SMART BUYING


Fabulous Freebies 2011

Here at Kiplinger, we believe you can have the best of both worlds: that you can live frugally and live well.

To prove that point, we're back with our fifth annual list of fabulous freebies. We found 31 categories of quality goods and services -- from free financial services to free entertainment, no useless junk allowed! -- that you would happily pay good money for, except you don't have to.

We’ve laid out our list in text format below, or you can SEE THIS STORY IN SLIDES.

1. FREE HOBBIES
Want to learn something new in your spare time? Many local retailers offer free workshops. For instance, you can improve your culinary skills at Williams-Sonoma's free technique classes. At REI, take advantage of free clinics on bike maintenance, backpacking, camp cooking and more (offerings vary by location). Lululemon Athletica stores host free yoga sessions. Apple, Home Depot, Lowe's and Michaels stores offer free classes for adults and kids.

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Check your local library, too. We've seen free hands-on workshops for computers, chess, knitting and more. And don't forget the Web: You can learn a new language at FSI-language-courses.org, learn to draw at Drawspace.com, or improve your golf game at Golf.com, just to name a few resources.


2. FREE PRICE WATCH
Don't you hate it when you pay for a flight, and then the price drops? Enlist the help of Yapta.com, which tracks your flight's price after you buy your ticket. If the fare drops, it will notify you and help you collect a refund or travel vouchers from the airline. (Note: You will have to pay the ticket-change fee, so Yapta only kicks in if the price drop exceeds the change fee.) Yapta does the same for hotels, too.

For rental cars, try AutoSlash.com. The site will continue to check prices until your pickup date. If it finds a lower rate, it can re-book you for free and send you the new details.


3. FREE FOOD
Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. Mark your calendar for free IHOP pancakes and Rita's Italian ice in March; free Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Pretzelmaker pretzels, Cinnabon treat and a Starbucks coffee in April; free Haagen-Dazs ice cream in May; a free Krispy Kreme doughnut and TCBY frozen yogurt in June; and a free Chick-Fil-A meal in July -- to name a few.

You can also sign up to score free food on your birthday from Famous Dave's BBQ, Cold Stone Creamery, Denny's and other eateries. Search the Web for "birthday freebies," or call your local restaurants to ask whether they offer such a deal.


4. FREE INVESTING APPS
Stay up-to-date on the financial markets with free apps on your iPhone, Blackberry or Android.

Some of our favorites: Bloomberg for up-to-the-minute stock quotes and breaking news, Morningstar for mutual fund research at your fingertips, and Yahoo Finance for the latest financial headlines, stock news and videos. See 7 Best Free Investing Apps for 2011 for more.


5. FREE BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE
No list of freebies would be complete without our perennial favorite: your public library. Most offer books, magazines, audiobooks, e-books, video games, CDs and DVDs for free (as long as you return them on time, of course).

Your library may also host free activities, such as book clubs, lectures, film screenings, children's story hours and craft activities.


6. FREE CREDIT REPORT
It's a good idea to keep tabs on your credit report to make sure it's accurate. After all, it could impact your interest and insurance rates, and your ability to land a job or apartment. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, no strings attached.

New this year, lenders are required to give you your credit score for free if you are denied credit or are charged a higher interest rate due to your score. Learn more.


7. FREE CAR-BUYING HELP
One of the things people hate most about buying a car is haggling. So why not let someone else take the wheel? If you're already a member or customer of AAA, Costco, Consumer Reports or even Geico Insurance, you may get auto-buying assistance for free. You simply tell them the make, model and extras you want, and they'll negotiate a price from local dealerships on your behalf. Some credit unions and alumni associations offer this freebie, too.

If you'll be handling the negotiations yourself, go to Truecar.com to see what others in your area are paying for the same car. Plus, the site will show you the best local no-haggle price and info on dealer incentives and fees.


8. FREE HOTEL PERKS
Hotels love to nickel-and-dime you (minibar, anyone?). So we love it when we can find a place that still treats us as true guests. Go to Priceline.com's guide to hotels that offer complimentary services, such as free wi-fi, free kid-stays, free spa or casino credits, free food, free late checkout and free parking.

At Pettravel.com, you can look for hotels that won't charge an extra fee if you bring your pet.


9. FREE MUSIC & MEDIA STORAGE
No more cables! No more file transfers! No more mismatched playlists! This fall, Apple users will get 5 GB of free storage space with iCloud, which not only gives you a place to keep your photos, music, video and other files, but will automatically sync those files to all your Apple devices. So if you make a change to a playlist on your iPhone, that change will carry over to your iPad and your Mac.

Not an Apple customer? With Google Music Beta, you can upload your personal music library to its database, then stream it back to any Web-enabled device. Plus, the songs you recently played will be available offline, too. Amazon Cloud works similarly, playing back your library on any computer with its Cloud Player installed.


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