These 12 Things Used To Be Free, But Now People Have To Pay For Them 

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Additional expenses are at every corner, so many forgot that some used to be free. Each decade brought price increases, so one would think we would get extra freebies, but that’s not how the world works. Here are some common things that went from being free to becoming an expense in many cases. 

Drink refills


Free refills started disappearing in the early 2010s, and it is hard to grasp that not that long ago, coffee or soda refills were free of charge. It is still possible to get free refills, but you have to have an app or get the brand’s refillable mugs. This means that these free refills are not free after all. 

Condiments and dipping sauces


Once upon a time, not that long ago, you could get a handful of condiments, and no one would blink an eye. However, many restaurants, including some fast food chains, now add prices of condiments and dipping sauces to your bill. You can also forget about free extra cheese, so in 2022, the Wall Street Journal published an amusing article titled, Waiter, There’s a Fee in My Soup. 

Airplane luggage 


Until the mid-2000s, airplane luggage was free as long as it did not exceed a specified weight. People started packing in their carry-ons, but some companies started charging this “service” too. Paying for an extra bag or weight is one thing, but a family of four traveling for a month-long holiday will have to spend a fortune on luggage alone. Keep in mind that airline revenue has increased by 1,200 percent since 2007.

Shopping bags 


As if grocery prices are not bad enough, paying for a bag adds salt to the wound. And it is not just groceries – if you go shopping for shoes or clothes, you have to pay for a bag for already overpriced items. Though it seems as if the government is behind these bag fees, the situation is more complex. These bag laws are not adopted in all states, but companies give instructions, so cashiers have to make you pay for that bag or leave you holding all your items in your hands. 

TV channels 


Television commercials paid for television programming, and while there are still some free TV channels, they are most likely useless. Cable changed everything, and then subscription services took over. Now, there are subscription services with ads, and we still pay for them. 

ATM surcharges


ATM fees are now more confusing and expensive than they were not long ago. Until the mid-90s, the largest ATM networks did not allow banks to charge fees. But even once the ban was lifted, the payments were lower than today’s. The average surcharge was  $4.66 in 2022. You can still avoid these costs if you can find an ATM that’s not out-of-network.

Bill fees

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Paying bills used to be painful, but with additional fees, it is unbearable. In some cases, paying online will set you back, but there is an irony in paying a fee for paying your bill on time. Some claim that these fees are hidden inflation, but it is not a topic many people pay special attention to. 

School sports participation fees


Participation in high school sports is not mandatory, and while fees are not adopted in all states, most are happy to take money, even in public schools. Youth sports are increasingly privatized, so some states have had to step in and prohibit participation fees. Among them are Michigan and California. 

Food delivery 


It used to be so simple: you order food and get free delivery while adding a tip to the driver. It is still the case in some restaurants, but many have turned to apps, so now, on top of paying for food and tipping the delivery person, there is an additional fee. Furthermore,  the 2022 Restaurant Friction Index found that some restaurants adjust prices for ordering via apps. 

Free meals on planes 

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Free airline meals in economy class on domestic flights were the norm before the 2000s. While most long-haul flights offer food, it’s not free since it was included in your ticket price. On shorter flights, you might get a snack or buy a full meal if the ride lasts three and a half hours. 

Museums, art galleries, and national parks


There are still numerous museums in California and DC that can be entered without paying a fee, but the numbers keep decreasing. Similarly, national parks were mostly free, but that changed in the mid-70s. There are still National Park Service’s free admission days. 



Initially, recycling was free, and people took pride in doing something for the planet. CostOwl reports that a household pays $15 to $35 monthly for weekly or biweekly curbside recycling service. There are still free recycling programs in some areas. 

Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.