No such thing as a free lunch …


This concept has come up three times recently, so it deserves a post of its own!

First Time

My son asked me why he can’t buy a car (when he’s old enough) on finance, and I explained it to him…

… he then asked me the million dollar question:

What about if there is a 0% finance deal on the car? Can I finance it then?

And, my answer was:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Second Time

Ryan was posting about his car and Josh commented:

I would suggest buying used until you have cash to buy a new…BMW, you have no maintenance bill for 4 years, 50,000 miles.

And, my answer was:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Third Time

I wrote a post about a hypothetical real-estate deal, with the key feature of a rental return guarantee. Rick said:

The description sounds like a good deal to me for a low risk- a guaranteed 7.5% return + possibility of great appreciation. It really sounds too good to be true.

And, it is (too good to be true); you see:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

… really, there isn’t. Somewhere along the line you are paying.

Let’s take the last case first: guarantees are usually not worth the paper they’re written on. Especially when they are “thrown in” to make a “great deal” sound even better. In the real-estate deal the ‘guarantee’ could actually cost you money, if the developers/promoters have to borrow money against the future value of the project to make a current payment to you.

In most  new projects where, say, a 2 year rental guarantee is offered, the value of the guarantee is built into the price that the property is offered to you at … might explain some of the very dramatic rises and falls in RE values in Florida, for example.

Similarly with the second example of the ‘free servicing’, which is – of course – built into the price of the car. Naturally, if you simply MUST have a brand-new BMW then you will get the ‘free’ servicing with it. On the other hand, if you can buy a used BMW just after the ‘free servicing warranty period’ has expired, you will be buying at the best possible price point, because (in a normal market) you should expect a sudden drop in the value of the car … this sudden drop represents the real, current value of the ‘free servicing’.

If you understand this concept, then so-called 0% down deals should become obvious … YOU are actually paying for all of the interest, at commercial rates, up front!

I did some consulting work for a finance company that underwrote so-called “2 year interest free” loans on furniture sales for large retailers; they made their money because the store paid a fixed amount up front when you signed up to the deal, then the finance company HOPED that you would not be able to make all your payments on time, because the ‘fine print’ on the deal then let them charge you interest at credit card rates (19% p.a. to 29% p.a.) on the entire financed amount for the entire time that you had the “0% loan”.

Here’s the test; always ask:

… and, if I don’t take the [insert: free lunch du jour] how much do I have to pay then??

Then you can decide if the free lunch is something that you can afford!

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4 thoughts on “No such thing as a free lunch …

  1. Looks like these free lunches have hidden agendas. Unfortunately, we are not as logical when being coax by marketing and sales techniques. We need some fake free lunch or fake deal detectors.

  2. reminds me of college. If you attended a student activity, you would get a “free lunch” but of course the “free lunch” was payed for by your tuition and fees.

  3. The no free lunch is even worse! Because there is an opportunity cost to the free lunch even if there is no hidden cost.
    Say there is absolutely no hidden cost in the free lunch- for example a rich friend decides to take you out to lunch for the value of your companionship and that both of you consider this a complete and equitable arrangement.
    You are still giving up the time for that lunch that you could have been doing something else. You could have eaten at your desk, worked an hour more and earned an hour more of pay. That hour’s worth of pay is the opportunity you have to give up to get your “free” lunch.

  4. @ Rick – Great point …

    In this example, though, I would take the lunch with the ‘rich friend’ – for the ‘cost’ of a couple of hours lost pay – any day!

    What’s the opportunity cost of what you might learn from him … and, he’s PAYING YOU in food?! 🙂

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