The True Cost of Something That is Free

Last week, I had the pleasure of crossing the Caribbean on a cruise ship. My experience on the Carnival Victory was fun, minus some sea sickness, but it opened my eyes to the excesses of our society and how much we do “just because it is free.”

The Cost of a Cruise

A cruise is not a cheap vacation, but it can be a very affordable way to get away for a week. For a week away, which includes all meals, unlimited dining, lodging, and travel, you can find a deal for $329 for the week.

You have to add on taxes and port fees, which are roughly $100, and $80 in mandatory, included gratuity for your cabin steward and dining room wait staff. Even with that, your meals, hotel, travel, and ship-board entertainment cost less than $100 per day.

For as little as $169 per person, you can get away for a shorter cruise over a long weekend.

Excesses of Cruising

The first thing that comes to mind when many people think about travel is food. What did you eat when visiting a new place? Stories often include a great meal or two, but due to cost, most of us don’t dine like a king every night of a vacation.

On a cruise, that is not the case. You get a multi-course meal with unlimited everything included in your trip (I saw someone order three main courses one night). Nearly every waking hour, you can find a buffet fully stocked and ready for the masses.

If that does not suit your fancy, you can always make your way to the 24 hour pizza station, one of the grills or sandwich stations, ice cream or frozen yogurt machines, or the sushi station. Of course, these are all included with your trip and do not cost a penny extra.


I live in Colorado, one of the healthiest states in the country. I am not used to seeing lots of overweight people regularly. On a cruise, the morbidly obese join together for a week of indulgence.

I know that obesity is a big problem and not an easy thing to overcome for many people. However, I did not feel bad for anyone on the ship for being overweight. I don’t attribute their weight problems to genetic issues, it was very easy to see why they were fat. They ate everything in front of them.

The average person gains 5 to 10 pounds on a seven day cruise. I can imagine how much some people eat and what the top gainers add to their waistline in a week. Even I was tempted by the constant offerings of food and decadent deserts, and I am just an average sized guy who does not regularly overeat. When I am full, I stop, but not when a soft chocolate melting cake is placed in front of me.

Only Do What Gives You Value

I saw other excesses too. People over eat. People over drink. People over spend. Sometimes it is easy to avoid, because you can’t afford it or stomach the cost of something. Other times, it is easy to go overboard.

Just like when spending money, look at everything you do in life to see if it gives you value. Is eating a warm chocolate melting cake worth the sick feeling or 900 calories you have to cope with after the meal? Is the extra slice of pizza, even when free, worth it when you are not really hungry?

This can be applied to anything in your life and does not have to relate to food and obesity. If you spend three hours a night watching TV, do you gain value from it? Would the time be better spent reading a book or visiting with friends and family? If you rush to buy the newest iThingy, is it really worth the $500 price tag?

Your time, money, health, happiness, and almost every other aspect in your life has an alternative option, or an opportunity cost if you are into economics. You should seriously consider that each time you decide to do something, or not do something.

As for the free stuff, there is a cost to that too. Whether it is junk taking up space in your home or calories taking up space in your pants, everything has a cost and you should always consciously decide what to do, and not to do, even if it is free.

Did You Ever Regret Something Free?

Have you ever taken advantage of something free, or turned it down completely? Why? Please share your story in the comments.

Image by Jacrews7 / flick

23 thoughts on “The True Cost of Something That is Free”

  1. Emily @ evolvingPF

    All the free food offered to me at the start of grad school definitely contributed to the diet I had been on derailing and gaining back the weight I’d lost over the previous months. I was apparently incapable of passing up free food, as much as I could get! Thankfully now I’ve learned that there will always be more food and I can even buy it myself. I know how to select the free items that advance my health instead of crippling it. I haven’t been on a cruise in several years, but I’m confident that I could go on one now without gaining weight.

      1. I was going to say, it sounds like you’re not a cruise person. I’m not either. I’ll go, but I’ll never suggest it.

  2. I avoid buffets for that reason. When I cruise I prefer the dining room to avoid the all you can eat mentality. BTW, I have been on 6 cruises and never gain weight. I normally do not eat like they serve on a cruise so my wife and I visit the gym each day. It works!

    1. We went to the dining room each night for dinner, and I think I ended up eating even more there. They just bring so much and I feel odd skipping a course, so I just ate too much.

  3. “I live in Colorado, one of the healthiest states in the country. I am not used to seeing lots of overweight people regularly.” This is true. When we visited Denver for FinCon12, every local person I met looked fit and happy. 🙂

  4. Interesting, as I’ve never been on a cruise. Always just preferred to fly to my desired location and stay there. There is certainly something to be said about your statement on society and how we over-indulge just because it is free. This is certainly true about almost any luxury in life, but food is the best example.

  5. I love to cruise – but I know what you mean. It is difficult for some people but I live in a healthy city in Western Canada and when I travel to certain parts in the US I feel the same way. The cruises provide non-stop food and entertainment but this is similar to restaurants and resorts. As long as the food is being eaten I am OK with that – I just hate to see the waste.

  6. I have such a hard time saying no to a freebie, and yes, I do often regret free stuff – primarily food. It’s one of the reasons I don’t think I want to go on a cruise. I’d be the person stuffing my belly just because it’s free, and then I’d waddle back to my room and wish I had more self control. And then the next morning I’d go for a run to try and make myself feel better. 🙂

  7. Marie at Family Money Values

    Free stuff is no good if you don’t need it or want it. My kids already understand that – they won’t take the free stuff I offer to them. We all have too much stuff!

  8. When I first began couponing, there were a lot of things I could get for free from drugstores; mostly these were freebie deals so I would try certain products. Of course, at first, I was like, “FREE STUFF! I MUST GET ALL THE FREE STUFF!” And then, after a while, I realized that a lot of the free items were things I would never use that were just taking up space in my house. I think it’s a valuable lesson that even if something doesn’t cost you money, it may still cost you time or space or, in the case of the cruise buffets, your health and sense of well-being. Who feels good after they stuff themselves?

    1. I have that talk with my mom all the time. She loves when she can get something for free, but that takes up a lot of space in her house and creates clutter in her basements, cupboards, and closets.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

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