Things We Used To Get For Free (But Now We Have To Pay For)

Business class food on board


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Business class food on board

Fading Freebies

Once upon a time, we got a lot of goods and services for no charge at all. But now we're nickeled and dimed from the local gas station to the grocery store to the airliner where a full meal used to come with price of the ticket. How times have changed. These days, it seems everything has a price. Remember when all of these used to be free?

Related: 30 Savvy Ways to Score Free Stuff

Food:  Grocery bags, sacks in home kitchen counter.

Grocery Bags

Head to the store without your own reusable bags? How dare you. Now, using a store's paper bags will cost around 10 cents per bag. In 2016, California became the first state to mandate that pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts, and liquor stores would no longer be able to provide single-use plastic carryout bags to their customers for free. Other states soon followed. 

Related: I Shopped at Aldi for the First Time and Here's What I Learned

Driver checking air pressure and filling air in the tires close up, safety before trave.
Koonsiri Boonnak/istockphoto

Air at the Gas Station

Who ever thought you would have to pay for air? Now, heading to the gas station to pump up your tires costs on average $1 to $2 dollars, which doesn't seem like a lot, but can certainly add up throughout the year, and it used to be free. Connecticut and California are the exception to the fees — in these states, gas retailers are required by law to provide an operable free air compressor. The website lists places where you still might be able to get air for free. 

Related: How to Get Better Gas Mileage

Interior of airplane with passengers on seats
Pollyana Ventura/istockphoto

Anything and Everything on Airlines

Who ever thought you would have to pay extra to sit on a plane with your family? Plus, getting a free pack of peanuts and a drink (even alcohol) was sort of a given, as was a full meal on a longer flight. Now that airplane food you used to complain about doesn’t look so bad when it was free. Wasn't it also nice that you could simply check your bags without worrying about weight and size and amount? Now airlines charge anywhere from $30 to $50 per checked bag. Tripadvisor lists the average fees for most airlines. 

Related: Goodbye, Baggage Fees: 10 Carry-On Tips

Eating at a Cosy Restaurant

Restaurant Reservations

Sure, there are still many restaurants where you can just call or go online and reserve a table — and if something happens and you don't show up, no worries. But now in many cases, restaurants are requiring a credit card to hold a table reservation to prevent this very thing. You could be charged a fee if you don’t cancel your reservation at least 24 hours in advance. The site Resy often requires a credit card when booking popular restaurants. So if a card is required, it’s safe to assume there will be a fee on your credit card if you don’t show.

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Small Gym center in resort hotel

Hotel Amenities

Used to be, you would get to your hotel and know that the only extra you may be paying for is if you crack open the mini bar. But now you’re likely to see a cleaning fee, along with a “resort” or amenities fee for the things you used to assume would be included, such as use of the pool, gym, or even Wi-Fi. The Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019 prohibits unexpected add-ons and forces hotels to include them in their upfront fees.  But it’s always in your best interest to read the fine print when booking anything. 

Related: Why Staying at a Hotel Beats a Vacation Rental

Soda machine McDonald's
Soda machine McDonald's by Sarah Gilbert (CC BY-NC-SA)

Drink Refills

You used to be able to fill up that soda over and over again practically anywhere, but these days most places charge you for each time you ask for a fill up. Cheapism did manage to find a number of chains where you can still get drinks for free, but they are usually few and far between. 

Watching tv and using remote control


Remember when you could just turn on the TV and … watch something? After all, TV shows used to be paid for by advertisers. But what started with increasing costs for cable and access to all those extra channels has changed into buying app after app to watch on your smart TV. And you’ll still have to watch advertisements if you choose a lesser costing app.

Related: Which Streaming Service Gives You the Most Bang for Your Buck?

Playing basketball outdoors
Kateryna Kovarzh/istockphoto

School Sports

Back in the day if you wanted to play school sports, you just signed up and played school sports. But now, families have to pay up and that goes for public schools as well. These days, the average school sports participation fee is $126 per child, according to a University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital National Poll.  

yellowstone national park - sign
samuel howell/istockphoto

National Parks Access

You can still visit many, many national parks for free, but starting in the 1980s, this open system changed for some parks. Now the National Parks Service charges anywhere from $5 per person to an average $30 per car to enter over 100 parks across the country. Of course, biggies like Yellowstone are the most expensive, with car entrance costing $35. 

Black sales agents wearing a headset while working in a call centre. Helping with customer care and services

Directory Assistance

Calling 411 for assistance used to be free. But now,  you’ll have to pay up. Verizon Wireless, for example, charges $1.99 each time you use the service. Of course, googling the information is still free ... for now.

Reading news

Online Newspapers

These days, most newspaper sites, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and even local news sites, require a subscription fee that’s either yearly or monthly to get past the site's paywall. With less revenue coming in from advertisers, for many of these news sites, it’s the main way they stay afloat.

Close up View of Hand Writing A Donation Check

Checking Accounts

At one time, most banks offered free checking. But when the CARD Act of 2009 limited how much profit banks made from credit cards by limiting fees, such as interest rate hikes and overdraft and late fees, free checking became less and less available. 

Man withdrawing money from an ATM


Unless you're hitting up your own bank, most ATMs charge between $2 to $5 to withdraw cash. Luckily, there are still surcharge-free ATMs. offers ideas for finding one.