We’re back with Kiplinger.com’s sixth annual list of freebies -- packed with more something-for-nothing deals than ever. We don’t allow any useless junk on our list, only quality goods and services that you would happily pay good money for (or perhaps you already are). From free investing and financial services to free technology and entertainment, there’s something here for everyone.
Go ahead. Put away your wallet. We insist!
In an effort to lure you inside, more restaurants and retailers are offering free Wi-Fi, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble. Some public libraries, campgrounds and hotels offer this freebie too. Go to WiFiFreeSpot.com to find places to surf when you’re away from home. Or download the Free Wi-Fi Finder app at iTunes.
Free Computer Security
You don’t have to pay $70 a year for security software. Avast Antivirus and Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows get good reviews from tech experts and offer basic defenses, including malware protection.
Free Digital Storage Space
With free online backup storage, you can share files and protect them from computer crashes, theft and natural disaster. Windows Live SkyDrive gives you 7 gigabytes of free, secure digital storage space. You can also use Amazon Cloud Drive (5 GB free) or Dropbox (2 GB free).
Free Unlimited Texting
Save money on your cell phone plan by using a free texting service such as textPlus. It assigns you a free phone number through which you can send and receive texts as much as you want on your Android devices, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. For more information, see Smart Ways to Save on Smart-Phone Plans.
For many basic computing needs, you can get free software rather than shelling out for the Microsoft Office Home & Student suite ($120), Quicken Deluxe for budgeting ($59.99), Adobe Photoshop Elements for photo editing ($99.99) and other popular programs.
For word processing, spreadsheets and multimedia presentations, try OpenOffice.org or Google Docs. To manage finances, we like the free budgeting program at Mint.com. And for photo and video editing, try Aviary, Picasa, Pixlr or Apple’s built-in iMovie software.
Free Tech Support
If you have a problem with your computer, head to TechGuy.org or 5starsupport.com for free help. You can search the forums for your machine’s particular ailment or post a question to receive a timely response from the sites’ squad of geek volunteers.
And if these sites can’t help you, visit your device’s manufacturer’s own site for more free resources. Many post user manuals and FAQs to help you solve your dilemma.
Free Computer Classes
Brush up on your computer skills at your public library, which may offer a variety of free computer and technology classes. Some common courses include Internet and email basics, spreadsheet and word processing, digital photography and image editing, and family history research. For instance, New Yorkers looking for even more free tech guidance for their personal computers can attend the hands-on PC Maintenance workshop at The New York Public Library -- one of more than 25,000 free programs offered at the Library’s branches across the city.
Free Flight Perks
Domestic airlines are stingy with giveaways. But some airlines still offer a few freebies for fliers. One of our favorites: Southwest lets you check two bags for free -- which can save you up to $120 on a round-trip flight. JetBlue lets you check one bag free, plus gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks.
If you have to fly, you may as well earn extra credit for it. Sign up for the airline’s frequent flier program to accumulate points toward free flights and other goodies. See the “Program Guide” at WebFlyer.com for the lowdown on each airline’s rules.
Free Passport Photos
You’ll pay about $15 at the post office to get your picture taken for your passport. Instead, take your photo with your own digital camera, then upload it to ePassportPhoto.com, which will help you size it properly before printing on your home printer. The best part: You can redo your picture as many times as you like. After all, who wants to get stuck with a bad photo for the next ten years?
Free Language Lessons
Prepare for your international getaway with the free foreign language lessons online at FSI-language-courses.org. Or go to Openculture.com= for a list of lessons around the Web that you can download to your MP3 player. Your public library may also offer courses or software to help you prepare for your travels.
Free Stuff on the Road
Traveling is expensive enough. Don’t get nickel-and-dimed at every step of the way. Stay at hotels that offer free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, free fitness facilities, free parking, and other perks. Priceline.com maintains a searchable database of hotel freebies.
Traveling with kids? You deserve even more freebies. Children under age 2 can fly any airline or ride Amtrak free of charge when they sit on a paying adult’s lap. Also, watch for kids-cruise-free and kids-ski-free promotions, and ask the cruise or resort in advance about free supervised kid programs so you can have some much-needed grown-up time.
Free Price Watcher
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: Yapta only kicks in if the price drop exceeds the ticket-change fee you’d be obligated to pay.) Yapta does the same for hotels too. For rental cars, try AutoSlash.com.
Free Tour Guides
To get a real feel for a city when you’re traveling, team up with a local. The Global Greeter Network organizes volunteers in several cities worldwide to show you around, give you the inside scoop and answer your questions. Tours can last a couple hours, and there’s a strict no-tipping policy.
Prefer to explore at your own pace? Browse the free audio walking tours available for download at iTunes.com, Audisseyguides.com and iAudioguide.com. You can also search the Web for walking tours of your destination. In our simple search, we found free audio tour downloads from Boston and Chicago to Dublin and Jerusalem.
Free Credit-Card Perks
By simply carrying a credit card, you may be entitled to some cool travel freebies. For example, most credit cards come with free rental-car insurance, and some cards will cover the cost of your vacation if you have to cancel your trip. Call your card issuer to find out what perks you qualify for.
International travelers can get slammed with a 3% currency conversion fee every time they charge their credit cards, or withdraw money from an ATM overseas. Bypass the fee with a Capital One or Discover credit card. For more information, see 7 Little-Known Credit Card Perks.
Free Healthful Recipes
Not sure what’s for dinner? The Web is your oyster. Allrecipes.com and Epicurious.com, which offer thousands of free recipes, are perennial cook favorites. Both sites have sections dedicated to healthy meals, or you can search by occasion, ingredients, ethnicity or user ratings. You can even watch cooking demonstrations and save your favorite meals in virtual recipe boxes. Why spend money on cookbooks?
Don’t sweat enrollment fees and gym memberships. It doesn’t cost a penny to put on your sneakers and go for a walk or jog in your neighborhood, or to join a pick-up game of basketball at your local park. To encourage public health, more communities are installing free outdoor gyms for adults at public parks. Residents of Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Antonio and others can use free equipment for strength training, flexibility and cardio workouts.
Prefer to work out at home? Check out a fitness DVD from your local library.
Or with companions and instructors? You may be able to find free fitness classes taught by experts in your area. For instance, Lululemon Athletica stores offer free yoga classes weekly. Many communities host free workouts in public parks or libraries, too. For instance, we found free yoga classes in Miami, New York and Los Angeles; free tai chi sessions in San Francisco, Omaha and Washington, D.C.; free Zumba classes in Chicago; and more.
Free Diet and Fitness Help
Need help sticking to a diet and exercise plan? At Fatsecret.com, MyFitnessPal.com and SparkPeople.com, you can craft meal plans and count calories, put together a fitness plan and track your progress, and get support and advice from other users.
Some employers offer free diet and fitness help to their employees. These programs may include free gym access, weight-loss support groups and smoking cessation programs. Some will even pay you for your progress. Ask if your workplace has a wellness plan.
Free Health Care
Under the new health care law, many insurance plans now provide preventative-care screenings without charging deductibles or co-pays. This rule may apply to blood-pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests, mammograms and colonoscopies, flu shots, routine vaccines, well-baby and well-child visits and other services. Medicare also covers certain cancer screenings and preventative care tests. Get more info at Medicare.gov.
Free Rx Drugs
Bring in your prescription, and you can get free antibiotics at some pharmacies, including those at Giant Eagle, Meijer, Publix, Schnucks, ShopRite and Wegmans. You can also get free prenatal vitamins at Meijer and Schnucks. Publix, Price Chopper and ShopRite stores give out free diabetes medications and supplies.
Free Brain Games
Keep your mind active and healthy with free brain games here at Kiplinger.com. The New York Times and USA Today also offer an impressive array of free games, crossword and Sudoku puzzles on their Web sites.