Free is a word that every American understands because it resonates with what our country is about, says Marina Mayer, managing editor. But in most of our brains, free also means “come and get it.”

Free is a word that every American understands because it resonates with what our country is about. Freedom of speech, free association or even the term fat free has made it into the books. In most of our brains, says Marina Mayer, managing editor, free means “come and get it.”

How about a cupcake that’s fat free? Great, I can eat one and still maintain my diet.

Or, let’s say, it’s buy one, get one free. Great again, I’ll stock up.

Or how about, it’s just absolutely free such as when a company puts together a birthday party and gives away free cake for lunch. You’re probably thinking, “Fantastic. If it’s free, then I’ll have two slices…if you don’t mind.”

But when can too much “free” cost you?

Sometimes “free” can come at a price, and it’s not always picking at your pockets. Sometimes it’s the “you get what you pay for” scenario. All too often, “free” adds up to nothing.

Take fat-free products, for example. The good news is that there isn’t any fat. The bad news is you’re racking up hundreds of calories or tons of salt. Now that product doesn’t seem all that “good-for-you.”

Still planning on maintaining that diet?

The buy one, get one free always gets me. I’m at the grocery store deciding if I want the healthy, fruit-filled granola bar or the breakfast cupcake topped with icing. The granola bar is less expensive but I can buy one cupcake and get another for free!

Deal breaker, I say.

Then I get home, and guilt and remorse set in.

What have I done? Oh yeah, I bought two boxes of fattening cupcakes just because I’m a female enticed by a sale.

Grocery store won.

And if it’s just plain “free,” forget it. Every company has one, a table where employees bring in bagels, donuts and homemade brownies. It costs nothing, right? Well, “free” in this case doesn’t feel so good after sinking your teeth into five brownies, two bagels and a donut. Yes, all in one day.

So before getting consumed by the high-and-mighty “free,” maybe step back to determine what the term means to you. Let manufacturers and retailers hear your voice. Freedom comes in different boxes and packages. It’s up to the consumer to determine how it sells.

Now back to my boxes of “free” cupcakes.


Marina Mayer, managing editor