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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Try Free Before Paying

Very often when we want something, we go straight for what we think is best quality or the ‘best’ choice for us, without looking at the expense.  After all, why pay $25 for something that is mediocre when we can get something really good for $32? The other argument is that you may not want to spend $25 to later find out you need the extra that the $32 device offers.  However, if you could try something for free, you would not be out any money if you changed your mind about buying something.

Often what we want is available for free.  Maybe not exactly what we want, but a good substitute, and for no money!  Even though they may not be what you want, the savings are tremendous and if you later choose to buy something, your first trial would have cost you nothing.

Here are a few examples of what you should try for free before spending money.

- Apps for your phone.  Often there are less fancy equivalents to non-free apps; they the free one first and only when they do not do the job should you choose a paying one.  And remember that there are many free ones to try for each purpose!

- Information: there are so many sources for free information nowadays, that subscribing to a paper newspaper is almost obsolete (ALMOST).  You can get your news from the internet, the radio, TV, free newspapers, etc.  I still like some paper news once a while, but only when I need to look at something more in depth.  You can really keep track of what is happening in the world without paying a cent.

- Movies; if you want to see a movie that is not recent, why not try borrowing it from the library (the school’s or the city) or a friend or even see if you can get it online (Netflix?) before buying it.  And even though the large video rental stores have closed, there are a few smaller ones still open; renting is cheaper than buying.

- Books: books, including recent ones, are the main focus of city libraries; borrowing a book is no more complicated than going to the library and asking for it.  You can often reserve the book online first and get an email when it is available.  I have a friend who used to say that any book worth reading is worth owning; I disagree.  Many books are worth reading and a few are worth reading multiple times; only the latter are worth purchasing in my opinion.

- A night out: entertainment can often be had for free if you look hard enough.  Many cities offer movies in the park throughout the summer (yes you need to mind your money in the summer too as it affects your overall budget!). Universities often offer performances for free throughout the year – or check out the dress rehearsal! If you volunteer as an usher at the local theatre for the performance nights, you automatically get to see the show the nights you are working.  Libraries often have poetry readings.  A book club will keep you reading and discussing fun books.

- Food: yes, even food can be free, although not all the time (or not enough so you can survive).  Many events, especially in September when many clubs are eager to attract you to join, will offer free food in exchange for you going.  It is NOT dishonest to attend these functions mostly for the food – the clubs expect that, and are offering food to lure people to try a club, or at least consider it.  Unless there is a club you are morally opposed to joining before you visit, ‘club’ hopping for food is perfectly legit. Once you are a bit more advanced in your studies, you may notice that many seminars at your college or university offer free food.  In an engineering department I knew, weekly lunch-time seminars included pizza (1 slice per person) and soda.  At another university, the physiology seminars always had free donuts for the eating (and a few left after the seminar).  Unfortunately for first year students, these are typically of a level reserved for graduate students or at least upper-year students.  Grabbing food and not attending the seminar is not only rude, but professors attending will remember you and your relationship with people grading your assignments or from whom you will later want a reference letter is not good policy.

- Food at the supermarket or from other vendors: although more and more rare, some supermarkets have promotional product demonstrations where you can sample the food for free.  Although this does not constitute a full meal, it’s a great appetizer.  And yes, it is ethical to have some of the samples even if you have no intention to buy the product.  The same often happens at farmer’s market; you won’t get to make a meal from the food, but you’ll get a taste, which is always pleasant. Many products are available for a taste at cultural fairs where vendors present their products.  Check out the local paper for these.  This past weekend, at an art fair, I sampled some dip on crackers, 2 types of local cheddar, shortbread cookies and hot sauce (given to me on a cracker).  Although it was far from a meal, it was fun and it filled my 4 o’clock snack spot!  I also did not feel the need to buy a snack from a vendor since I could taste a few delicious items.

- Clothing: yes, this is a hard one (do you really want your cousin’s old undies?) but some items that will not be worn often can be borrowed for free.  Recently, my daughter lent her prom dress and shoes to a friend who was going this year as the date to someone graduating.  If you let family and friends that you will need a winter coat this season, you may well find one coming your way (used, but warm).  My mom and step-mom both have small feet like me so we often exchange shoes that are still good but that we don’t wear anymore.  As a graduate student, my husband inherited my dad’s old skies so our cost for skiing was considerably reduced.  We even do this now that we have good paying jobs and our own children; I receive many pieces of trendy clothes from my younger sister – and I send her way all my daughter’s clothes when she outgrows it (my nieces are younger).  It’s good all around!

- Furniture and appliances: of course you can get quite a bit from family (see the post of June 19 2014) but even once set up in your dwelling away at school, you should ask friends who live close by if they happen to have the item you are looking for; an extra bookcase may have been left by a previous housemate and is taking too much space at a friend’s place.  I received a very sturdy wooden bookcase for free from a fellow student; I repainted it black to hide the pale pink it was originally.  April, during exams (if you are done yours or need a break) and just after exams, is a perfect time for scouring around the ‘student ghetto’ around your school for free items.  As well, many students bring a toaster or a coffee maker to their first shared house/apartment, so these dwellings often overflow with appliances.  Before buying a new blender, ask your friends if they have too many!  And only if the one you get for free is not adequate should you try to obtain one by a paying method!

Generally, try a free option before opting for a paying one.  You literally have NOTHING to lose!

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