referred to a manager, I ducked under one of those giant metal rolling doors just as the manager was pulling it down. I might as well pull the car up in front of the last bay, he said. Soon after, a woman with her own sob story got permission to pull up beside me. Another woman’s story wasn’t as good because she was sent away.

The employee who initially turned me away was instructed to fix my flat, which he did. A chunk of wood was no match for his detective skills. He fixed the problem and sent me on my way for free in about 15 minutes. In fact, they didn’t even bother to type up any paperwork.

There’s usually a wait at Discount Tire, but repair and rotation service is always free. Even if you don’t buy your tires there (a requirement for the free repairs), pliable managers are usually willing to do whatever is necessary to placate annoying customers.

Making Sure You Get The Point

Those were, I think you’ll agree, two nice little stories. But they do have a point.

Part of living a simple, deliberate life is avoiding silliness — like paying for things you can get for free.

Whether you have plenty of money, just enough or hardly any, paying more for something than you have to pay is foolish.

And no one wants to be a fool, do they?

Are you paying for something you could be getting for free? Do you feel good about that? Really?

Tell me, if you will, when it’s a good idea to pay for something you could get for free.

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28 Comments
  1. I totally agree with all of these. Sadly I find myself buying bottles of water because I’m not organized enough to be prepared with one in my car many times. I need to work on that. But I have started keeping a large jug at my desk at work and filling up from the filtered tap in my office once or twice a day.

    Also checking account fees – that’s why I <3 my credit union. Not only do I not pay fees, but I get ATM fees refunded (up to $10 a month) plus a reciprocal agreement with any other member of the NFCU. I've heard that the ING Orange checking account is also a great one and I think they're offering a $50 bonus for opening an account right now. Something I need to get on! :)
    kh recently posted Sunday Summary 7

    • Thanks for joining the conversation here, KH. As you know, I check out your blog earlier today.

      Good information. I’ve heard good things about ING.

      I never caught onto the bottled water craze. You can stop into just about any name-brand fast food restaurant and they’ll give you a cup that you can fill from the filtered water at the Coke machine. If you travel the same roads frequently, you learn which places are the friendliest and which have easy access to free water. And I admit it: I eat some fast food, although not nearly as much as I once did.

      Of course, being prepared with my cooler is the best idea, but that doesn’t always happen. Beside, I need an ice cream cone now and then.

      Again, I’m glad you’re here.
      Gip

  2. Really good points Gip! We’ve adopted refilling our own bottles now, much cheaper! It’s also time for us to switch banks, going to check out ING I think! :) Now if we only had a Discount tire! Some dealerships will change your oil for free or a greatly reduced fee, if you use one of their license plate frames as advertisement for them.
    Gena recently posted A Go Slow Blog Aloha

    • I’ve never heard of discount oil changes with the advertising frame around the license plate. Every dealer around here puts those on but I’ve never used one who gave you anything for it. I do know people who have asked that the dealer remove the frame and the little plastic dealer logo they always place near the model name. They see no reason to advertise where they got the car since they get nothing for it. I’m not bothered either way.

      I’d like to know how ING works for you if you try it. I’d be concerned about not having a local branch, but I don’t know why really.
      Gip

  3. deb - lifebeyondstuff permalink

    You asked for it :-)
    Convenience and quality can make it OK to pay for something you could get for free but it would take more time and effort. We bought nice metal water bottles complete with little jackets to keep them cool when we moved here and three months down the track have lost them both. I generally use fountains for water but sometimes when it’s particularly hot and I’m particularly thirsty the convenience of buying a whole bottle of icy cold water to have on hand during a walk makes me fine with spending the couple of dollars. I do re-use them a couple of times before re-cycling.

    The effort in finding a bank that has free chequing accounts would annoy me intensely and then it would probably be in some obscure place or I would have to join a credit union and it would still not be right next to my local supermarket like my current bank that does charge me a couple of bucks a month.

    You and I have very different philosophies around money. I’m going to write the date in my diary and let’s check in a year from now and see how we have each done in terms of attracting some more money into our lives. :-)

    • If Discount Tire had been completely closed that day, I would have driven around the corner to Walmart — open an hour or two later — and tried to get my tire fixed there. That would have cost $15 or more but would be better than driving home on a bad tire or trying to change it for that silly little donut thingy.

      My philosophy on money is the same as for everything else — simple and deliberate. The primary difference between us, I think, is that I don’t want a life of excess and never have. It was the excess that I once had that was standing between me and my best life. My life is nowhere near simple enough yet.
      Gip

      • deb - lifebeyondstuff permalink

        I don’t want excess either but I want freedom of experience and freedom from financial worry. Those things don’t come cheap I’m afraind

        • deb - lifebeyondstuff permalink

          http://www.therealizedself.com/ check this guy out if you want to read about a spiritual experience. He also has a good post on dissatisfaction. I wonder if wanting more simplicity is the same as want more of anything?

  4. I didn’t realize that Discount Tire offered free tire repair and rotation. I would guess this service is only available if the tires were purchased there? It would make me uncomfortable to have free tire repairs and/or rotation at a place where I was never a patron, I think.

    A few years ago, I used to buy bottles of water quite a bit. I’ve since gotten a stainless water bottle I fill and bring along if I think I’ll be getting thirsty.

    I have a no-fee checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank near my home, but I have a savings account at ING and I love it! Their user interface is great and the interest rates are higher than at most banks. They make it really easy to earmark different accounts for different savings goals (score!), and it’s easy for me to just set up automatic transfers from my brick-and-mortar checking account to my ING savings.

    The only downside to the ING savings is that deposits aren’t available for withdrawal for several days. This isn’t really an issue for a savings account where I’m rarely accessing the funds, but I’m not sure how long it takes before deposits are available for withdrawal on an ING checking account.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Is My Husband Feeling Forced into a Non-Consumerist Life

    • Discount Tire used to offer their free services to everyone, but in recent years they’ve gotten more restrictive. They also repair tires for free for the goodwill involved and to try to get you as a customer. They also have a wider than necessary “unrepairable area” at the edges of tires intended to get you to buy new tires. Other shops will repair tires with damage in these areas.

      I’ve been using Discount Tire for about 15 years. Some locations are exceptionally busy, but if you find a newer location or visit during weekdays, you can get in and out quickly.

      Thanks for the info on ING. I’m happy with my new bank, but they could change at any time.
      Gip

    • Yeah thanks for the ING info. That’s great to know! I have been considering opening a savings account and now I think I will! :)
      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – StandUp for Kids

  5. jenny smythe permalink

    I agree about the water. Whenever possible I just drink tap. And avoid drinking bottled water because of the cost and the impact it has on the environment. We’re going to check out Discount Tire and inquire about the tire rotation. I would think that this benefit would only apply to tires that you purchased there I would think right?
    jenny smythe recently posted Why I write LESS

    • Discount Tire will often do the free rotations as a way to GET your business, so ask the manager. Since their tires are less expensive than anywhere else anyway, you’ll be a customer once you visit.
      Gip

  6. Your argument to drink tap water and not bottled water because it is “fully tested and certified” is fallacious.

    The tap is not the source.

    The source is certified, but between there and the tap is a typical 100-year-old pipe system, not to mention the age of the pipes on your street, in your home, and under your sink.

    If you sat in front of two cups of water, one from the source and one from your tap, your taste test would suggest the tap water is disgusting. And, that is why people buy bottled water for the home.
    Ari Herzog recently posted Where to Ask and Answer Questions Online

    • Of course, what you say about municipal water is correct, but it’s also true of most bottled water which also travels through those same pipes in some city or another. Unless bottled water is spring water — and much of it isn’t — it comes through a city water plant. It may or may not have additional filtering, but your home water or the water at a fast food restaurant may or may not have additional filtering too.

      In all cases, bottled water has been treated in some way or had chemicals added to improve flavor — and the law (in the U.S. — different in some places elsewhere) does not require this exact process to be revealed.

      I don’t live in a city so my water comes from a well and isn’t tested at all. Most of the cities around here have great tasting city water, although I can think of two exceptions.

      Here in Texas, cities usually take their obligation to provide good tasting water seriously. I’ll take the water at my mother’s apartment over bottled anytime — and over mine too.

      Gip

      • Gip, my wife and I buy water because the tap water around here tastes “off” to us – but we only use it for drinking. We don’t use it in cooking, we don’t use it to wash dishes, etc.

        We have the large 5-gallon cooler-style bottles, and we fill them ourselves at the store when we shop for groceries. That way we get the water much more reasonably, and we’re not throwing away a ton of cheap plastic bottles.

        When we drink the water my wife uses glasses, and I use my stainless water bottle. It works great!
        Robert Wall recently posted Ambient Minimalism For Bloggers

        • If you have to use bottled water, that seems like a sensible way to do it. Lots of people around here use those big bottles because some people don’t like the way well water tastes in my county. I simply got used to it.

          We have lots of water stores around here in addition to kiosks in grocery stores. Water is big business here.
          Gip

    • We use a Brita filter on our city water and it’s fine.
      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – StandUp for Kids

  7. Another Discount Tire fan here. My grandfather turned me on to them over 30 years ago and I’ve been a loyal customer ever since. Great prices plus awesome customer service – other businesses could take a lesson from them on how to treat customers and win repeat business.
    Mike recently posted Living Without Cable TV

    • We used to live near a Discount Tire, and that’s how we learned about them. They do try to upsell their customers, but they are otherwise a good model for simple service without hassles.

      Good to hear from you again, Mike.
      Gip

  8. Discount Tire is similar to Jiffy Lube, no? Different focus but same concept of bringing customers in by the bulk, having multiple bays, and getting customers back in their cars within 30 minutes?
    Ari Herzog recently posted Why I Use Pinboard for Social Bookmarking

    • Same general idea with multiple bays and lots of customers and employees doing business all at once, but they aren’t always that quick. They also sell house-brand tires, if you want them, that are cheaper than branded tires. That’s what I get. They stock all the big brands too and also order tires, rims and provide premium products and services for those who want them.
      Gip

  9. Good to know about Discount Tire. I didn’t like them because of their sale-y pitches and they’re always recommending I get the more expensive tires, making me think twice about getting the cheaper ones because they’ve convinced me it will cost me more in the long run.

    But I guess I will have to give them another chance ;)
    marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – StandUp for Kids

    • Everything you say about them is true, Marianne. They do try to sell you more than you need. I always buy the cheapest tires they have, and that works fine. They often outlast their mileage rating. I also ALWAYS decline their ripoff ‘free replacement certificates’. They’re like extended warranties on an appliances and should be avoided.

      That said, I don’t know of any chain that doesn’t try to ripoff their customers. If you know of an affordable local shop, that might be a better choice. I have a great local mechanic, but the local tire stores are too expensive and also try to upsell.

      Gip

  10. Katie Williams permalink

    Hey Gip! I’m a college student and I really love reading your blog. I try and live a simple life, which is a bit harder in college–especially when trips to the corporate grocery store, daily eating out, and parties are just around the corner.

    One thing I’ve been vigilant about is my water bottle. One day I was shopping at Ross and I saw a gorgeous, glass water bottle. I will admit, I broke one already because it dropped out of my bag when I was picking something up, but I have kept my second one for a year now and use it multiple times throughout the day. In a weird way, having a great water bottle that I always have around deters me from buying water bottles and motivates me to drink water throughout the day.

    Thanks so much for enlightening me with your simplistic adventures!

    • I definitely agree on the water bottle. Having a good container that you can carry with you that’s always full of water definitely helps as far as hydration goes. :D

      If you ever have issues with your glass water bottle again, you might consider switching to the Klean Kanteen. It’s stainless steel so it’s very lightweight, very durable, and they come in a bunch of sizes (up to 2 quarts!).

      I have two of them. One is the two-quart size (I usually don’t carry it into places with me, but it’s in the car if nothing else) and the other is the 40-ounce size (same size as a 32-oz Nalgene, so it’s good for workouts, etc.).

      No matter what you have for a water bottle though, it’s better than buying the regular bottled stuff – on so many levels. :)
      Robert Wall recently posted Two Crashes, A Launch, & A Podcast

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