It's been said that the best things in life are free -- and we couldn't agree more. So we've beefed up our annual list of our favorite freebies to bring you even more this year.
We looked for primo goods and services, no useless junk allowed. And boy, did we find 'em, from financial management and planning helps to entertainment and vacation freebies. We've laid out our list in text format below for easy printing or emailing, or you can check them out in our SLIDE SHOW. Plus, we invite you to discuss your favorite freebies with other Kiplinger.com readers.
Go ahead. Embrace your inner tightwad:
Our favorite freebies
FREE TV & MOVIES
At Hulu.com, you can watch full episodes of more than 300 shows from NBC Universal and Fox stations, including The Simpsons, The Office, 30 Rock, The Colbert Report, Psych and House. You can even catch classics such as The A-Team, Bewitched, Dragnet and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hulu also offers more than 165 free full-length movies. There's something for everyone, and it's 100% legal.
If your favorite show isn't on Hulu, you can go to individual network Web sites, such as ABC.com and CBS.com, which are increasingly posting full episodes online.
FREE DIRECTORY ASSISTANCE
Save a buck or two and dial 1-800-FREE-411 next time you need directory assistance. It offers free guidance for residential and business listings.
After navigating the voice prompts, you may have to listen to a short advertisement (about 12 seconds long) and then you have the option to connect to the original business you requested, or to the sponsor.
FREE COLLEGE SAVINGS
Turn your everyday spending into money for Junior's college education through Upromise.com. Sign up online, and start earning cash rewards for eligible purchases including groceries, gas, dining out, travel and online shopping. The money is automatically transferred to your child's 529 account.
A few cents here and a couple dollars there can add up to a nice bonus to your college savings. Plus, family and friends can help too by linking their rewards to your Upromise account.
Here's one that'll make you smile. Many merchants offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. A couple of our favorites include Amazon.com for orders over $25 and Sephora.com on orders over $50.
And a few sites offer this freebie no matter how much you spend, including Alyssagiftbaskets.com (special-occasion gifts), Bellacor.com (lighting and home furnishings), Bluenile.com (jewelry), Shopbop.com (clothes) and Zappos.com (shoes).
FREE JUNK MAIL CONTROL
Put an end to those pre-approved offers from credit-card companies through the free service at www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling 888-567-8688. Then, sign up free at www.catalogchoice.org, and the site will do the grunt work to get you off mailing lists for catalogs you don't want.
FREE INVESTMENT TRACKING
Among your 401(k)s, IRAs and other investment accounts, it can be difficult to see the big picture. Stay atop of your investment performance with Kiplinger's Portfolio Tracker. It'll follow all your stocks and mutual funds, as well as help you manage your cost basis for tax purposes.
FREE BOOKS, MUSIC & MOVIES
The public library is still one of our all-time favorite places for a free diversion. If you haven't been lately, dust off your card. It's your ticket to mounds of free books, magazines, CDs and movies.
Many libraries also offer free lectures, book readings, children story hours and community clubs to residents.
FREE SPORTING EVENTS
You needn't pay a small fortune to see world-class athletes in action. For example, some professional baseball and football teams allow the public to watch them train pre-season for free, including the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Diamondbacks.
You can also watch Olympic athletes train for free in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah.
FREE CREDIT REPORT
You're entitled to one by law once a year from each of the three main credit bureaus. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to see what lenders can see about your credit history.
A buck or two here and there may not seem like a big deal, but if you're frequenting ATMs outside your bank's network, the surcharges can add up quickly. Get money from an ATM that belongs to a surcharge-free network.
Allpoint has about 200 participating institutions and 32,000 ATMs. Money Pass has 600 members and 8,000 ATMs.
FREE LANGUAGE LESSONS
Broaden your horizons and take the BBC's free online language courses at www.bbc.co.uk/languages. Choose from among complete beginner courses in French, German, Italian and Spanish. You can also dabble in Chinese, Japanese, Greek and others.
You'll find all sorts of stuff for free on your local Craigslist and Freecycle sites, including couches, chairs, entertainment centers and tables. Many are in heavily used condition and will work fine to furnish a dorm or first apartment. (One caveat: While free or cheap mattresses abound in classified listings, you should probably steer clear for sanitary reasons.)
Keep your eyes peeled for diamonds in the rough. We recently spied a free upright piano in good condition in Baltimore, and a free foosball table in San Diego.
FREE WIRELESS INTERNET
Surf for free when you're away from home at so-called free wireless hot spots. Search for restaurants, parks, hotels or other hangouts in your neighborhood at WiFiFreeSpot.com.
FREE ONLINE BILL PAYING
Stop paying your bills –- by check, that is. Consolidate and pay all your recurring bills through your bank, and you won't have to mess with deposit slips, stamps and envelopes any more. Plus, you'll never miss a payment.
At some banks, including Bank of America, BB&T, SunTrust and Wachovia, bill paying comes free with every online checking account. At other banks, such as Wells Fargo, you have to maintain a certain balance in your checking account to get the freebie, so make sure you read the fine print.
FREE PLACE TO STAY
Traveling? Consider trading spaces. Hospitality exchange Web sites are growing in popularity. You can network to trade homes with someone who wants to visit your town, or even take turns hosting each other.
Some popular sites that specialize in connecting members with free places to stay include CouchSurfing.com, HomeExchange.com, IntervacUS.com and HospitalityClub.com.
FREE OFFICE SOFTWARE
You'll spend more than $100 to get Microsoft's office suite of software for your home computer. But you can get the capability for word processing, making spreadsheets, creating presentations and more with a free software package at OpenOffice.org instead.
CNET awards it five out of five stars, and users testify it's almost as good as Microsoft's suite -- and you can't beat the price.
FREE DIET & FITNESS HELP
Keeping your diet or exercise regimen on track is easy -- and free -- online. For instance, at FatSecret.com, you can create a personalized program and share it with the online community for moral support and feedback. Plus, you can track your progress, keep a fitness journal and research different diets and fitness techniques.
FREE CHECKING WITH INTEREST
Many banks offer free checking accounts these days, but they work a lot like mattresses: You can stash your cash there, but it won't help your money grow. Enter ING Direct's Electric Orange checking account, where a penny saved is really a penny earned.
It pays you between 1.7% and 3.4% interest on your money (your rate depends on your account balance) and there's no minimum balance required. You get a debit card, and you can send electronic checks for free.
FREE E-BOOKS & SHEET MUSIC
When copyrights expire on books and music, the masterpieces become "public domain." That means you can get your hands on classic texts and sheet music for free -- and it's completely legal.
For instance, at Gutenberg.org, you can download more than 25,000 e-books, including works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and James Joyce. And at Mutopia.com, musicians can print sheet music by more than 250 composers, including Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky and Joplin.
FREE CAPITAL GAINS
Who wouldn't love to let their investments grow absolutely, 100% tax-free? Take a pass on paying capital gains taxes by investing in a Roth IRA. Any money you put into your Roth grows tax-free, and you won’t owe Uncle Sam a dime when you cash out in retirement. It's all yours.
Learn more in Why You Need a Roth IRA.
FREE KIDS MEALS
Kids eat free at Denny's and Lone Star Steakhouse every Tuesday night (and some Saturdays) with a paying adult. IHOP, Golden Corral, Hooters, Red Robin and Roadhouse Grill restaurants offer kids-eat-free deals at select locations. You can search for eateries in your area at KidsMealDeals.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 or longer, the service is free, and there's a strict no-tipping policy.
Cities include New York, Houston, Chicago, Paris, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Toronto and more. (Get links for these sites.)
You have to buy groceries and gas anyway, so why not use those purchases to get a little more green in your wallet? Sign up for a rewards credit card and get free money, gift certificates, airline miles or other perks. (Of course, it's only free if you pay the balance in full each month without incurring interest charges.)
Many retailers also have customer loyalty programs that can pay off, too. For instance, with Regal Cinema's Crown Club, you earn credits for each dollar spent on admission, to go toward free popcorn, drinks and movie tickets.
FREE CULTURAL EXHIBITS
You can visit many museums, galleries and other attractions nationwide for free, on special discount days, or during certain hours. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for example, offers free admission every Friday night from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Some top-notch attractions are free every day of the year, such as Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Getty Center in Los Angeles. And many college campuses host free concerts and student art exhibits.
FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
With the price of gas sky high, it's refreshing to find some U.S. cities offering up free bus, train and ferry rides, including Island County, Wash., Cache Valley, Utah, Clemson, S.C., and Chapel Hill, N.C.
Some larger metro areas provide free rides around their downtown areas, such as Denver, Colo., Portland, Ore., Miami, Fla., Seattle, Wash., and Pittsburgh, Pa. And across the entire state of Illinois, card-carrying riders age 65 and older get a free lift on public transit.
Not sure what's for dinner? The Web is your oyster. Allrecipes.com and Epicurious.com are perennial cook favorites. Together, they boast more then 100,000 recipes.
You can search by ingredients, meal or occasion, read user reviews, watch cooking demonstration videos and even save your favorite meals in virtual recipe boxes. Who needs to spend money on cookbooks?
FREE INTERNET & EMAIL
Even after you've upgraded to broadband Internet, it's a good idea to have a back-up dial-up service on your computer for when the cable goes out or your DSL acts up. NetZero, for example, still offers a free version of its software -- ten free hours per month.
Plus, set up a free e-mail account with Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo. Sure, your Internet service provider will give you an address, but it’s nice to have the freedom to change ISPs without worrying about alerting all your contacts about an e-mail address change.
FREE MONEY FOR GRAD SCHOOL
A year of graduate school costs, on average, anywhere from $17,000 for a master's degree at a public university to more than $56,000 at a private dental school. But free money abounds, from grants and scholarships to assistantships and fellowships.
See Free Money for Grad School to learn more.
FREE PHONE CALLS
Save on your long-distance bill and chat via computer with free software from Skype.com (no tin cans necessary). You won't pay a dime for any call to another Skype user. You can call non-users' landlines, too, for about $3 a month.
FREE FINANCIAL ADVICE
Not to toot our own horn (okay, maybe just a little), but Kiplinger.com is a treasure trove of free financial advice. Our tools and calculators will help you get on the right financial track. Our expert columnists will answer your personal questions, including general financial answers from Kim Lankford, family and kid topics from Janet Bodnar and big-picture financial planning from our Portfolio Doctor, Jeff Kosnett.
Can't find info on what you're looking for? Email us, and we'll point you in the right direction.
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