A little ditty I wrote decades ago. Still applies.
NOW HEAR THIS! NOTHING IS FREE!
I’m sure, if you’re past the age of 6 you’ve heard “Turn off the TV! Why is that light on if no one’s in the room?” shouted from whatever room you’re not in hundreds of times. You’ve heard all the lectures, you’ve given your share of smart-assed answers, you’ve been fined, grounded, lectured, perhaps even smacked. Well, I’m not going to do any of that. I’m just going to explain why.
I was seething in my family room for the cabillionth time this summer when I came in to find it devoid of human life, teeming with life from two lit lamps, a partially opened window located above the pumping air conditioning vent, beneath a ceiling fan running on high, while an action-packed Sony Play Station game sound effects were blasting through the stereo system.
It occurred to me as I stood fuming after turning everything off and closing the window that perhaps my kids and their friends actually believed all this stuff was free. So I sat down and started figuring up just how not free it is.
Because things cost different amounts in different regions of the country, I’m not putting in actual dollar amounts. My electricity might be more expensive or cheaper than your parents, but you can bet they pay something. Your dad might sell insurance and get a discount while I might not, but it’s still not free. I just want to remind you of all the little hidden costs that come into play the minute you set foot in your house. Actually, the minute you set foot on your property.
Property…right off the bat there’s property tax. It’s figured in with the mortgage, but it’s there. If you live in an apartment there’s rent. Before you even get inside the door.
If you cut your own lawn, there’s the cost of the lawnmower, the gas, the oil, the weedwhacker, the broom you swept the sidewalk with, (you did sweep the sidewalk, didn’t you?) and any gardening tools you used. If you had a bag lawnmower, you have to pay the garbage collectors to haul away the cut grass. If you don’t cut the lawn, your parents pay a lawn care expert to come in. Oh, and to go get the gas for the lawnmower your mom or dad takes the car.
The car…there’s the beginning cost of the car, the insurance, the gas, the oil, the water, anti-freeze, windshield wash, wiper blades. Then there are tune-ups and repairs. It has to be washed at a car-wash or, if you wash it yourself there’s a bucket, sponge or rags, soap, wax, perhaps a chamois or squeegee. And the ever-popular water, and sewage. If you do the inside there’s the vacuum cleaner, the electricity to run the vacuum cleaner, cleaning fluid to wipe interior surfaces, and trash service to cart away the empty Doritos bag and YooHoo bottle you drag out from under the seat. Not to mention that science test you got a D on and tried to pretend you lost. (Like your teacher didn’t already call your mom – puh-lease!)
Okay. Finally you step inside the house. You call hi to your mom, glad to finally be home from school and toss your backpack in the chair. Hey! In the closet, please!
School. If you go to a private school there’s tuition, books, book bags, gym clothes, sneakers, uniform or clothing, dress shoes, lunch money, hair cuts, perhaps band instruments, band uniforms, sporting equipment and uniforms, transportation (either bus fare or see car) and miscellaneous supplies. If you go to public school there are school taxes to be paid (yes, even if you go to private school), plus everything but tuition in the former school list. Kind of a long list of responsibility when you think about how much you gripe about school to your parents, huh? So bring up that D, okay?
Okay. You meander into the kitchen for a snack. You start off with a drink of water. Just a little water, right? How much can that cost? Well, there’s the water you drink, the energy to run the freezer if you used ice, the glass, the cost of washing the glass, either with the dishwasher and dishwasher detergent and the electric to run it, or if you wash it yourself , there’s soap, water, energy to heat the water, sewage, a sponge or cloth and either a towel to dry it or a drainer to air dry it. Oh, and don’t forget the plumbing maintenance and cleanser for the sink.
Mom tells you there’s roast beef for dinner, you love it, and just want a little snack to tide you over. Cool an apple. You open the fridge. So there’s the apple and the cost of the electricity to run the fridge. We might as well cover the hidden costs in every meal. There’s the food, of course, and beverages. The cost of the dishes and cooking apparel (pots, pans, utensils), the cleaning of the dishes (see above), the cost of the stove, the gas or electricity to cook the food. There’s the cost of the refrigerator and the energy to run it. Plus there’s the cost of transportation to the store to buy the food (see car). If you eat out, the food is more expensive, and depending on where you go there could also be a tip involved, as well as the transportation to the restaurant, (see car).
Okay. Time for a little Sony Play Station. Here we go. I’m going to lump most electronic appliances together, because this could turn into an epic novel otherwise. There is the cost of the appliance (TV, video game, stereo), the electricity to run it, the, rental or retail cost of the game, cd tape), the antenna, satellite dish or cable fees, repair/maintenance cost for the appliance.
Or should you choose the computer, there’s the cost of the computer, the software, on-line service, the phone line for the modem, printer, paper, ink cartridges, repair/maintenance of the computer, energy to run it.
And don’t forget the furniture inside your house. There’s the initial cost of the furniture, plus cleaning fluids to keep it clean, vacuum cleaner and energy to run it.
All right already! Just a little walk through the neighborhood! How much can that cost? Don’t forget Civic Association fees! And the taxes I mentioned previously. And that Starter jacket you’re putting on.
You get back from your walk and hang your jacket in the closet when you come in (right?). You’re a little sweaty and you have enough time before dinner to take a shower. Here’s a little song for you to sing. There’s the water, energy for heating the water, the sewage, soap, shampoo, conditioner, shave cream and razor (for your face or legs depending on your gender), towels, washcloth, bathmat, and shower curtain. Then there’s the laundering of the towel and the washcloth (we’ll cover that next), the electric for the lighting, the cleanser, Tilex and scrubby to clean the tub, and the plumbing maintenance.
And if you decide to brush your teeth while you’re at it there’s the toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, water and sewage and plumbing maintenance.
You walk into your bedroom to find your clean clothes folded and neatly stacked on the foot of your bed. As you’re putting them away consider the cost of the washer and dryer (or clothesline, clothesline poles and cement they’re installed in, pins and cost of the use of the yard which we covered above), hamper, laundry basket, detergent, bleach, dry bleach, fabric softener, water, sewage, energy to heat the water, energy to run the machines as well as maintenance for the machines. If you go to a Laundromat, you rent the machines, but still have to bring your supplies, plus you have to pay for transportation to and from (see car).
A little nap before dinner? You put your clean clothes away (thank you), and flop on your bed with your history book, and doze off. There’s the cost of the bed and mattress and box springs, the pillow(s), the linens, and the blanket plus their periodic laundering. (See laundry.) When’s the last time you changed those sheets?
Your mom calls you to the phone. There’s the cost of the phone, the answering machine, the phone service and the long distance carrier (whether you make a long distance call or not.) A long distance call would be additional money.
You finish your phone call and decide it’s a little stuffy inside for you (because the heating bill was paid) so you go out and sit in the yard. You flop in the lawn chair (don’t forget that cost money), and sit back and relax, appreciating the neatly manicured back yard for the first time ever because now you know it isn’t free, right?
Mom calls you in for dinner. Sit down to your roast beef with new-found appreciation of the work and effort your parents make to put it in front of you.
Now that you’ve been informed, you’ll understand that parents are now free to return to fines, groundings, lectures screaming, etcetera without remorse or regret. So get with the program. Incidentally, this article required the price of the magazine, transportation to and from the bookstore, and light to read by.