Why “free” isn’t really free

Since they were old enough to understand the concept, I have made it clear to my children that "there’s no such thing as ‘free’."  I do this wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself, and I love the weird looks I get from people in stores; people who, based on their facial expressions,  clearly think that my brain is on fire and that worms are crawling out of my ears. 

Simply, there is opportunity cost associated with every transaction.  And in most cases, when an advertiser uses the word "free" what they really mean is "at no additional monetary cost".  This is what I tell my children: if you have to spend money to get it, then it isn’t "free".

Not everything advertised as free costs money, however.  Well, at least not up front!  Some time ago someone clued me in to the existence of Freecycle.  Anyone can join and post stuff they want, or stuff they want to give away.  It’s for people who realize that someone might actually want that "piece of crap" they would otherwise throw away.  So they give it away.  This isn’t eBay.  There’s no bidding, no money, and no shipping.  If you want someone else’s crap, you have to go get it.  And the first one there wins.

A couple of weeks ago someone posted that they had a Kenmore portable dishwasher.  By its description it was in very good shape, but it did not drain.  I contacted the poster and he said someone else was scheduled to pick it up, but that if that didn’t work out I was next in line.  A few days later I got another e-mail: "Come and get it!"  I set a date and time and was off to get my "free" dishwasher!

Here is what this thing actually cost me:

  • I don’t have a truck, and my Van is currently in need of some service, so I had to borrow a truck.  My friend Tom was nice enough to not only let me use his truck, but he went with me to pick up the dishwasher as well!  Cost: Tom’s time, my time, and mileage on his truck.
  • 3 trips to the hardware store.  I tested it and, as reported, it did not drain.  But to test it I had to hook it up to my kitchen sink’s faucet.  IN order to do THAT I needed the sink spout adapter, which was NOT supplied.  It took me three tries to get the right fittings.  Cost: about an hour of my time, $6.50, and 5 miles on my car.
  • 1 trip to Lowe’s, and 1 trip to Radio Shack.  Having (incorrectly) deduced that there was something plugging the drain hose, I needed long, think needle-nose pliers to extract that which I "felt" to be the blockage.  I ended up with forceps from Radio Shack.  Cost: 4 miles on my car and about $10.00.
  • The "blockage" turned out to be some kind of "flap" which I presume prevents backflow into the dishwasher or something.  But it wasn’t the cause of the blockage.  Further analysis revealed a suspect impeller at the bottom of the unit.  I made a post to Sears online "expert" support forum along with a couple of pictures and in less than 2 days someone confirmed my diagnosis.  I ordered a new impeller.  Cost: Half an hour of my time and about $16.00.

Yesterday I installed the new impeller.  Having a new part to compare to the old part made it obvious what the problem had been.  I fired it up and it works just great!  For the first time in over 15 years, I have the luxury of a dishwasher!  It’s a nice unit, can be retro-fitted into our existing cabinetry if we ever want to, and gives us a little more kitchen counter space!

But it was in no way "free"!!

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