The un-Free

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Student of the MonthA letter was waiting for me on the kitchen table. My daughter had a letter from school. “What’s this?” I ask. My daughter was all smiles as she says, “I made Student of the Month.” Mrs. Accountant was not as excited as she should have been and I know why. Her bullshit meter goes off as easy as mine. I read the letter and discovered there is more than one Student of the Month. In fact, there are a lot of Students of the Month. And here is the coup de grace that set off the BS meter in Mrs. Accountant: Our daughter gets a free meal at a certain restaurant with all the other “Students” of the Month. Of course, mom and dad have to fork out an armload for their meal and mom and dad are required to attend the function if our daughter is to get her meal gratis.

Free: The one word in the English language sure to get people to look. It is used by marketers and scam artists alike with great skill. It is the most dangerous word to a responsible lifestyle and early retirement. Free is used to get people to spend money on stuff they don’t want. In the case of my daughter, it is a tool to get people to buy overpriced meals out of obligation. The best part is that the mark is not the person you have to convince. The school is all too happy to oblige. They can hand out awards at no cost while sending the worst financial message possible to the student.

Why do schools fall for this BS? Why do parents? My daughter knew it was too good to be true because we talk about money openly in my home. We are skeptical about something “free”. My girls know “free” is not always free. Schools fall for it for one of two reasons:

1.) Intentionally to raise money for the school, or

2.) They don’t know better.

It's not free, but then again, what is?

It’s not free, but then again, what is?

It could be a bit of both. People don’t know how to handle money because nobody taught them. Mom and dad did not know and the teachers at school were just as clueless. There is no doubt in my mind why this country has so many money problems on the personal and family level. Since money is the number one reason people get divorced, it is imperative we teach our children solid financial skills. This is about more than money; it is about relationships, children, and families.

The Student of the Month scam is not the first to come home from the public school system. My children received more “free” coupons, certificates, and tokens over the years for free ice cream, desert, meals, and park admission than I can shake a fist at. And mom and dad are required to attend with junior at full price. And it works! Children put on a full-court press of guilt for not taking junior to the free meals they earned if mom and dad waver. The Wealthy Accountant wavers and the junior accountants do too. Sometimes I wonder if we should have home schooled. We talked about it.

School Is Only the Beginning

Home schooling would not have solved the problem. Life is filled with these so-called free offers.

I am what is affectionately known as a “plate-licker”.  Mrs. Accountant and I attend “free” meals meant for easy marks, I mean as informational seminars. They sell investments (annuities), energy devices (over-priced and worthless), real estate programs (less than worthless), and other sure-fire, money-making ideas. My goal is not to get a free meal, though I never turn one away. No, my goal is to learn what is out there so I can inform my clients. Since I have no intention of buying, I am known as a plate licker.

51mTGgqDJGL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_It starts so innocent. A post card or other mass mailing with an offer you can’t refuse and it is FREE! arrives in the mail. Leave your checkbook at home, they say. Enjoy a free meal with your spouse, they say. Learn what the wealthy and insiders know, they say. Bah! Every one of these FREE! seminars are the same. The advice is worse than bad, the products over-priced, and the whole presentation is dressed up to look like it all works as illustrated. I have seen twenty or so of these seminars and they all have the same pattern: buy annuities, install radiant barrier in your home, and give us $25,000 and we will teach you how to flip houses and make millions. What you get is: shitty investment advice to buy a fixed or index annuity that pays the sales rep a massive commission so he can pay for all those free meals, pay $3,000 to install some cheap products to reduce your utility bill (you can do-it-yourself for a couple hundred bucks), or advice on house flipping you can get online for free. There is always a grain of truth. Remember, the con man never takes your money; you give it to him of your own free will

And why do people get suckered into this crap ad nauseam? Because they were taught in school it must be good if it is free.

I know, you don’t go to those seminars. Good for you. You are richer for it. Free is damn expensive. But you get suckered with free stuff every day. It comes walking in your home and you welcome it with open arms.

Free Software/Apps

The worst example I ever saw was the Microsoft Windows 10 rollout. Microsoft wanted to sell you the heroin so bad they gave you your first hit for free. Several hits in fact. Got to get you hooked, you know. As a pusher, they are insistent. Any corporation that is as annoying and invasive as Microsoft was when they rolled out Windows 10 is up to no good. They don’t give anything for free without a reason. It was their version of “You are the Student of the Month”.

My security team put an end to all the pop-ups Microsoft installed in their updates to all earlier Windows versions. Now I read in the news Microsoft is disabling your ability to use other products if you are using Windows 10. Microsoft wants to force you to use (and pay for) only Microsoft products. I am sure they will never apply monopoly pricing on their monopoly of your computer. Your computer.

Recently, Microsoft Outlook stopped working at the office when we used the online version unless you used Internet Explorer. Microsoft is trying to force us to use their browser. Unfortunately, I don’t take kindly to such underhanded tactics. We are not switching to Internet Explorer; we are switching from Outlook to a non-Microsoft product. We are actually moving everything from Microsoft we can. I don’t trust the corporation anymore. They need to learn respect before I’ll ever consider them in my office again.

What about Google?

Google gives just about everything away for free. Is Google also a bad deal? Not in my opinion. Not to sound like a hypocrite, but I use the same tactic in my business Google does. When you walk in my office I offer free soda, coffee, tea, along with other goodies. The difference between Microsoft and me is I don’t hold my clients hostage if they drink the Kool-Aid. You can have a free soda or Keurig coffee regardless if you are a client. I have people stop by just for the freebie and to say hi. Obligation is not attached to the free gift.

Google does the same. They have loads of free software. I track this blog with Google Analytics and Google AdSense. Google has tools that allow me to research topics I am writing on. Search is free. Traffic research is free.

Truth Revealed

Why is it okay when Google and I hand out a freebie and not for Microsoft, the free seminar guys, and the school? The difference is in disclosure. You know I want your business and I give a free refreshment to get an opportunity to gain your business. Google gives free stuff so you use their search engine and hopefully engage the ads. That is how Google makes money. There is no obligation, nor are you forced.

The school on the other hand sends kids home to pressure mom and dad into a really bad money spending situation; Microsoft makes it almost impossible to work on your own computer unless you cough up control. (Microsoft crossed the line with the Windows 10 rollout and now uses Windows 10 to force non-Microsoft products from working.) And don’t get me started again on how the seminar guys work.

Free is not free; somebody is paying for it. Free soda is covered by the company which gets its money from paying customers. The next time you are offered something “free” you might want to step back and ask if it is really a good decision to accept the free gift. It might cost more than you are willing to pay.

Anyone up for a free meal (you may have won a free iPod) just for attending an informational seminar on a timeshare?

Personal Capital: You can't manage what you don't know.

Keith Taxguy


  1. Aleksey on May 4, 2016 at 3:16 am

    Your posts are great. They should be mandatory at schools…

    Really keep it up!

  2. The Jolly Ledger on May 4, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Ugh. I know this all too well. It seems every week the schools are sending home an “optional” item to pay for whether it is photos, field trips, fake graduations (i.e., kindergarten). It drives me insane. So far this year they have had school photos, class photos, and spring photos. Seriously? The “free” dinner is classic though.

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