The Surprising Difference between $1 and Free


Happy Saturday, all! :) Here's a story for you...

I have a friend who's an ophthalmologist. Early on in her career, when she was finally able to open her own office, she wanted to give back to the community. She decided that every Wednesday she would give free eye exams. (In California, an eye exam is ~$50.) Individuals who didn't have vision insurance, or families who couldn't afford to pay out of pocket for all the kids -- they could come in on Wednesdays and have their eyes checked.

Of course, there was overwhelming demand. Appointments were booked months in advance.

But you know what? Half of those people didn't even show up! Those who did, were often late.

So she made a single, small change. She decided to make the exams $1, instead of free.

And just because of $1, the number of people calling for appointments for the Wednesdays eye exams went down by half. And those who made an appointment actually showed up -- and were on time.

I heard a similar story from a psychologist. Her normal rate is $200/hr, but she decided to hold free sessions. She hoped to help those who needed counseling but couldn't pay normal rates: families, alcoholics, drug abusers, juvenile offenders, etc. She experienced the same disappointment as my friend… and after changing "free" to $5/hr, she experienced the same success. 

I was really surprised to hear these stories -- I think they're really curious! Why do you think humans are like this? Of course, when the ophthalmologist (omg I literally have to sound out this word every time to spell it correctly lol) and the psychologist decided to charge the fee, they weren't trying to make money off their patients -- it was obviously just a nominal amount.

But that small fee -- even $1 -- was an effective mechanism for asking people to respect their time, and value their efforts.

What do you think?