Ways to Save Money

Here’s Why I Stopped Accepting Free Stuff and Why You Probably Should, Too

Updated August 12, 2016
by Susan Shain
Senior Writer
free stuff

It’s totally obvious.

You can see it at any baseball game, where fans jostle each other for oversized T-shirts…

Or any conference, where attendees eagerly fill their swag bags with pens and chip clips…

We love free stuff.

I’m sure there are evolutionary explanations for why we get so excited about things that don’t cost a penny, but I’m not here to examine those.

I’m here to look at what happens when we go against our innate desires — and start saying no to free stuff.

I started doing it a few years ago, and hard as it was (and still sometimes can be), I think my life is better for it.

Why I Stopped Accepting Free Stuff

Like the vast majority of other humans, I love getting free stuff.

But I also hate clutter.

I teetered along, living my life with those diametrically opposing views, until I read a book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.

In it, Rubin employs a variety of strategies and experiments to improve her life.

One of them: “Stay on top of clutter.”

Though it may seem “trivial,” she writes, “I’ve found — and many people have told me that they’re the same way — that clutter weighs me down more than it should.”

And an easy way to reduce clutter? Stop amassing it in the first place.

“Because I’m focused on clutter-busting, I’m now very wary of anything that’s free,” Rubin explains.

“Now, instead of unthinkingly accepting a freebie, I ask: would I choose to buy this thing? If not, I probably don’t really need or want it, even if getting it feels like a treat.”

So just think: Would you pay for that free notebook? Or stress ball? Or beer koozie?

Probably not. But you’ll take it because it’s free.

Then, thanks to the “endowment effect,” it’ll become way harder to throw away than it ever was to accept.

“Once we own an object, we value it more,” Rubin explains in the New York Times.

“I may not have particularly wanted that ceramic beer stein emblazoned with a law school crest, but now that it’s on my shelf, I find it weirdly hard to give it up,” she writes.

“And the longer I own it, the more I value it. For this reason, it pays to be wary of hand-me-downs, tag sales and promotional swag. The innocent-looking gimcrack you pick up on a whim may root itself in your home for years.”

SO TRUE, right?

I mean, how many useless things do you have in your home that you’ve grown unreasonably attached to — simply because of the years they’ve been sitting uselessly in your home?

And it comes at a price: Being organized and clutter-free could help you save money, earn money or even fund your retirement.

Getting rid of stuff is hard, though — too hard for many of us. So, instead, the answer is to never accept it in the first place.

Of course, if it’s something you need and will use, take it, and revel in its freeness.

But all the extraneous junk? Nope, nope, nope.

My home — and my life — certainly don’t miss the clutter.

Your Turn: Do you accept free stuff? Have you ever thought about declining it?

Disclosure: Our friends stopped inviting us over because we were always digging for loose change between their couch cushions. We use affiliate links instead so we still get invited to a few parties.

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.

by Susan Shain
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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