Fabulous Freebies 2012
There’s only one thing better than getting a good price on something, and that’s getting it for free.
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.
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.For more information, see 7 Best Free Investing Apps.
Free Capital Gains
Who wouldn’t love to let their investments grow 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.
Free ETF Trades
Here’s a great commission rate on exchange-traded funds: $0. Several big brokerages, including Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard have free commissions on ETFs, meaning you don’t have to pay anything extra when you buy or sell. Learn more.
Free Savings Bonds
Before you make any purchase online, consider making BondRewards.com your starting line. You click on an affiliated e-tailer (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.
Free Portfolio Checkup
Are your investments as diversified as you think they are? 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.
Free Financial Guidance
Prosper from the actionable, straightforward guidance found across Kiplinger.com and our related social-media platforms. Learn how to cut your tax bill, maximize returns on your investments, save more for retirement, plug insurance leaks, get the best banking and credit deals, and so much more.
Get answers to your toughest personal-finance challenges in our free weekly live chats with financial planners and Kiplinger editors.
If you love to shop online but hate to pay for shipping, go to FreeShipping.org. The site can direct you to retailers who offer free shipping on every order, big or small. The site also gives you coupon codes to snag free shipping at other retailers.
Free Car-Buying Help
Hate to haggle? Let someone else take the wheel. If you’re already a member or customer of AAA, Costco, Consumer Reports or Geico Insurance, you may get auto-buying assistance for free. 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 free site will show you the best local no-haggle price and info on dealer incentives and fees.
Free Kids Meals
Don’t you hate buying a $12 entrée for a picky 6-year-old? Visit KidsMealDeals.com to find restaurants where kids eat free. Better yet, call your local eateries or connect with them on Facebook to find out if they offer kids’ deals. Some do but don’t advertise them, so it’s worth asking.
Free Sales Tax
Back to school season brings tax-free shopping days in several states. That means residents may be able to avoid paying sales tax on clothing, shoes and other school and office supplies.
Some states have tax-free shopping days at other times of the year. For example, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have sales tax holidays for energy-efficient appliances. Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia have tax-free days set aside for buying generators and other storm-preparedness supplies. And on the first weekend of September, Louisiana residents won’t pay sales tax on firearms, ammunition and hunting supplies. Get more information.
Free Shopping Apps
Are your key ring and wallet getting crowded? Use the free Key Ring app to store all of your bar-coded loyalty, membership and library cards on your phone. You simply scan your phone at the point of service. Online shoppers can stay organized with Slice, which tracks packages and notifies you of price drops on items you already bought so you can recoup the difference from the merchant.
To help you get the best price, use Red Laser, which scans any barcode in the store and instantly compares prices for the same item online. For in-store coupons, try or Yowza.
Free Credit Report
Your credit report can impact your interest and insurance rates as well as your ability to land a job or apartment, so it pays to make sure it’s accurate. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, no strings attached.
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, Expensify to automatically compile receipts for your business expense report, and Venmo or Paypal to instantly pay your friend back for dinner before you even leave the table.
Most banks also have free mobile banking apps that allow you to check your balance, transfer funds and make deposits on the fly.
Free Retirement Planning
A free tool at Fidelity.com enables everyone, not just Fidelity customers, to estimate future retirement expenses and income. It recommends appropriate investment strategies to generate steady income (with or without using annuities) and provide growth to keep pace with inflation.
This freebie is getting harder to find without having to jump through a lot of hoops. For the best free checking accounts, look to online banks such as ING Direct and Ally Bank. They give you free ATM access and free online bill-paying, plus you earn free interest (free money!) on your deposits as well. For more information, see Best Deals in Online Banking, 2012.
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.)
You can get even more free cash when you shop online by starting at rebate portal sites like ShopAtHome.com, Ebates.com or FatWallet.com. You select a retailer from their lists, and they pay you back a percentage of your purchase price (typically between 1% and 10%). For more information, see 3 Rewards Credit Cards for Big Spenders.
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.
Free Tax Software and Guidance
Preparing your income taxes doesn’t have to cost a lot. Check out the IRS’s Free File program. If your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less, you qualify for free tax-prep software and filing. If you make more money than that, you can still file for free, but you don’t get the free software.
Have a tax question? Call the free IRS help line at 800-829-1040. Many communities also offer free face-to-face help during tax-filing season, with volunteers at public libraries and community centers. See the IRS’s list of free tax return preparation resources for details.
ENTERTAINMENT & LEISURE FREEBIES
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 treats and 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 7-Eleven slurpee and Chick Fil-A meal in July -- to name a few.
You can also sign up to score free food on your birthday from a number of eateries, including Cold Stone Creamery, Denny’s and Famous Dave’s BBQ. Search the web for “birthday freebies,” or call your local restaurants to ask whether they offer a deal.
Free Books, Movies, Music and More
Your public library is a freebies Mecca. 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.
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. 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 let kids fish for free year-round. The age cutoff varies by state but is usually in the teens.
Free Movies and TV
Movie tickets, cable TV, Netflix and TiVo subscriptions can add up. Yet there are several free options to get your couch potato fix. Watch free movies and TV series online at Hulu.com and Crackle.com (check out the Crackle app for your phone). Or, head to the TV networks’ Web sites. You can also get free Redbox DVD rentals with coupon codes from InsideRedbox.com.
You can catch free movies on the big screen, too. Many communities nationwide show free outdoor movies in the summer. Plus, your kids can catch free family films throughout the summer at several theaters, including Clearview, Marquee, Muvico and Great Escape.
Free Museums and Parks
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.
Bank of America cardholders can gain free admission to more than 150 museums on the first full weekend of every month.
Our national parks boast some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and some 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 that usually charge admission. Here’s the free-admission schedule.
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.
For newer titles, check out your public library. Or join a free online lending community such as ebookfling or ebookexchange. You list your Kindle and Nook ebooks on the site (the publisher has to have chosen to enabled the title for lending), then you swap ebooks with other members. Borrowers have 14 days to read the book.
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, Ayn Rand and more. They also have children’s titles, such as The Three Little Pigs and The Secret Garden. To get newer audiobook titles for free, check out your public library.
Get your groove on with free music streaming services, such as Pandora.com, Grooveshark.com and Spotify.com. You can access them online, or install their handy apps to take the tunes on the go.
Fresh air is free, and you can have plenty of fun enjoying it outdoors. Public parks, beaches and forests are ideal settings for walking, biking, hiking, sledding, wildlife-watching, people-watching, picnicking, kite flying, photographing, reading, stargazing ... need we go on?
If you live near a college, take advantage of free book readings, student concerts and performances on campus.
Keep your eyes open for other free performances in your area. For example, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. hosts a free concert every weeknight. And during the summer months, many communities host free concerts or theater in the park. A simple web search for “free concerts” or"“free night of theater" turned up hundreds of other events nationwide.
You needn’t pay a small fortune to see world-class athletes in action. Get an up-close look at your favorite baseball and football teams in action during spring training for Major League Baseball and summer training camps for the National Football League.
You can also watch Olympic athletes train in Park City, Utah, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Chula Vista, Cal., for free.
Want to learn something new in your spare time? Many local retailers offer free workshops. For instance, improve your culinary skills at Williams-Sonoma’s free technique classes. At REI take a free clinic on bike maintenance, backpacking, camp cooking and more. Apple, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Michaels stores offer free classes for adults and kids. Check your local library, too. We’ve seen hands-on workshops for computers, chess, knitting and more. Or check out a book or DVD on a topic that interests you, such as origami, pilates or international cooking.
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. Plus, family and friends can help too by linking their rewards to your Upromise account.
Free Money for Tuition
Put a dent in that tuition bill by searching 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 story on Money for Grad School to learn more.
Many colleges and universities post course material and lectures on their Web sites, including Johns Hopkins, University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 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.
Tired of trying to teach your kid the difference between sine and cosine? Ask your school or local library whether it provides free tutoring services, or access to free online tutoring such as Tutor.com and SkillsTutor.com. These sites off tutors in a range of subjects and let students and tutors communicate online.
Free Education Apps
Like it or not, kids and technology are drawn to each other. So why not use that magnetic power for good? For elementary-age kids, check out the iTooch app for math, science and language arts activities, the MeeGenius app for reading, and the free PBS Kids apps for educational games and videos. For middle schoolers, try the Blanks app for vocabulary, and Khan Academy app for math and science videos. And for high schoolers, Brightstorm ACT Prep or Kaplan’s SAT Flash Cubes apps can help your teen prepare for college-entry exams.
Free Résumé Help
Whether you’re applying for an internship, searching for your first job out of college or polishing a seasoned résumé, you can get free help with your job hunt. Stop by a One Stop Career Center (a service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor) in your area. Trained staff can help you with resume writing, interviewing skills and online job searching techniques. The centers also offer job training programs, or they can arrange on-the-job training and apprenticeships with local employers.