How To Know When You’re About To Make A Mistake

We all make mistakes. Perhaps opening with a throwaway cliché is a mistake. If it is, I’ve proven the thesis in my first sentence. Sadly, it is too soon to stop writing.

Mistake. (Image by MesserWoland via Wikimedia)

Yes, everyone makes mistakes. You, me, them, everybody does it.

Most of us learn from our mistakes.  Some learn from the mistakes of others. Some learn nothing from their mistakes; their lives are a series of successive disasters. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot from folks who never get smarter from their own errors.

Certain mistakes are hard to miss. Though I am not gifted with the power to see into the future, I can spot some of those mistakes before they happen. The problem is, I usually can’t stop people from making these unfortunate choices. Poor choices are just so…tempting.

As a public service, I’m going to lay out two elements that are usually good, until they’re combined. Together, they are a sign of an impending mistake.


It is hard for people to walk away from something with the magic word, free, attached to it. Getting something new is nice. Receiving that something for nothing is better.

Unfortunately, some people accept anything that is free, without thinking. Even when something costs nothing, it is important to carefully consider whether that thing is worth having. No cost can mean no value. In fact, free can also mean it will cost you later.

Mixed with permanent, free can cost you for the rest of your life.


It is hard not to love permanence.

Imagine finding the perfect place to live – great location, house and neighbors. It would be great to have that situation forever. Permanence in that circumstance is a good thing. When I had surgery, my doctor told me the repair he did was permanent. That was good too.

Forever is wonderful, until it isn’t. One of the times forever is not so wonderful is when it mixes with free.

No Cost + Permanence = A Mistake

Spray Paint. Good on a metal chair. Bad for promotional purposes (public domain wikimedia)

I was driving home not long ago and saw a sign outside of a new business. The sign was simple, home-made using a piece of cardboard and some spray paint.

Speaking of indicators of a potential mistake, the hand-made sign is another clue that one should stay away. Despite the amateurish hand-made sign, I am sure that people just couldn’t help but take the business owner up on his offer, because the sign had the magic word free on it.

The sign said free, and it offered something very permanent. Free tattoos.

In the interest of fairness, I’ll admit that I did not go in to the shop, nor have I ever seen one of the tattoos created there. Perhaps they are some of the finest tattoos ever created in the history of that art form. I’m not betting on it.

Most likely, there are people running around town with free tattoos. I think those free tattoos came with an extra dose of shabby.

If we look at the offer of a free tattoo as a math word problem, we realize that it is very likely a mistake to accept that offer:

Something for nothing (free) + Something is a tattoo (tattoos are permanent) x home-made sign (spray painted at that) =

a mistake

I don’t have a tattoo. If I ever get one, it won’t be from someone who is just handing them out.  My tattoo artist will be so revered it will cost money just to speak his name. I will have The Sistine Arm, and I will pay big for it.

Say it with me:

free + permanent = a mistake

Cutting corners on something permanent is a bad choice. Always.


35 Comments on “How To Know When You’re About To Make A Mistake”

  1. Free tattoos are a bad idea. Frankly at any price I’m not a fan. I will bribe my kid big to make sure he never has one. Of-course he doesn’t know this…for the time being we are on the same page. My daddy started teaching me from a very early age that it’s never “the initial investment” that costs you. I think I was begging for the “horse that was FREE, A GIFT and won’t cost us anything. PLEASE!!” Over time I caught on and always ask myself what “free” is going to cost in the long run. But I still make the occasional mistake….In fact…I have a free fish swimming in an $80.00 aquarium as I type this comment.

  2. Laura says:

    This is really good advice. You should have it tattooed onto your arm so you don’t forget it.

  3. We Found Him Captain! says:

    You are correct! I’m going to sleep now. Have a nice day…?. Work, go home eat, sleep, drive a red car, work go home, sleep, eat, go to work, drive a red car, o.k. You know the drill…… Good night!

  4. I think the hand lettered sign might also have raised a red flag. Please don’t tell me there were cars in the parking lot!

  5. I put all of my laundry in one load even though it always turns my whites pink. Clearly I have learned nothing from my mistakes. Does this mean my life will be a successive series of disasters?

  6. When I got to the line, “Mixed with permanent, free can cost you for the rest of your life,” I
    immediately thought, “Tattoos, for example,” and started mentally composing my comment.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, I agree.

    Ii’ll go with Plan B, which is a true story:

    Once at a Saturday morning farmers’ market, I passed a guy sitting in a lawn chair with a homemade sign offering “Free Advice”. I sat in the grass beside him and said, “I’d like to find a way to have perfect strangers tell me stories and ask me questions. Any ideas?”

    • omawarisan says:

      Well done. Now, when you go back, if he is still there you are in a position to take over his gig. Just go over to him and ask him “how do I get you out of my chair?” Do that and you will be the new oracle.

  7. I wonder if the free tattoo came with a bonus case of hepatitis at no extra charge! Sign me up!

  8. Debbie says:

    I’ve always held the belief that, if somebody is offering something for free, and that something is not something you need or want, then it’s no bargain. It’s just somebody passing along something worthless. Combine that with “permanence,” and you’ve got a forever problem. Glad you passed it up — I would have, too!

  9. Linda Sand says:

    People are amazed at the contests I won’t enter. Why would I enter a contest in which I would not be willing to pay the taxes on the prize if I won it? Prizes are not always free.

  10. Free is a terrifying concept that almost ALWAYS comes with fine print. If you want something free bring a microscope so you find that hidden clause they wrote in microscopic form inside the commas of the date.

    Or you might find that that free dresser comes with a family of midgets living in each drawer.

    • omawarisan says:

      A family of midgets in each drawer. Sounds like a reality show on cable. There’s one channel where every time I flip thru there is a different show about little people on.

  11. clemarchives says:

    What you don’t know is that the tattoos were put on with spray paint, so they weren’t quite permanent. They were still a mistake, though.

  12. The bipolar in me, the girl who sometimes acts irrationally, kinda wants to go off her meds for awhile and get a free tattoo just for shits and giggles. Just to see what it gets me. But not somewhere all out there for everyone to see. I’m thinking the back of my neck.

    • omawarisan says:

      I hope you don’t, but if you do, please consider having it say “domo arrigato, mr roboto”. That way when you put your hair up, people will feel compelled to sing that song.

  13. Delightful! Such a good illustration of a pertinent fact.

  14. Blogdramedy says:

    If you ever get a tattoo, I’ll pay. So that means you get something free AND permanent. I guess I don’t like the thought of you ever making a mistake. *giggle*

  15. spencercourt says:

    And of course those “free dinners” followed by a discussion of your financial future, which the sponsor can assist you with, is an invitation that should not be accepted….

  16. Forget the free part. I can’t even think of a tattoo I’d want permanently on my body even if I paid for it.

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