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Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For

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On the next episode of Anya's Big Adventure: returning some unwanted socks!

Max: My innocence has been shattered by this blatant tourist trap. I want my money back!
Sam: We didn't pay anything.
Max: Well, somebody better give me some money.

They say that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. This expression means that a person or a society cannot get "something for nothing". No matter what, someone has got to pick up the tab.

However, sometimes a company or business decides to be a little generous with a promotional campaign and pay the costs to distribute samples or portions of their goods and services to the public at no cost to us consumers. Although such free samples are usually small, very minor things of cheap value to keep costs down for the party providing it, a free sample is still a tiny perk for the person receiving it and is always graciously accepted... or, at least, that's what the companies responsible for the campaigns would prefer, but that's usually not the case.

Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For is a trope about a person or character who acquires something at no monetary cost to them (usually through a promotional giveaway but can also cover things like outright thievery) and doesn't like it and will likely demand compensation for not liking it.

This is commonly referred to with the saying, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

Presumably a common habit of pessimists and picky people; in a stark contrast of this behavior, people or characters who have no problems looking on the bright side of things may frequently make a remark along the lines of, "Who cares if it's a piece of crap? It's free!" (or, depending on the circumstances, "It's stolen!")

This is of course Truth in Television. Just because you got something for free doesn't mean you have to like it. If anything, someone who did not pay for a product is much more likely to realize it's crap and throw it away, as they don't have to justify to themselves having wasted money. Those who believe in the concept that "time is money" may also be prone to this, if they believe their time has been wasted. Also, this doesn't apply when something free actually ends up causing harm through no fault of the receiver.

Compare You Get What You Pay For. When the thing was actually given as a personal gift rather than another form of freebie, see Gift-Giving Gaffe or My New Gift Is Lame.

No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • SPY×FAMILY: When Anya uses her psychic powers to win herself and her father Loid cruise ship tickets in a raffle drawing, she's excited seeing all the ship's amenities but is put off about their cramped third-class room, which she initially thinks is a jail cell. Loid tells her not to complain, considering they got the tickets for free.

  • In one story from 2000 AD's Bec & Kawl, Bec does nothing but complain about the "tragic abortion of a night out" at the carnival Kawl takes her to, stating that it isn't even worth the 50p entrance fee, to which Kawl points out that they snuck in for free.

    Fan Works 
  • The Babysitting Fiasco: Alya exploits Marinette's generous nature by convincing her to babysit her younger twin sisters, along with her boyfriend Nino's younger brother, for free and on short notice. When Marinette is eventually forced to cancel so that she can get caught up on her homework, Alya passive-aggressively encourages her to "Go catch up so you can actually babysit next time!"

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In La Cité de la Peur, a movie fails to start at a film festival, prompting the whole audience to complain, "Reimburse our invites!"
  • In The Santa Clause Bernard the elf teleports into the Miller household uninvited on Thanksgiving and starts tucking into their dinner whilst they are out the room and complains about the dryness of the turkey.
  • In This Is 40, Pete gives his mooch father an original drawing by John Lennon worth at least $5,000. His father only complains that it's a bad picture and it's too much work to sell it.
  • Trainspotting has a scene where Begbie has just robbed a jewelers at gunpoint and the jewelery he's stolen is not as valuable as he thought.
    Supposed to be fucking solid silver. It's fucking garbage! Those young couples investin' all their fucking hopes in that stuff and all...

  • A Stealth Insult from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: "He didn't charge nothing for his sermons; and it was worth it, too."
  • Discworld: In Moving Pictures, the wizards sneak into the theater through a bathroom window, then gripe about the poor seating. Granted, they complain about everything anyway, and they did shell out a small fortune for concession snacks.
  • Inverted in one of the book stories loosely based on the Then Came Bronson 1970s TV series, where Bronson more-or-less single handedly saves the concert from being cancelled, which would have probably earned him an all-access backstage pass for his effort, is standing in the background watching the show which he saved, and mentioned (as a joke) to the band's manager that it just occurred to him that he never paid for a ticket.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Corner Gas:
    • In the first episode, Hank complains about a terrible cup of coffee, to which Brent says, "Oh, well, let me refund your money. What'd you pay for it, zero?" and then mimes taking money out of an invisible cash register.
    • In another episode, Hank complains that Brent doesn't do anything special like other gas stations, like giving away promotional cups, having contests to win great prizes, or offering a free car wash with purchase of gas. Brent then offers to let Hank have free run of his house, wash his truck with the garden hose, take any cup from the kitchen to keep, and eat all of his food, as long as Hank pays for the gas he's currently filling his truck with by the end of the day. Hank replies, "There's always a catch with you!"
  • The Daily Show: Jon Stewart frequently reminds audiences that the tickets were free, usually after the interview segment of a C List guest when the next day's A List guest is announced and the audience predictably responds. He's also flipped it to apologize to guests if the audience is getting rude/hostile.
  • David Letterman sometimes jokingly tries to preempt complaints from the studio audience saying things like, "You didn't pay anything to get in here, you know."
    • Conan O'Brien used to lightheartedly do this too, typically if a joke bombed. "Hey! This is a free show! You can't boo a free show!"
    • Craig Ferguson will often remark that you can't complain about the quality of the show because it's free. He may also joke about the audience being paid hobos (bribed with the promise of free chicken/candy), so he'll ask why they are complaining about being paid for watching the show.
  • In Dinnerladies Petula Gordino enters the canteen fiddling with her bra strap and remarking, "That's the thing about shoplifting; you can never try something on."
  • In what is seemingly a preemptive response to any criticism that may be levied, G4's Kevin Pereira closes all "Indie Games" segments on free, downloadable video games with some variant of, "...and what do you want for nothing?"
  • On Mad Men, one of Peggy Olson's more contentious assignments was a pro bono project designing a flyer for a Church dance. Word of God has stated that the point of that story was to show how the clients who get work for free are often the most demanding.
  • In The Muppet Show episode where Steve Martin guest starred, Statler and Waldorf debate whether they should leave after the show is canceled to hold auditions. Statler insists that they stay as they've paid for the tickets. When Waldorf points out that the tickets were free, Statler replies, "And overpriced, at that!"

  • In "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Craigslist", the person giving away a trash can full of styrofoam packing peanuts for freenote  includes in his ad, "don't complain 'cause they won't cost you a dime".

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    Calvin: You know what the problem is with the universe? There's no toll-free customer service hotline for complaints! That's why things don't get fixed. If the Universe had any decent management, we'd get a full refund if we weren't completely satisfied!
    Hobbes: But the place is free.
    Calvin: See, that's another thing! They should have a cover charge and keep out all the riffraff.
  • Dilbert once got free "therapy" from a psychiatrist who told him that his problem was that he's ugly and he should drink until he feels handsome. Walking out the door, he tells the receptionist, "You're overpriced."
  • Zits had a short storyline where Jeremy is upset because a website he likes hasn't been updated for a while. His father goes from saying he should demand a refund to mocking his sense of entitlement when he finds out the site is free.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • In Mitch Benn's 2015 show That Was the Future, he talks a bit about how, a mere 10 years since YouTube began, we now feel personally affronted if we randomly decide we want to watch a film from forty years ago and it turns out no one's uploaded it for us. "What am I not paying for?"

    Video Games 
  • Parodied and invoked in Toby Fox's FAQ for Deltarune, where he jokingly states he's immune from any and all criticism because the game was free.
    Question: "The game doesn't work"/"I don't like the game"/"Will there be a version for (platform)?"
    Answer: Because it's a free download I'm surrounded by a forcefield that destroys all complaints and platform requests.
  • In the Disgaea spin-off Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?, Etna asks the Hero Prinny to sell some games and the console she's playing them on, claiming they suck. Then Prinny points out that she pirated the games and hacked the console.
  • In Gas Station Simulator, while you're on check-out duty, customers will get angry and leave you a lower tip if you toss a purchase into their basket without scanning it first, meaning you're technically giving them the merchandise for free.
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road requires the heroes to eventually visit a tourist trap named "Frog Rock" to progress. Upon discovering that Frog Rock is in no way frog-like, Max demands his money back despite not having paid any to see it.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: In "Homestar Ruiner", Strong Bad finds a stack of coupons for free chocolate from Bubs' Concession Stand. But since Bubs is such a cheapskate, the "ChocoOpps" turn out to be chocolate-covered organic packing peanuts.
    Strong Bad: What kinda candy is that?
    Bubs: The kind I give away to people for free, dummy!

    Web Original 
  • Addressed from 4:49 in this angry video review of an The Angry Video Game Nerd video, but it falls flat because the author compares producing unfunny free content with degrading someone else's property.
  • Atop the Fourth Wall:
    • Linkara mentioned this as one of the reasons why he won't review Webcomics. Because almost every webcomic site doesn't require you to pay money to see it, and because most people make webcomics as a hobby rather than a job, Linkara feels he shouldn't hold them to the same standards as professional works.
    • He also gets comics donated for the show. A couple of them STILL leave him feeling ripped off.
  • Doug Walker actually argues AGAINST this moral in his commentary for his Let's Play of Bart's Nightmare. In a temporary moment of rage, he planned to criticize his fans for bashing his Lets Play via Douchey McNitpick on the grounds that they shouldn't complain so badly over something they can watch for free, but after calming down, he realized that if someone's job is to make free stuff, they aren't allowed to pull this card, because it's their job to make the audience laugh.
  • In Noob Gaea turns out to be stealing her neighbor's Wifi... while complaining about how slow it sometimes gets.
  • A few stories on Not Always Right see customers complain about things they didn't even pay money for. Ones that stand out include:
  • This Penny Arcade newspost by Tycho reveals that this is how Gabe feels about winning Nocturne (1999) in a competition. "Even when he gets your game for free, it would appear that you still owe him."
  • For Reaction & Review, Hellsing has yet to actually pay for any of the movies he has reviewed. He either openly admits to downloading them, or they are sent by fans by way of his Amazon Wish List.
  • In Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, upon Doc telling Church that Tucker is pregnant, Church says, "Alright, are we paying for this service? Because, if we are, I want a refund. And if we're not, I want a refund anyway."
  • In the RiffTrax of Glitter, during Billie Frank's emotional speech, Mike says that he wants his money back. Mary-Jo responds, "I got in free, and I want my money back too."
  • A Something Awful AwfulVision column once highlighted a pair of videos where a kid who illegally downloaded a The Smashing Pumpkins album destroys the CD copies he made in a fit of rage after reaching the conclusion that he doesn't like the music. Though, to be fair, someone did have to pay for the blank CD's it was burned onto.
    • Fans of Danganronpa on Tumblr react to the Something Awful paywall Part 1 and Part 2. Explanation: Dangan Ronpa wasn't just being Let's Played on the forums, it was also being translated into English for the first time. When the paywall went up, lurkers lost their best/only source for up to six months at a time and were unwilling to pay $10 to view the forums. On top of that, when the paywall came down, Playstation announced they were going to translate the games into English so the Let's Play/translation of the second game (plus the light novel) was cancelled to avoid a lawsuit. The translations were still put online, but it was by other sources instead.
  • In one X-Axis review, Paul O'Brien was given DC Universe #0 for free, and found it utterly failed to be the promised "primer for casual fans", or even coherent to someone not deeply into DC continuity.
    I had always thought that, at the very worst, a teaser issue would simply leave me cold. With DC Universe Zero, we have something completely new. I got this thing for free, remember. When I'd finished reading it, I was sorely tempted to bill DC for my time.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius had Jimmy's dad pay 150 dollars for tickets to a free school talent show. When Jimmy's mom points out that it was a free school function, he mutters, "Darn scalpers." After hearing that Jimmy's band (who have become extremely arrogant and demanding after thinking they're awesome despite Jimmy's instruments doing everything) won't be performing, he stands up and yells, "I want my money back!" before he sits down and mutters that he didn't pay anything anyway in an embarrassed tone.
  • Inverted (if that's even possible) in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In "The Fortuneteller":
    Katara: Can you believe she won't let me in? And after all the business I've given her?
    Aang: But, she doesn't even charge.
    Katara: I know, but still.
  • In the first episode of the 2011 Beavis and Butt-Head revival, the boys are kicked out of a movie theater for loudly riffing over a screening of Twilight. When they demand their money back, the manager reminds them that they snuck into the movie.
  • In an episode of Daria, Jake Morgendorffer laments the tragedy that was the Altamont Free Concert, ending with the comment that he demanded his money back and he got it. When told that it was a free concert, he replied, "That's what THEY said, too."
  • A series of long Fight Scenes between Peter and a giant chicken in Family Guy started when the chicken gave Peter an expired coupon.
  • In the "Big Top Rascals" episode of Hanna-Barbera's series of The Little Rascals, Butch complains about the makeshift circus and asks for a refund. When Spanky says, "But we let you in for free," Butch suggests that everyone's money be refunded.
  • The Simpsons:
    • One episode sees Homer get excited about receiving a coupon book in the mail, including one coupon for "Two pizzas for the price of one at Doughy's!" When Lisa points out, "Doughy's has terrible pizza," Homer counters, "Yeah, but there's TWO!"
    • Came up in conversation between Bart and Comic Book Guy after Poochie's debut in "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show":
      Comic Book Guy: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.
      Bart: For what? They've given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free, what could they possibly owe you? If anything, you owe them.
      Comic Book Guy: Worst. Episode. Ever.
    • Happens again in The Simpsons Movie when the crowd boos a free Green Day concert and ends up killing the musicians.
      Homer: This music club is a rip off. The first six albums were only a penny. Then they jacked up the price!
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:

Alternative Title(s): Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth