Each week, my Tip Hero newsletter names a recommended Website of the Week. Most of them aren't particularly useful for me; some are sites I already knew about, some are offer deals on products or services I don't use very often (like travel), and some are apps for a smartphone, which I don't have. However, last week's Website of the Week was a site called PriceBlink, which actually looked mind-bogglingly useful. According to the article, when you download the free PriceBlink add-on to your browser, it stays hidden most of the time; however, whenever you view a product at an online shopping site, it will search its database of other merchant sites for the same product and let you know if any of them can sell it to you cheaper. It can also automatically find and display coupons for any store you're viewing. You can even set up a Wish List of products you're planning to buy, and the site will e-mail you when it finds something at the price you want.
Sounds great, right? Sounds like something no frugal shopper could afford to be without, in fact. Which is why my immediate reaction was not to download it immediately, but instead to ask myself, "What's the catch?"
So at this point, I figured I had nothing to lose by clicking on the "add to Chrome" button. I did twitch a little when the browser popped up a message saying that this app could "Access your data on all websites" and "Access your tabs and browsing activity," but since I'd already looked into what the site did with that data, I felt confident enough to click "Add." I spent a few minutes playing with the little toolbar, seeing how it could show me price comparisons, coupons, and even product reviews. I don't know yet how much I'll use it, but having done my homework, I know it's not doing any harm by being there.
And that, I think, is the takeaway from this story: when you're offered a great deal on anything, it always makes sense to look for the catch. In some cases, like this one, there may not be one, or it may be one that you're perfectly happy to live with. But it might not be, so it pays to ask the question before clicking "Yes." And this is doubly true with anything that's free, because you know they wouldn't be offering it to you unless they expected to make money on it somehow. Maybe the book club is offering you five books for free because in order to get them, you have to buy ten books at ridiculously inflated prices, and so all fifteen books will end up costing more than they would on Amazon.com. Or maybe that Craigslister is giving away the old couch because it's infested with mold or bedbugs, and the listing neglected to mention the fact. Needless to say, I don't think that there must always be a catch with anything that's free; I wouldn't be such an avid Freecycler if I did. But I do think that if there is a catch, you'll never find it if you don't look.