Is Anything Really “Free”?

iarefreeSo what if you have to spend money to get a giveaway? If l bought $25 worth of cosmetics, I figured, I would actually be saving $18!

I have to confess something: I love a free gift promotion. You know, at the department store cosmetics counter, there’s a sign that says, “Free gift with any purchase of $XX.” You buy something you need; you get something free. I love it, especially when it helps me with a problem.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to look at those signs and scoff. I used to think, Some free gift–you have to spend money to get something free. And in the most practical of ways, I wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t really paying attention.

Then one day a girlfriend started raving to me about these promotions. She’s an expert: She told me she scans the newspaper for announcements. “I’ll travel across town for the perfect free gift,” she said, “and convince myself I need new makeup to get it.”

On the basis of such enthusiasm, I had to go investigate. Also because I love cosmetic counters. I love the opulence, the sparkle, the cut-glass bottles, the fragrance in the air. And the way the salespeople treat me like a goddess.

For a lark, I started at the pricier counters. At Yves Saint Laurent, if I bought their new perfume for $47, I could get a darling pink handbag with bows and crystal balls dangling at each end. I grazed past Escada, where for a purchase of $79, I could get a large lime-green tote bag (containing bath gel, body lotion, and Eau de Toilete spray) with a white lily screened on the front. Instantly, I saw myself at the beach with it. I began to see that, sometimes, you are really buying the gift itself and not the cosmetics.

But I couldn’t really spend that much money, so I decided to try another store. My first stop there was the Estee Lauder counter. They had a really good gift. For a mere $17.50, I would get a black zippered makeup bag, four makeup brushes of different sizes, three two-in-one eye shadows, and an eye-defining pencil. I was impressed, but I don’t wear eye shadow, so I passed and hurried over to Lancome. I was getting into the thrill of it now. I could feel the excitement of the hunt.

A young woman I know had told me how when she was a teenager, her mother had a drawer filled with Lancome gift bags containing cosmetics that she and her preteen buddies were allowed to play with. “In those days,” she said, “the lipsticks in the gift bags were never the right color. Now that’s changed.”

I’ll say. I was staring in awe at the Lancome gift. Not only was it fabulous, but it was everything I actually needed.

There was a copper-colored lipstick, perfect for summer, kind of natural on the lips. There was a canvas backpack that I could use as a summer purse. There was a choice of black or white sunglasses, which I needed, haying lost mine the week before. There was a small bottle of nail polish in a French pink I liked. A sweet, polka-dot comb, some fragrance cream that smelled nice, a waterproof mascara–and all this was free for a $25 purchase!

I did the math. By spending the $25, I was actually saving myself upwards of $18! I quickly bought some summer bronzer for my non-tan and another nail polish, which together cost $35. Thrilled, I took my present and pranced out of the store.

I called my friend as soon as I got home. “You know what I just got for free.” I squealed triumphantly when she picked up the phone. “How much did you spend?” she interrupted, suddenly the voice of reason. I hesitated. I was kind of embarrassed to tell her, but I did. Then I told her what I got for it.

There was a long silence. Finally she said, “Wow. I hope they have some left.”

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