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.
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.
10. FREE EYEGLASSES ADJUSTMENTS
They may slide down your nose or feel a tad crooked. Whatever the case, when you and your glasses fail to see eye to eye, bring them into LensCrafters for a free adjustment, even if you didn’t buy your glasses there.
Many independent eyeglass shops also offer free adjustments. It's worth asking.
11. FREE FISHING
Grab your pole and hang a "Gone Fishin' " sign on the door. Most states have free fishing days when you can fish without a license, saving you about $7 to $30, depending on your location. Most of the free days are in the summer, but some states have spring and fall days too. You'll find a list of states and dates at TakeMeFishing.org, or check with your local fish and wildlife agency for details.
Many locales also let kids fish for free year-round. The age cutoff varies by state but is usually in the teens.
12. FREE E-CYCLING
To keep your old electronics out of the landfill, you could pay $10 to $25 per item to have them recycled. But a growing number of retailers and electronics manufacturers will take them off your hands for free, including Best Buy and Apple. Dell has also partnered with many Goodwill stores to accept electronics for recycling.
13. FREE CHECKING
This is a freebie that is getting harder to find in the face of new banking regulations. Many banks are raising fees on basic services or setting up more hoops for you to jump through in order to qualify for freebies.
However, you can still find several good free checking accounts online, such as those offered at EverBank, ING Direct and Ally Bank. They give you free ATM access and free online bill-paying, plus you earn interest (free money!) on your deposits as well.
14. FREE MOVIES & TV
Movie tickets, cable TV, Netflix... these can all add up. Yet there are several free options to get your entertainment fix. You can watch free movies and TV series online at Hulu.com and Crackle.com (check out the Crackle.com app for entertainment on the go), or head to the TV networks' Web sites. You can also get free Redbox DVD rentals with coupon codes from InsideRedbox.com.
Many communities, from San Diego to Pittsburgh, show free outdoor movies in the summer. Plus, you and your kids can catch free family films throughout the summer at several theaters, including Clearview, Marquee, Muvico and select Great Escape locations.
15. FREE LEGAL ADVICE
Nolo.com has been Kiplinger's go-to source for legal information for a long time, and it's still the best. The Web site is packed with free advice on a wide range of legal issues, such as estate planning, buying or selling real estate, managing a business and more. Nolo is authoritative, yet clearly explains when your situation calls for hiring a lawyer.
16. 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? (Compare rewards cards here.)
And if you 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.
17. FREE RX DRUGS
Bring in your prescription, and you can get free antibiotics at some pharmacies, including those at Giant Eagle, Meijer, Publix, Schnucks and Wegmans.
You can also get free prenatal vitamins at Meijer and Schnucks. Price Chopper and ShopRite stores give out free diabetes medications and supplies.
18. 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 hardcovers but about as much as paperbacks. But at Gutenberg.org or the University of Pennsylvania online books page, you won't pay a cent to legally download thousands of books whose copyrights have expired, including War and Peace, Moby Dick and Little Women.
You can also search for free e-books at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, iTunes.com and Kobo.com. Or check your public library, where you can get newer titles for free too.
19. FREE AUDIOBOOKS
If you love to read but don't have the time, download free audiobooks legally 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, Ayn Rand and more. And for bedtime-story help, they also have children's collections, which include such titles as The Three Little Pigs and The Secret Garden. To get newer titles for free, check your public library.
20. FREE CHARITABLE GIVING
There are other ways you can give to a good cause without dipping into your budget. For instance, you can give blood, donate frequent flier miles, or even host an old-fashioned garage sale and give the proceeds to charity. You can also click your support: At thehungersite.com, advertisers donate money to a cause each time you click a button on the Web page.
21. FREE BUSINESS ADVICE
If you run your own business, you're bound to have questions. Go to SCORE.org to get free, confidential small-business advice. The nonprofit has more than 13,000 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 has an extensive list of tools and resources for entrepreneurs.
22. FREE SHIPPING
If you love to shop online but hate to pay for shipping, go to FreeShipping.org. The site can direct you to retailers -- such as BlueNile.com, Linens 'n Things, LLBean.com and Zappos.com -- who still offer free shipping on every order, big or small. The site also gives you coupon codes to snag free shipping at other retailers.
Also, many retailers' sites offer free shipping if you'll pick up your order at a local store, such as AceHardware.com, BestBuy.com, Payless.com, REI.com and Walmart.com.
23. FREE DIET & 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. After all, it's in their best interest that you stay healthy and show up for work. 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 in place.
24. FREE ETF TRADES
Here's a great rate for trading exchange-traded funds: $0. Several big brokerages, including Fidelity, Schwab, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard, have waived the commission on ETFs, meaning you don't have to pay a dime when you buy or sell. (Learn more in our SPECIAL REPORT: Smart Moves With Exchange-Traded Funds.)
25. FREE KIDS' MEALS
How much do you hate buying a $12 entrée for a picky 6-year-old? If the answer is "a lot," visit KidsMealDeals.com. The site points you to restaurants in your area where kids eat free (usually at certain times or on certain days). It includes independent eateries as well as national chains.
Also, call your local eateries and ask if they offer kids' deals. Some do but they don't advertise them, so it's worth asking.
26. FREE MONEY FOR COLLEGE
On average, one year of college tuition and fees costs undergrads $7,605 at a public university and $27,293 at a private school. Thankfully, free money is available if you know where to look. Search for scholarships at FastWeb.com, or apply for one of the grants handed out by the federal government. Several states also award grants, which don't have to be repaid. Contact your state's department of higher education to learn more.
Free money also abounds for grad school, from grants and scholarships to assistantships and fellowships. See our featureMoney for Grad School to learn more.
27. FREE PREVENTIVE CARE
Under the new health care law, many insurance plans now provide certain preventive-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. Ask your insurer or your employer's benefits office whether your plan qualifies.
Also, Medicare no longer charges co-pays or deductibles for mammograms, cervical-cancer and colorectal-cancer screenings, cholesterol tests, flu and pneumonia shots, and certain kinds of prostate-cancer screenings. Get more information at Medicare.gov.
28. FREE OUTINGS
You can entertain friends, family or even a date for free -- without looking cheap. Many top-notch museums, galleries and zoos offer free admission year-round, including the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. Others, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, let you in for free on certain days of the week or month. And many college campuses host free concerts and student art exhibits.
Every October, select theaters nationwide give free performances. Go to FreeNightofTheater.net to learn more. And public parks, beaches and forests are ideal settings for walking, biking, hiking, sledding, wildlife-watching, picnicking, kite flying, stargazing ... the sky's the limit.
29. FREE RETIREMENT PLANNING
The new Fidelity Income Strategy Evaluator tool at Fidelity.com enables everyone, not just Fidelity customers, to estimate future retirement expenses and income. The robust tool recommends appropriate investment strategies to generate steady income (with or without using annuities) and provide growth to keep pace with inflation.
30. FREE TAX HELP
Understanding the U.S. tax code can be, well, taxing. But Kiplinger.com is here to help. During tax season, we publish a tip a day to make sure you get every dime you're due. Also check out the discussion board at HRBlock.com, which is monitored by tax professionals during tax season.
The IRS wants to help, too. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Call 1-800-829-1040 to get answers from the people who enforce the rules. You may also qualify for free face-to-face help from a tax pro volunteer. See the IRS's list of free tax return preparation resources for details.
31. FREE MONEY FOR RETIREMENT
Some employers will match your contributions, in whole or in part, to your workplace 401(k) plan -- essentially giving you free money. 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 to build your nest egg if it's offered.
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