Please, let me give you my money.

Common wisdom dictates that getting something “for free” is better than paying for it.

I call shenanigans on this claim.

For the duration of our (now decade-old) relationship, hubby and I have professed a hatred of most “free” items. If you don’t require us to pay for it, we probably don’t want it.

This might be a bit confusing, especially if you know that I come from a family in which bargain hunting took on an importance unseen since Captain Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick. When I was growing up, my mother spent hours each week carefully clipping coupons and filing them away in special accordion folders. Every few months or so, she’d pay me fifty cents to go through her files and pull out any expired ones. Paying full retail for anything is, according to Mom, just no fun. Bargain hunting is a sport for her (except now, thanks to couponing blogs, she only clips coupons on-demand for specific bargains and the coupon filing system has migrated to actual hanging files).

Perhaps that is what began my lifelong rebellion against discount shopping. It’s not that I mind saving a buck; it’s just that I have little of the patience and discipline it takes to only buy things when they’re on sale. It requires advanced planning and willpower, two things I possess only in highly specific circumstances (gift buying and chocolate eating, respectively, for the record). I don’t want to spend my entire Saturday going from store to store to get only the bargains at each one. My philosophy of grocery shopping can be neatly abbreviated as GIGTHO (Get In, Get The Hell Out). I experience grocery store rage the way others do road rage. I can’t handle the aisles invariably crowded with promotional displays, helpful folks offering samples of the latest clam juice-and-peanut butter party bite recipe, and every senior citizen who can’t be bothered to get out of bed on Tuesday mornings when they’re supposed to be doing their grocery shopping.

Which leads me to “free” items. I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for,” and usually the trade-off with free stuff is that you have to be willing to wait in a horribly long line, drive a great distance or jockey for position with 100,000 other people who all had the same “great money-saving idea” you did.

To me, these experiences are not enjoyable, because I wind up experiencing the same feelings of anxiety and frustration that I do when I’m in a crowded grocery store. I will gladly pay a few more dollars to enjoy my ice cream cone in a timely manner, get my ground beef home before it spoils or view priceless works of art without hundreds of people crowding or walking in front of me. If a few dollars is all that stands between me and a good time, please take my money.

The epitome of this “free event” torture in my area is sponsored by the county government each year. Basically, everyone who buys anything in our county pays an extra 1% sales tax, which goes into the Regional Asset District (RAD) fund for redistribution to various arts and cultural organizations (somehow our for-profit sports teams snuck in there, but that’s a rant for another day). In exchange for grants from public funds, recipient organizations are required to host free events several times a year.

The resulting “RADical Days” are poster children for why free things are horrible. The event spaces get overcrowded; parking lots fill to capacity and spill traffic down every artery which makes it impossible for me to even leave my neighborhood; and, worst of all, some of the organizations are so desperate for the foot traffic RADical Days bring that they bend over backward. They bring in additional entertainment, do special activities and offer specials on memberships that go largely ignored. People who wait until “free day” to visit such places are not, by a general rule, the kind of people who care about sustaining organizations through membership. It all amounts to wasted effort that may raise awareness by a hair, but is no substitute for cultivating an engaged and committed audience and membership base. I suppose I could sum this up by saying that “free days” in this case totally undermine the continued financial health of these organizations, necessitating future grants and devolving into a self-perpetuating cycle.

So, I spend my life paying full price for most things. Every few weeks, Mom will tell me about all the “fantastic” grand opening deals at the latest discount superstore, or that it’s free scoop night at the local ice cream shop. A friend will send out email announcing that it’s time once again for RADical Days! I’ve learned that the best way to avoid feeling guilty about not partaking in these money-saving pursuits is to just say, “Have a great time!” and then go back to my $12.99 full-price e-book, my undiscounted museum admission and a plateful of $3.99/lb. chicken breast.

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