Fabulous Freebies 2010
Your money is no good here. These 33 quality goods and services won't cost you a thing.
It’s been said that the best things in life are free. And we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’re back with our fourth annual list of our favorite freebies.
We looked for primo goods and services -- no useless junk allowed. And, boy, we found them, from financial tools to entertainment to cold, hard cash.
We’ve laid out our list in text format below for easy printing and e-mailing. Or, you can view it in our SLIDE SHOW. And be sure to tell us about your favorite freebies in the reader-comment box below.
1. FREE CAR-REPAIR HELP It won't fix your car free (darn), but RepairPal.com will help you find out whether your mechanic is quoting a fair price.
Enter your car's make, model and year, plus your zip code. Then choose among dozens of fixes to get a price range for the job at dealerships and independent shops in your area.
2. FREE TECH SUPPORT If you're a member of Sam's Club or Costco, you can get free tech support -- even if you didn't buy the device at their store.
Or, for PC problems, anyone can head to TechGuy.org or 5starsupport.com for free help. You can search the forums for your computer's particular ailment or post a question to receive a timely response from the sites' groups of geek volunteers. And don't forget to try the manufacturer's Web site. Many post user manuals and FAQs to help you solve your dilemma.
3. FREE TREATS Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. Mark your calendar for free IHOP pancakes in February; free Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Rita's Italian ice, and a Starbucks pastry in March; free Pretzel Time pretzels and a Cinnabon treat in April; free Haagen Daas ice cream in May; a free Krispy Kreme doughnut, Sonic root-beer float 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 FINANCIAL APPS There's a slew of free apps for your mobile phone that can simplify your financial tasks.
Among our favorites are apps from Mint.com to track your spending and investments, Allpoint and Moneypass to find surcharge-free ATMs nearby, Yowza for coupons on the go and CheckPlease Lite to easily calculate a tip or divide a restaurant check.
5. FREE BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES AND MORE You'll find the mother lode of freebies at your public library. All the books, magazines, audio books, video games and CDs you can carry won't cost a cent. Many libraries also have free Wi-Fi, DVDs and e-books. You may be able to go online to place your order for materials and a librarian will have them waiting for you when you arrive.
And that's not all. Your library may host free book clubs, lectures, film screenings, children's story times, craft activities and other community events.
6. FREE DIAMOND-RING INSPECTION One loose prong can weaken the setting on your diamond ring, risking the loss of your sparkler -- and thousands of dollars with it. Most jewelers will inspect your ring free of charge, especially if you purchased your jewelry from their shop. Many will even throw in a free cleaning.
It's a good idea to take advantage of this freebie at least once a year.
7. FREE COMPUTER PROTECTION Is your computer vulnerable? You can download malware-protection services available free online.
We recommend PC Magazine's Editor's Choice: Panda Cloud Antivirus. Or try Microsoft's Security Essentials, which PCWorld.com says renders subscription antivirus services unnecessary.
8. FREE WORKOUTS Forget the costly gym membership. It doesn't cost a penny to put on a pair of sneakers and go for a walk or jog in your neighborhood. Or check out a workout DVD from your local library.
You may also find free instructional workouts in your area. For instance, Lululemon Athletica stores offer free yoga classes weekly. We also searched the Web and found free tai chi sessions from a variety of organizations in several cities, including San Francisco, Omaha and New York.
9. FREE PORTFOLIO CHECKUP Is your portfolio as diversified as you think it is? You needn't pay a financial planner to evaluate your holdings. Simply use Morningstar.com's Instant X-Ray tool to check for balance among stock sectors, investment styles, geographic regions and more.
10. FREE RX DRUGS Bring in your prescription, and you can get free antibiotics at some pharmacies, including those at Giant, Meijer, Publix, Stop & Shop and Wegmans. You can also get free prenatal vitamins at Meijer and Schnucks.
11. FREE REWARDS You've got to buy gas and groceries anyway, so why not charge them on your rewards credit card to get free money, airline miles or more? (See our picks for the best rewards cards.)
And if you have to make a purchase online, start at BondRewards.com to earn another cool freebie: You click on an affiliated online retailer (there are hundreds) to do your shopping as usual, and a percentage of your purchase is given back to you in your BondRewards account. You then redeem your rewards for U.S. savings bonds or cash.
12. FREE PHONE ASSISTANT Streamline your personal phone system with Google Voice, a free service that allows people to dial one phone number to ring all your phones simultaneously. It converts voice-mail messages to text that you can go back to and search by keyword (no more Post-It collages on the wall). You can set up different voice-mail greetings for different callers, plus you can easily screen or block calls -- all without paying for a personal assistant.
Bonus: Even if your cell-phone plan charges you per text message, you can send free texts from your Google number.
13. FREE EDUCATION Many colleges and universities, such as Johns Hopkins, University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, post course material and lectures on their Web sites. You won't get credit toward a degree, but you can pursue an interest, sharpen your skills or even learn a language.
You can also go to Apple's iTunes U to access more than 250,000 free lectures, videos and other materials from 600 universities, including Oxford, Stanford and Yale.
14. 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 it on your home printer.
The best part: You can redo your picture as many times as you like to get it right. After all, who wants to get stuck with a bad photo for the next ten years?
15. FREE CREDIT REPORT AND CREDIT SCORE One of our all-time favorite freebies is AnnualCreditReport.com, which gives you a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
But your credit score has usually been costlier to come by. Now you can get a free score from CreditKarma.com and Quizzle.com. The sites give you a real credit score. While it's not the FICO score that most lenders use, you'll still get a good idea of where you stand.
16. FREE WI-FI Rejoice! About 6,800 Starbucks and 11,500 McDonald's nationwide recently began offering free Wi-Fi.
You can also go to WiFiFreeSpot.com to find places to surf free when you're away from home. The database includes airports, restaurants, hotels and more.
17. FREE E-BOOKS If you own a Kindle, iPad or other electronic reader, you can populate your e-library without breaking the bank. E-books commonly sell for $9.99 -- less than hard covers but about as much as paperbacks. But at Gutenberg.org, you won't pay a cent to download about 33,000 classics whose copyrights have expired, including War and Peace, Moby Dick and Little Women.
You can also search for free e-books at Amazon.com, Borders.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
18. FREE BUSINESS ADVICE Run your own business and you're bound to have questions. Go to SCORE.org to get free, confidential small-business advice. The nonprofit has 12,400 volunteer counselors, who are working and retired executives and business owners. Drop in to one of SCORE's 364 offices nationwide for a face-to-face consultation, or chat with an expert online.
Another great resource is the Small Business Administration. It often hosts free local workshops, and its Web site (SBA.gov) has an extensive list of tools and resources for entrepreneurs.
19. FREE FOREIGN-LANGUAGE LESSONS Want to learn another language? Put away your wallet, and hit the Internet. At FSI-language-courses.org, you can access courses developed by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute in 41 languages.
At Openculture.com/freelanguagelessons, you'll find a list of several free language lessons that you can download to your MP3 player. Or go to MangoLanguages.com to see whether your public library grants you free access to its courses in 22 foreign languages and 14 courses in English as a second language.
20. FREE NATURAL BEAUTY Our national parks boast some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Did you know that some of them don't charge entrance fees, including the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway?
Plus, on several days throughout the year, you can get in free to all national parks, including those that usually charge for admission, such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Everglades and Grand Canyon. Click here for the free-admission schedule from the National Park Service.
21. FREE STORAGE SPACE With free online backup storage, you can protect important files and photos from computer crashes, theft and natural disaster.
Windows Live SkyDrive, for instance, gives you 25 gigabytes of free, secure digital storage space -- far more than other free options, such as Dropbox.com (2GB free) and Google Docs (1GB free).
22. FREE CREDIT-CARD PERKS By simply carrying a credit card, you're entitled to some pretty cool freebies. For example, most credit cards come with free rental-car insurance, and some will cover the cost of your vacation if you have to cancel your trip. Some cards will even cover the cost of an item you bought that gets lost, stolen or destroyed, or will allow you to return an item to them that the store won't take back (like those shoes you bought on clearance). You might also score a free extended warranty on your purchase.
Call your card issuer to ask for a list of your benefits.
23. AIRLINE FREEBIES Airlines continue to scale back their perks -- and those that haven't been eliminated will probably cost you. But some airlines still offer up freebies for fliers. One of our favorites: Southwest still lets you check two bags free. JetBlue lets you check one bag free, plus gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks. (Some JetBlue flights even have free Wi-Fi.)
And don't forget about the free flights you can score by signing up for an airline's frequent-flier program (enrollment is also free). See the Program Guide at WebFlyer.com for the lowdown on each airline's rules.
24. FREE AUDIO BOOKS Love to read but don't have the time? Download free audio books from Librophile.com and BooksShouldBeFree.com. You can listen on your computer or MP3 player while you sit in traffic, fold laundry, exercise or simply relax.
The sites offer up classic books whose copyrights have expired, including works from Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Charlotte Brontë and more. And for bedtime-story help, they also have decent children's collections. (To get newer titles free, check your public library.)
25. FREE SHIPPING Some online retailers still offer free shipping on every order, including BlueNile.com (jewelry), Shopbop.com (clothes), Sweetwater.com (musical instruments), Zappos.com (shoes) and many of the booksellers at Abebooks.com.
Many stores also offer free shipping if you'll pick up your purchase at your local store, including AceHardware.com, Borders.com, Payless.com, REI.com and Walmart.com. And before you buy anything online, check to see whether the retailer offers a free shipping coupon. See FreeShipping.org for deals.
26. FREE CASH Don't let your short-term savings stagnate. Stash it in a high-yield online savings account such as ING Direct or HSBC Direct. They're FDIC-insured and were recently paying 1.1%. (For every $1,000 in your account, that's $11 free every year.) Online interest-bearing checking accounts from ING Direct and Everbank are also a good deal. They pay from 0.25% to 1.46%.
Another source of free cash: Some employers will match your contributions to your workplace 401(k) plan. For instance, if you contribute $100 per month, they may toss in another $50. You've got to save for retirement anyway, so take the free cash if it's offered.
27. FREE FOR THE KIDS The cost of raising a child keeps climbing. Luckily, there are plenty of freebies available to lower your expenses. Some our favorites include free kids' meals, coloring pages, craft project ideas and video games. And don't forget the library for all the free books and educational movies their little arms can carry. Our Web search even turned up a few free summer camps, such as the summer theater program at Wingspan Art in New York City, and the music, art and cooking courses at the Hudson Opera House near Albany.
When traveling, you can find hotels that allow kids to stay free, as well as deals for kids to cruise free and ski free. Kids under age 2 can fly any airline or ride Amtrak free of charge when they sit on a paying adult's lap.
28. FREE BILL PAY If you're still shelling out for a bill-paying service, it's time to quit. (At $10 per month, you're throwing away $120 per year.) Same goes for those of you still paying for stamps and snail-mailing your payments. (If you mail five bills per month, you're spending more than $26 per year on postage, simply for the privilege of paying your bills!)
Many banks offer free bill paying with their online checking accounts. Even if yours doesn't, you can usually pay everything from phone bills to property taxes by electronic check through the biller's Web site at no extra charge. You may even sign up for free automatic payments or e-mail reminders to ensure you never get slapped with a late fee.
29. FREE VIDEO EDITING SOFTWAREWindows Live Movie Maker and Google Picasa are good free choices for basic video editing. (Apple's iMovie software that comes on your Mac will also do the job.) They each let you assemble clips, add transitions, titles, music and more with ease. You can then post your video to social networking sites, download it to your computer or burn it onto a DVD.
You might also consider Pixorial.com. This simple online-based editor lets you invite friends and family to collaborate on your project, and allows you to save up to 10GB of video free of charge.
30. FREE TAX SOFTWARE AND FILING Some tax professionals and tax-prep software charge you extra to actually file your return -- which seems downright silly. After all, you already paid them for their service, not to mention you already paid your taxes.
Check out the IRS's Free File program. If you make less than a certain amount (for 2009 returns filed this past spring, the limit was $57,000 of adjusted gross income), you qualify for free tax-prep software and filing. Make more than that, and you can still file for free, but you don't get the free software.
31. FREE MOVIES Find free movies to watch online at Hulu.com and Crackle.com. You can also get free Redbox DVD rentals with coupon codes from InsideRedbox.com.
Keep your eyes open for free movie screenings in your neighborhood, particularly in the summer. Communities from San Diego to Pittsburgh show free outdoor movies. Plus, you and your kids can catch free family films at Regal, Marquee, Clearview and Great Escape theaters throughout the summer. Each has its own schedule for the free screenings; check with your local theater for details.
32. FREE PUZZLES Keep your mind active 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.
33. FREE FINANCIAL ADVICE Kiplinger.com is a treasure trove of free financial advice, if we do say so ourselves. Our tools and calculators will help you get on the right financial track.
Our expert columnists answer your personal-finance questions on everything from general queries to family finances to ethical matters. Plus, we have loads of informative videos and podcasts, top-notch stock and mutual fund analysis, and an active reader's community.
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