You’ve likely received notices from various sources offering a lifetime of service for a relatively small fee. A typical promo is a lifetime of a huge amount of online storage (about 10TB or more) for $50. By comparison, Dropbox sells 2TB/year for around $120. Hence, the offer appears too good to be true. Well, it isn’t if you ask the right question. Whose lifetime?

In the case of the company you’ve never heard of making the incredible offer, it’s their lifetime that covers the deal. And it obviously is not going to be a long one. Mrs Smith’s Cloud Storage and Bakery is obviously in need of income. A lot of new subscribers thinking that the lifetime in question is theirs may provide enough income to keep the company afloat for a short while, but the expense of providing unlimited service with no cash flow to cover expenses will be fatal.

I’m assuming good intentions on the part of Mrs Smith’s internet cowboys. Of course, there’s always the chance that their offer is a hustle. in which case, you should wonder about the media service that was recommending the company to you. Either they are terminally naïve or they are part of the scam. There’s a good chance that the site promoting the lifetime offer is getting a commission on each new subscriber who thinks the lifetime in question is theirs.

There are legitimate lifetime offers that still need scrutiny. Suppose you subscribe to a newsletter. Further, assume that you find the newsletter informative and useful. You are a longtime subscriber and have locked in an annual fee of $75 because you were one of the first people to subscribe when it was first offered. Now it costs $1,500/year. You do not doubt either its utility or its long-term survival. The publishing company proposes that you buy a lifetime subscription for $600. Seems like a good deal. You’d pay that much in only eight years. But now the lifetime in question is yours.

If you’re 50, it’s a good deal. If you’re 80, you’re probably better off sticking with the $75. You may not live another eight years and inflation erodes the constant annual fee so that the $75 has less value with the passing of every year. There ought to be an age-adjusted lifetime fee when a lifetime membership or subscription is offered to a senior citizen.

But there are times when a lifetime membership is a great deal. I bought a lifetime membership in American Airline’s Admirals Club for $250 in 1976. The company no longer sells lifetime memberships. An annual membership costs $1550. I also bought a lifetime membership in the United Airlines Club at about the same time for the same amount. Both memberships included a card for my wife. I can’t claim any prescience in making these purchases; they fall in the category of ‘you can’t lose ’em all’.

If there’s a point to this ramble among the arcane, it’s always look a gift horse in the mouth. While there may be gold in there, you could also have your nose bitten off.