The best things in life are free

Posted by Elizabeth Harrison in Personal Finance on 3 November 2014 - Elizabeth is a Senior Credit Analyst at checkmyfile.

The best things in life are free. Love, friendship, a butterfly fluttering past on a sunny day, a baby’s smile… Sentimental? Probably. Sickening? Perhaps. True? I think most would agree that there are certain things which bring us happiness that money cannot buy. But when did we decide as a nation that as such, everything should be free?

With free trials, BOGOF offers and complimentary gifts are we being programmed to expect something for nothing? There certainly seems to be a sense of entitlement these days, as can be seen by the numerous adverts telling us what we’re eligible for or what we could claim if we just took the time. And along with the compensation culture which seems to be promoted, TV experts educate viewers on how to complain and what their rights are. It’s certainly no bad thing for consumers to be aware of their rights and we should expect to be treated fairly but are we taking it to extremes? With this knowledge and encouragement comes an awful lot of ‘I deserve this’, ‘I want that’ and ‘I’m entitled to…’

Following the financial crisis, it’s understandable that money and finance is more important than ever but does the focus on getting the most we can for our money mean we are forgetting the notion of a fair price for a fair product or service? Does the fact that the focus is often on price over quality mean we don’t appreciate the true worth in terms of time and labour which has gone into the production of goods and services as we should?

The homogenisation of the high street has meant the majority of retailers can only differentiate themselves with price - which of the major supermarkets does not boast about how much cheaper it is than the others? But these prevailing attitudes and practices shape our surroundings. A ‘why pay that when I can get it cheaper somewhere else’ attitude has contributed to the end of the road for certain high street retailers who have lost business to cheaper, online retailers and bigger businesses – including those pesky supermarkets! While price reigns supreme, mass-produced goods will prevail over handmade one-offs as they can be made so much more cheaply but we’re losing out on variety and quality as a result.

This unwillingness to part with more money than we would like, combined with the growing feeling that we are entitled to certain things means we’ve got to a point where we feel it’s reasonable to complain about things we’re not even paying for and worse, we’re not even happy receiving money for free. We may be refraining from looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth but that doesn’t mean we have to be grateful and hold back from grumbling it would seem!

Quidco, one of the UK’s biggest cashback websites, has become popular with many as a way to earn a little money on the side simply by making a slight change to the way they shop online. Rather than accessing an online shop directly, the shopper uses a link to the retailer from the cashback website and continues as normal. The transaction itself is dealt with by the retailer in the normal way but it is also tracked by the cashback website. The customer then receives money – usually a percentage of the total price paid – from the cashback website.

The average user can make a few hundred pounds a year and though it may take a bit more effort to shop around for the best deals and to access retailers via the cashback site, Quidco confirms that at least 100 of its 4 million members have made over £10,000. Not bad for purchases which would likely have been made anyway.

So all in all, money for nothing, right? Yet there are still complaints. One customer assumed the cashback would be received instantly and believed Quidco were not transparent enough regarding the process and time taken for money to be received. Quidco’s managing director defends the site and maintains that this information is displayed as clearly as possible with statistics for each lender including transaction pay-out times. The reason for a waiting time of up to 4 months in this customer’s case? Quidco has to wait for the advertising commission from the retailer before they can pass the money on to the customer. Not good enough according to this particular customer but she’s not so unhappy that she isn’t continuing to use the site…

Correct me if I’m wrong but by using a cashback site, you’re getting money back which if you’d bought the items directly you wouldn’t be receiving at all. Isn’t that a good thing no matter how long it takes? That’s not to say that free trials, rewards and cashback are all given out of the goodness of the hearts of business owners across the nation rather than part of a promotional strategy but at the same time, you getting something for free normally means someone else is giving something for free.

Perhaps it’s all a question of attitude then and the value we place on goods and services. The impact of living in a consumerist society means that many of us are constantly striving for bigger houses, faster cars, the latest technology and so on. But although this ensures we end up with a lot of stuff it also means we’re never going to be happy with what we’ve got. Without wishing to sound like a wannabe life coach, perhaps every once in a while we ought to do a virtual ‘stocktake’ to make sure we’re appreciating what we have and placing value on what really matters. Sentimental? Probably. Sickening? Perhaps. True….?

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