HOW MUCH?! The free stuff you’ll have to pay for, sooner or later.
I flew to New York for business over the weekend. As I looked at the list of $8 pay-per-view movies and $5 snacks available, my mind went back in time to a few years ago, when free beers flowed, meals were complimentary and in-flight movies were standard. Then I looked around at other free services that have gone bye-bye, including free air for your tires, free doggie bones at the butchers, extra cheese on pizzas, school supplies, national parks and the good old 411 operator assistance, and I wondered…what else will soon cost you?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, or even a correct one. It’s just speculation, based on the trends I have noticed and free services that have already started to disappear in certain states or other countries.
1: Shopping Carts.
In England, decades ago now, grocery stores began to charge for carts. You would get your coin back though, it was simply intended as a way to ensure you returned you cart to the store or the cart bay in the parking lot. However, many airports (including DIA in my state) now charge a mainly non-refundable fee for luggage carts and I see the same thing happening in grocery stores. Would it really bother you too much to put 25 cents into a cart to ease your burden? Probably not. But the stores would make millions from this little venture. There would be a small initial investment to retro-fit the carts with the money-collecting devices, but they’d soon make that money back. After that, it’s all pure profit.
2: Tax on Internet purchases.
Right now you only pay for tax on a purchase that originates in your state, but I can see that changing very soon. There’s just too much money to be made, the Internet is always going to be cheaper regardless of tax, and most states need the money more than Quasimodo needs back surgery. Look for taxes to be paid on everything in the next few years. It’s going to happen; it’s just a case of when.
Last year, I found myself in a fast-food burger chain. I’m not proud of it but I was hungry and short of cash. Anyway, when I asked for honey mustard dipping sauce I was charged 25 cents. Yep. 25 cents for a small container of MSG and sugar. I challenged this and they let me have it free, but most people aren’t as annoying as I am. It wasn’t the money; it was the principle of the thing. But I can soon see every fast food chain, and even the cheaper restaurants, charging extra for your ketchup, mustard and BBQ sauce.
4: Using cups, plates and cutlery.
Don’t think it could happen? Think again. A friend in the UK recently told me that he saw a small charge on his bill for cutlery usage. It was explained to him that this small charge went towards excellent cleaning services and polishing for the cutlery! It will no doubt take a while to filter into every eatery, but next time you ask for a paper cup or plastic knife and fork at a fast food chain, don’t be surprised if a charge comes with your request.
5: Answering the call of nature.
Many restrooms already carry a small fee, it’s where the term “to spend a penny” comes from. But I see this becoming standard across the US as companies and states struggle to keep the bathrooms in tip-top condition on their own dime. Don’t worry though, in this electronic age you won’t need to carry a bunch of loose change. You’ll just have to swipe your card to get into the bathroom. But $1 per “donation” will soon add up. (I wonder if it will be tax-deductible on business trips?)
6: Drink refills.
This is already beginning to phase out. My local Subway charges 25 cents for refills, and many other smaller chains and family-owned restaurants have a sign saying “no free refills.” It’s ironic, because as a UK native I’ve never had free refills. I spent my whole life savoring my one soda, ensuring it would last through the whole meal. Now, having been in the states, I’m slurping through an average of two when I eat out. Looks like I’ll have to get used to paying for that refill again.
I sometimes use a toll-road to get to work, usually when I’m late for a meeting or just want to avoid the rush hour traffic. But at $2.50 each way, it can really add up during the working week. Now, I know we already technically pay for our roads with taxes. But with budgets for bridge and road repair already stretched way beyond their limits, I can see roads requiring more and more money from you in the form of extra taxation on gasoline and other travel-related purchases, or conversions to toll-roads in some areas.
8: Clean Air.
Am I entering into the realm of the ridiculous? Well, ask someone 40 years ago if they would pay more for a gallon of water than they would for a gallon of gas and they’d laugh in your face. But bottled water is now a billion-dollar business. With pollution still an issue in most states, I can see a time coming when you’d pay extra to breathe purified air, or scented air, or nutrient-fortified air. Ok, ok, probably not likely anytime soon. But Soylent Green’s dirty, dry, pollution-filled air may be surrounding you sooner than you think. How much would you then pay to fill your lungs with fresh, crisp air? For an interesting take on this, check out a play by Ben Elton called Gasping. It tackles the very subject of privatised air.
9: Network TV shows.
So, technically most of us already pay a little for network TV via our cable or satellite company. But, if you’re really old fashioned you can pick up the broadcast on a pair of rabbit ears for nothing. I don’t expect that network TV as a whole will become a pay-per-view service like HBO or Starz, but here’s what I do predict. In time, certain shows will become pay-per-view, just like boxing matches or other sports events. Shows like Survivor and Lost get huge ratings, and I have already heard rumblings in the industry of adding a price to these shows. Nothing major, maybe $2 per episode (something they’ve been testing with iTunes) but enough to rake in a whole bunch of extra dough. And just because you’re paying, don’t think it will be ad free.
10: Library rentals.
This one I don’t mind so much because I’ll happily support my library. As I’ve said in the past, libraries are a great resource for DVDs and CDs as well as books. But sadly, libraries are lacking adequate funding and I am sure prices will soon be added to certain higher-end rentals, like new releases and multi-media. It may not be much, perhaps 25 cents for each item, but it would make a whole lot of extra cash for the poor library services. Expect to see this one really soon, it’s already happened in many parts of London.
If you can think of other “free” services or products that will soon go bye-bye, I’d love to hear about them. Now, go and enjoy your free ketchup packets and complimentary shopping carts while you still can.