Thursday, August 2, 2012

When Free Isn't Quite Free

It's been on the news, talked about at parent gatherings, posted on Facebook.  J.C. Penney's is giving free haircuts the month of August to kids in kindergarten through the sixth grade.  But before you pile the kids in the car and tear off to the mall, pause and reflect on what this free offer likely means.

One, you have to get there.  Cars require gasoline, and malls are usually a few miles if not more from home.  Two, once you arrive you'll be in the midst of a shopping frenzy.  Something tells me J.C. Penney will have some great buys.  One's you just can't pass up.  Third, the place is going to be packed.  No appointments, walk in service.  You've now spent a lot of time getting a free hair cut.  What else could you have done with that time?  Fourth, malls have food courts.  And kids love that kind of thing.  Watch your pocketbook....the price of fast food adds up quick.  And fifth, you'll be in a mall.  An endless sea of stores, kiosks and others pedaling goods.  Unless you leave your cash, credit cards, and ATM card at home, I'd bet that you spend something at the mall.  And chances are better than not that it will be an impulse buy.

So, free does not always mean free.  Stores are smart.  They hire marketers to think of ways to get money from your wallet into their tills.  If you are hoping to save money on the family's grooming budget, try these suggestions:

  • walk to the nearest Cost Cutters, Great Clips, etc.  You'll save money on transportation;
  • go to a fast-food style hair cut shop with a coupon in hand;
  • find a local beauty school in your area (there is a great one in downtown Madison) and see if they have a discount day;
  • leave the credit card at home and take enough cash to pay the bill.  You'll avoid any impulse buys; and
  • try doing haircuts at home.  My kids are young enough that peer pressure isn't an issue.  It's worth a try, and if it isn't great, then go and get it fixed by a professional.
To be frugal requires analysis, questioning, and skepticism.  As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Always ask, what are the hidden costs of this transaction.  If you do that you will save money, consume less, and probably improve your health in some fashion.

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