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I’ve been thinking a lot about “what is free?” I was watching an ad for a health insurance comparison service and they go on and on about how it’s free to use. But is it free? The answer is no. So how do they make money?

You browse a comparison website and you think they’re comparing the whole market – well they’re not. They only compare the companies that agree to their terms. You then buy a policy they have recommended and the insurance company pays them a finders fee (either a percentage of the total policy cost or a set fee). These fees effect all customers of that insurance company as the cost is passed on in the form of increased premiums.

A similar set up exists for all types of insurance and even hotel comparison sites. Nothing is free. Think about the hidden cost of things that are marketed as ‘free’.

What is cheap? We all love a good deal and there is nothing better than feeling like you’ve got the bargain of the century. Now days everything is cheap… but at what cost. The total cost of a t-shirt may not be reflected on the price tag but there are hidden costs other than the ticket price. The cost has shifted from the price tag to the people who make our bargain basement clothes (horrible work conditions and bonded or slave labour) and to the environment (irresponsible and toxic practices) in an eternal quest to reduce the cost of manufacture.

Having said that, expensive doesn’t always mean better. A lot of the expensive so called “luxury” brands also use the same exploitive practices. Everyone (including people and corporations) want to make more and spend less. Profits are put above people and we all keep buying in to it.

I don’t pretend to have an answer to the problem but if we truly start considering the cost of the goods and services we all buy then maybe we can make a difference.

So remember, free ain’t free and cheap ain’t cheap!

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