10 Free Things That Just Aren't Worth It


There are generally two different approaches that people will take when confronted with a freebie.

First, you have the person who is all in, simply because the item is free or because they get really jazzed and excited when they're getting a deal. It's the extreme-couponer mentality where it's good to get anything and everything one can for free. (See also: Are Extreme Cheapskates Going Too Far?)

The second approach is the pragmatist mindset where the person immediately becomes skeptical and assumes that if something is free, it can't possibly be worth owning or even bothering with.

After all, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Milton Friedman would be proud.

Both views can be right and appropriate in different situations, depending on what exactly you're getting for free. Let's look at 10 free things that probably aren't worth your time, thereby justifying the skeptic in you.

1. Web Hosting Services

Web hosting isn't expensive to begin with, running less than $5 per month in most cases. Thus using free hosting companies should be avoided because of the limited storage space, bandwidth, and the fact that most of these companies require you to post ads on your site as a means of paying for that limited space. If you're serious about hosting your site, spring for the monthly fee and do it right.

2. Magazines

A lot of magazines will offer you a free issue if you give them basic information like your name, mailing address, phone number, and email. The problem with that one issue is that it has a nasty habit of becoming a 24-month subscription due to the difficulty of canceling (or remembering to do so in the first place). The safer option is to just avoid the freebie unless you're sure you want to subscribe.

3. Signing Up for Email Coupons

Signing up for coupons online always means you've got to divulge an email address. That's fine, if you don't mind essentially signing up for a massive spam emailing list. Depending on who you initially sign up with, your email address is likely to end up on a number of other spam mailing lists, which will fill your inbox with all kinds of advertisements and coupons for things that you probably aren't interested in.

Instead, visit a coupon code aggregator like RetailMeNot, Wise Think's Coupon Codes page, or FatWallet. You can visit these sites and pick up coupons without leaving your personal info behind. Even better? Because you initiate the search for a product or service you have already determined you need, you are less likely to make an unplanned or impulse purchase because you got a coupon in your inbox. (See also: Stop Impulse Buying)

4. Samples From Multi-Level Marketing Companies

Multi-level marketing companies will provide free samples for one of two reasons: Either they're trying to recruit you to sell something or they're trying to get you to buy what is often a severely overpriced product. Generally, they aren't giving you anything that's not just going to crowd up your closets and junk drawers.

5. Movie Channel (and Other) Trial Subscriptions

Cable companies will offer promotional deals that include movie channel packages for a few months. Even if movie channels hold some form of relevancy with competing services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, the cable company doesn't cancel the channels for you after the trial is over, which means you get billed for something you're probably not watching. Recently the cable companies brought this strategy to their own Internet streaming offerings, too.

It's also common for trial offers on subscriptions of all kinds, from software and apps to gym memberships. Don't take the trial offer if you know you won't bother to cancel!

6. Merch Pens

Why do companies slap their name on a pen and give it out for free? They do it as a marketing tactic, which means the pens are cheap and serve little purpose aside from crowding up your desk. (See also: 25 Things to Throw Out)

7. SEO Consultation

SEO or "search engine optimization" is an acronym that has been thrown around the Internet now for several years and has given rise to numerous small companies that specialize in it.

These companies advertise themselves as consultants who can help get your website ranking higher with Google and other search engines and generally improve the reach of your online content. They'll offer a free consultation to try and hook you in, but the information they provide isn't anything that you can't figure out on your own.

My free SEO advice? Do what Google says you should do and follow Google's advice.

8. Store Credit Cards

Not only are the credit cards themselves free, but there are often incentives attached to get you to sign up, like a store discount or some kind of free merchandise. The gut reaction is usually to go for it, but opening a credit card shouldn't be done on a whim, since it can hurt your credit score and cause you to spend more money than you would without it. The APRs on store credit cards are also very high, and since you're only allowed to use it at that particular store, there is very little practical use. To save at your favorite stores, wait for sales or coupons. (See also: Store Credit Cards That Don't Suck)

9. Timeshare Promotions

I suppose there are some of us who don't mind paying for a weekend away at a great resort with a couple of hours spent listening to a high octane sales presentation. Sure, you get to stay in a resort or hotel for free (or get other gifts gratis), but life's too short to fend off aggressive sales pitches. And if you aren't strong enough to say "No," loudly and often, you may just find yourself roped in to a poor real estate investment.

10. Other People's Junk

There's a reason that couch, television, desk, and pile of chipped plates is stacked on the sidewalk. Unless you've got a plan to resell that old junk on eBay or Craigslist (and fast), the clutter that someone else pushed to the curb will soon be your clutter. Walk away, and don't come back later with a pickup truck, either.

Understanding Marketing

When you understand a company's marketing tactics, it often takes a lot of the appeal and allure away from whatever free product they might be offering. Sure that item might be free, but it's always designed to get you to spend more money; far more than what the free product is worth.

As weird as it may sound, freebies that aren't due to some kind of a sale or liquidation are almost always intended to get more money from you.

Thus a bit of skepticism can, at times, be quite helpful.

Are there other free things that aren't worth it? Share them with us in comments — it's free!

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Guest's picture

Great tips, except the last one. One man's junk is one man's treasure. Sometime you do find something valuable.

Guest's picture

I've picked up some really useful things from curbs and dumpsters, it's not all junk. I have a set of sturdy plastic shelves in my walk-in closet that I pulled from a dumpster. Since there's very little shelving in there, they have come in handy. I found small plant stands in another dumpster and used them for about a decade before getting replacements. A friend really lucked out when she found some nice furniture and a huge mirror next to an apartment building's dumpster about 5 years ago. The mirror looks great perched on her fireplace mantel.