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TNSTAAFL: ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’

Always a voracious reader, only one science fiction writer ever made my favorites list. Robert Heinlein’s “thing” was to introduce a new word in each of his books.

He would never define the made-up word, but after a few uses, the reader instinctively knew exactly what it meant. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, his word was tanstaafl (tahnz-tah-fill), an acronym that translated to “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.”

I heartily recommend that you adopt that word into your vocabulary, your life, and your every decision.

Avoid the allure of “Buy One — Get One Free” deals (duh, 25% OFF if you buy two of the items) to “a free buffet lunch if you rack up 500 players points, to “free anything IF you do, promise or sign up for something.” The very word free suggests that you will pay through the nose to get the promised free item or opportunity. “Tanstaafl,” may indeed be the best proactive mantra you will ever learn.

FREE oil changes are … not.

FREE carpet shampooing is … not.

FREE bank accounts are … not.

FREE interest loans are … not

FREE vacations are … not.

FREE first visits are … not.

FREE installation is … not.

The word FREE, while incredibly appealing, in reality may turn out to be the worst long-shot bet. One way or another, FREE always gets passed on to the consumer as an eventual cost. Why? Because nobody makes money on “free” and that is the concept that makes business and the world go round. Even FREE chances at magnificent prizes are not FREE; the sponsor makes up the money, quite easily, by selling your personal entry information to the millions of buyers who are looking for gullible people.

Do two-for-one cruises actually provide a FREE cruise for the second guest? Of course not. You board as the free passenger because the word alone is a powerful sales tactic; by trip’s end you’ve spent $987 on drinks, outings, spa treatments and overpriced shopping goodies. Marketing — pure and simple.

Do free lunches in exchange for listening to a two-hour sales pitch even approach FREE? C’mon now, get serious.

Does that $100 gift card (perhaps a real hardcore pitch to buy a time share in Bongo-Bongo) catch enough flies in the ointment to cover their cost? Absolutely. If it didn’t, the program would be discontinued because nobody (which means you!) was paying the sales commissions. No business can support itself, pay for staff, marketing and free events, with “FREE.”

Still, everything in sales, advertising, and promotion teases us with FREE. The come-ons are cleverly written, however always, without exception, have a heavy consumer price tag.

Heinlein’s made up word, TANSTAAFL qualifies as one of the smartest one-worders ever put on paper. Take heed, readers. When you see the word FREE, fully understand that some one, some how, some way and some time is going to bite you in the butt. It’s just the way it is.

Got questions on fraud scams, any scams at all? Write to me c/o the Pahrump Valley Times. Drop by the Pahrump Valley Times offices, 2160 E. Calvada Blvd., for a copy of Leslie Kim’s latest book “123 Main Street … the Scamming of America.” Only $19.95 while supplies last.

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