I’m always skeptical when someone offers me something for free. Outwardly, I appreciate their generosity, but at this time in my life, I wonder, is it a friendly gesture or does it command reciprocity?

When I was in the Air Force, there was a custom at the officers club called the Dining In. It was a mandatory formal affair for all of the officers on the base. The cost of the dinner was divided among all the officers, regardless of your attendance. If you had to pay for it anyway, you might as well attend.

Before entering the dining hall and meeting the base commander in the receiving line, we indulged around table after table of cocktails. Each table had at least fifty glasses of a specific poured cocktail…martinis, manhattans, whiskey, scotch. We just walked up, grabbed a glass and moved on or went back, and back, and back.

Free is Not Free

Some officers never made it into the dinning hall. But the justification was interesting. Since we were dividing the bill among all the officers, if one guy had two drinks and you only had one, then you were paying for part of his drink. To be fair, you would have to have another drink in order to be even. And these were all officers! Needless to say, everyone was trying to catch up with the other guy and, ultimately, they missed the dinner…and still had to pay for it.

Free is never free. Someone always has to pay. We see free eye exams, free consultations by contractors, free cell phones, free vacation trips. There are actually people in our society that believe in free. The office that offers a free eye exam must recoup the cost of the exam in the price of the glasses. The free consultation from the contractor recoups his costs in the price of the job. The free cell phone is an advertising expense covered by the charges for the service. Who pays? The end user always pays.

Today, we have people who feel college should be free. They already were given 12 years of free education paid for by every working individual in the country. It’s interesting that the people who can’t or won’t work already received the 12 years of free education. It was a FREE gift from the working people. The workers get a bill from the tax collector every year. Free education is not free.

So who will pay for the free college education? Just send the bill to the working people. I wonder how all the college grads will feel when they start working and get their bill for a stranger’s college tuition. Will they step up or want to step out?

Some people feel healthcare should be free. It should be paid for by the people who are working. The working people pay for education already and now they are asked to pay for healthcare. And what about the people who can’t or won’t work, they still would get free education and healthcare. What about the people who purposely abuse their health, who eat, drink or smoke too much? Of course, they would also get free care at the expense of the working people.

But you don’t understand, my employer pays for my healthcare insurance. Interesting. Where does your employer get the money to pay for your healthcare? It comes out of your employer’s operating expenses. Therefore, every customer pays for your healthcare. That said, when you buy anything from a store, you are paying for someone’s healthcare, including your own.

Also interesting is that the insurance companies are in the business of distributing the funds from the employer to the hospitals and healthcare providers. And yes, they charge for this service. How else could they pay for the healthcare for their employees? For every dollar that your employer pays toward your benefit, the insurance company (distributor) keeps 15 cents. That’s billions of dollars. Look at the names on the tall buildings. You will likely see the name of your insurance company. Free healthcare is not free.

Did you ever look down and see a penny on the street? I was always told to pick it up. It would bring me good luck. I have a lot of dirty pennies and I’m not so sure about that luck part. I really never thought much about the person who lost the penny. Maybe, loosing the penny was a bad luck day for him.

Suppose you found a money clip with several hundred dollars or a wallet with money and credit cards, you would really think someone was having a bad day. But it was your lucky day. The penny paid off. Someone had to pay for your lucky day.

The beautiful hotels and casinos in Las Vegas are built at the expense of the losers. But they advertise the experience of the winners. They offer free rooms, at the expense of the losers, free dining at the expense of the losers, and free entertainment at the expense of the losers. Knowing this, the losers keep going back for the free hotel, food and fun…and paying for it. Free is never free.

For the officer who wanted the free drink, the student who demands more free education, the smoker who wants free healthcare, the guy who picks up dirty pennies, or the man rolling the dice at the crap table, the expectation of free costs someone somewhere. Unfortunately, they know that someone personally. He’s in the mirror every morning.

Once we accept the fact that free is not free, and that someone always has to pay, we will begin to understand how businesses must work to succeed and survive. We will understand how we must take responsibility for our own financial freedom and independence. We will be able to determine what price we are willing to pay. Financial freedom comes with a price tag. Free is not free.