Our weakness for perks and freebies is costing us dear


We all love to get something for nothing, but a new survey has revealed that we're getting carried away - and millions of people risk making poor choices, because they're being swayed entirely by the prospect of a perk or a freebie.

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The study, by Echo Managed Services, found that one in five UK customers choose everyday service providers - from their mobile phone to utilities and broadband - based solely on the perks and benefits they offer. Meanwhile, a quarter of customers are 'significantly' impacted by perks and benefits.

Where these benefits come on top of the best possible deal, then this is no bad thing - and indeed is 'something for nothing'. Where the perks are so good that they easily cover the additional cost (as can be the case for some packaged bank accounts) then they may still be worth the money. The risk is that people are plumping for a worse value product, because the perks have blinded them to everything else, and they haven't compared the overall cost.

Before you opt for a product based on the freebies, you need to ask yourself five questions.

1. Will this cost me money?
If the account or service with the freebie is the best deal - or there are no strings attached to getting a perk - then it's a no brainer, you should go for it.

2. What will it take to break even?
If the service with the freebie comes out as marginally more expensive, you need to work out how much extra you are paying - and how long it will take you to break even. Be conservative about how often you'll take advantage of the freebies. If the benefits outweigh the costs in a couple of months it may well be worth it. If it'll take all year to pay back, it may never happen.

3. Are the perks guaranteed?
In many cases, companies retain the right to withdraw freebies and perks at any time. If you sign up for an 18 month contract, that will only pay off if you take advantage of the freebie every month, then having it withdrawn after a couple of months will leave you high and dry. So check whether the perks are a fixture throughout your contract.

4. Do you really need them?
It's easy to convince yourself that a freebie will make an extra charge worthwhile. However, if the freebie is for the kind of discretionary thing you would otherwise do without, you're wasting your money.

5. Am I working too hard to convince myself?
If the freebie is something really attractive - like a free TV with a media package, then we can go to extreme lengths to convince ourselves it will pay off. One option is to approach the biggest skinflint you know, and try to convince them it's worth the outlay. If they're unmoved, then you should keep hold of your money.

The good news from the researchers is that while many of us are swayed by freebies, more than half of us take a far healthier approach, and 53% of people say they are not influenced by a perk. Perhaps bizarrely 17% of people go even further and say they will be actively put off by a perk - presumably because they think they are being bribed into a deal they don't trust.

But what do you think? Would you be persuaded by the right perk? Let us know in the comments.

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This takes time, but once you know the cost of a phone call, putting the dryer on, or a bag of potatoes, it enables you to judge far better how much you can afford to consume.

Once you know the base price, you are in a position to keep your eyes open for a better offer. If you see a discount you can judge for yourself whether it actually constitutes a bargain. For bigger things like utilities it enables you to do a proper price comparison and see if you can cut your bills.

Don't just assume that the premium range is better, try the every-day brand, or even the basic version and see if you spot the difference. Likewise, consider trading down your supermarket from one of the big players to local markets or discounters like Aldi.

If you plan what you buy to match what you actually cook and eat then not only will you be able to budget far more effectively, but you'll also waste much less and find your money goes further without you having to try.

If you can't think of a way to get your meat for less, consider a vegetarian day once a week. If you can't find petrol any cheaper, then work on making your driving as efficient as possible. The more you can think of clever alternatives the less you will have to make painful cuts to make ends meet.


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