true cost of free

“If You Give A Lady A Night Stand”: The True Cost of Free


For those parents out there, you might know the famous children’s book titled “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” It’s a cute little story-turned-series about a wandering yet cyclical turn of events. As I pondered the recent turn of events that followed finding some nightstands in the neighborhood trash, I thought of that little mouse…and how easy it is to fall into the same little trap.

If You Give A Lady A Night Stand

If you give a Lady free nightstands, then she’s going to want new matching lamps to go on top. Then when she can’t find lamps that are cheap enough at the store, The Lady will end up buying new work clothes instead. Then, as she hangs up the new clothes in her closet, she’ll notice that the upcycled nightstands are now slightly taller than her bed. Then The Lady will load the LetGo app to look for bed frames. After she buys the bed frame, she’ll want a new comforter to match her decor. As she’s shopping on Amazon for new comforters, she’ll get distracted by more work clothes. When her new bed set arrives, she’ll really want those matching lamps. Then once her new lamps look amazing, she’ll  think about reading in bed. The Lady will remember her Kindle needs a new charger and goes to Best Buy. Once inside the store, she’ll see the wireless speaker she’s been wanting is on sale. Once she’s safely tucked into her perfect bed, with her Kindle, listening to music, she’ll crave a cup of tea. Once she has her tea, she’ll places it on her nightstand….and realize how much those fucking trash-t0-treasure nightstands really cost.

The True Cost of Free

As you can see from the “based on a true story” above, sometimes a price tag of “free” isn’t all it claims to be.

As I evaluated the trail of dropped dominos stemming from those free nightstands, I calculated the actual cost of free.

  • Nightstands: Free
  • Clothes: $110.53
  • Bed frame: $40
  • Comforter set: $51.99

The rest of the story was a bit of an elaboration but very well COULD have happened–because I do still want the matching lamps…and the charger….and the speaker.

A Justified Expense

As with any purchase, there are always justifications or rationalizations to excuse the expense–and, of course, I’m full of justifications.

First, for over a year, my boxspring and mattress (which I bought used) have been sitting on the floor in my bedroom. It really wasn’t a big deal but always seemed temporary to me. I pride myself in having a nice apartment, a nice-looking apartment. I considered many different options (platform beds, headboard/footboard, IKEA-hack storage bed, etc.) but in the end, I just wanted a simplicity; a “big girl” bed with a bit of under-bed storage room. A used, $35 (plus $5 tip) metal bed frame fit the bill.

Next, the clothes. Sure, that was truly an impulse buy. But I rarely shop for clothes. Ever. I hate clothes shopping. I was in the store, didn’t find any good lamps that I liked, and felt the rare “I should try on clothes” vibe. I packed my cart with dozens of options, knowing very well that only a small percent of the items would survive the dressing room. In the end, I ended up with 3 new dresses, capris, 2 blouses and a pair of shoes for under $100 plus tax. (Side note: LA sales tax is now 10.25%. Don’t move here. It’s stupid expensive.) Most would agree that’s a hefty haul for the price. Plus, I do have a corporate job and have recently been invited to more “get dressed up” client meetings. Work clothes are a justified expense of a corporate job…especially if you work in superficial southern California for an aesthetic industry leader and famed manufacturer of breast implants and BOTOX.

Finally, the comforter. The comforter had been sitting in my Amazon shopping cart for over 7 months. The comforter matches my wall mural perfectly but I have settled for using the reverse side of my current comforter for over half a year. In short, I pondered the purchase for a long time and finally decided that I did indeed want it. If fact, if time is money, I’ve already paid for the damn thing with all the time spent considering the purchase.

In short, many justifications, no regrets.

Organize Your Finances sticky notes

Balancing the Balance Sheet

The good news is that, in shopping for the bed frame, I now have the LetGo app loaded and will be listing multiple unwanted possessions for sale.

Loading the app and posting items for sale has been on my to-do list for months. For those that also use the “sticky note” method of organization, “sell items on LetGo” has honestly been staring me in the face every time I leave my apartment. Off the top of my head, I know I’ll be posting some dishes and a KitchenAid mixer. Maybe my bike. (I never ride it.) I’m sure I’ll find other stuff to sell.

The way I see it, from both an economic and minimalist standpoint, I need to offload about $200 of stuff to break even. Possible? I’m not sure but it’s worth a shot.

The Intangible Value of Spending

I certainly don’t want to lessen the cost of these recent purchases but there is another consideration. An emotional consideration.

For the last 3-4 days, I’ve struggled with some fairly soul-crushing depression and associated anxiety. While I’m not a believer in “retail therapy” as a go-to feel-good strategy, there is something to be said for changing things up a bit. Whether it’s feeling pretty at work or comfy in bed, having “new” things or a “new” look can help improve a poor mood. At least it does for me.

Trust me, I tried the one-too-many beers thing, the ice-cream-from-the-carton thing, the sobbing-in-bed thing, and the heartbroken-texts-to-the-ex thing. None of it helped. In fact, as you could guess, most made the depression worse.

While sad but true, the new decor in the bedroom with a cute little outfit readied for a Monday morning helped. It really did.

Trash to treasure


Being a frugal adult, trying like hell to clean up past mistakes and plan for an uncertain future, can be tough on morale.

Finding free things that make us happy and improve our life seem like little gifts of appreciation from the Universe. Paired with a little justifiable spending, free things remind us that we deserve nice things.

We shouldn’t feel that the fruits of today’s labor are locked away for tomorrow’s pleasure.

But just like that little mouse, keep an eye on the trap of continually chasing “more.” “More” is a matter of perspective–and I have plenty.

But, still, how damn cute would matching lamps look on those free nightstands? Am I right or am I right?










  1. Been there. I’m currently struggling with this because I just noticed how terrible our thrift store furniture looks these days. Too many stains and chips and… sigh. But I can’t stand furniture prices enough to buy decent replacements.

    As for the spending and depression, as I said in Frugality for Depressives (#ShamelessSelfPromotion), there’s something to be said for spending a bit on your home environment. You need to feel comforted when you’re home (comforter definitely helps there), and you can’t live in a place where you’re so unhappy with the look of things that you go out to avoid it. I doubt you were in danger of the latter, but (careful) home decor spending can pay dividends mental health-wise.

    1. Frugality for Depression??? That’s a THING??? AWESOME! I’ll look it up. Thanks for agreeing with me and for your thoughtful comment.

  2. (I typed a comment but I think it disappeared… hopefully I’m not spamming you.. I’ll keep it short hehe)

    Being frugal and on a budget is depressing to me sometimes too. For me, the depressed feeling does blow over after a day or two, and that’s why it’s worth it. I’m literally richer for it now 🙂

  3. I’ve been going through depression off and on and definitely find solace in pretty things. Of course, with some modesty and self-restraint. Even spending some time adoring at all the trinkets and smelling perfumes in Anthropologie is comforting to me (no monetary expense required). Don’t underestimate life’s little pleasures… Joie de vivre.

    1. Oh, Natalie. I feel ya, sister. Depression is a bitch I’ve been living with nearly my whole life. Only recently do I feel that I’ve distanced myself but she sneaks back on occasion, or sends her psycho sister, Anxiety. She’s a real piece of work. I thoroughly agree with you about life’s little pleasures. Hey, I have a great idea! I’ll DM you directly. (I’m full of great ideas. Sadly, a true lack of available time.)

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