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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
the editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance
| June 29, 2018Updated February 2020
Only one thing beats getting a good price on something, and that’s getting it for free. Our list of freebies is packed with 70 something-for-nothing deals. We don’t allow any useless junk on our list—only quality goods and services that you would happily pay good money for (perhaps you're already doing so). From free food to free investing and financial services to free technology and entertainment, we have something here for everyone.
Go ahead. Put away your wallet. We insist!
Whether you are a fan of true-crime, comedy, or personal finance podcasts, there are apps and websites that help you avoid subscription and download fees so you can tune in to your favorite episodes while you’re at work, in the library, or tackling a home repair project on the weekend. Stitcher, TuneIn Radio, Pandora and Spotify let you listen to unlimited podcast episodes without paying. You can listen online, or install their free apps to listen on-the-go.
Have you always wanted to learn an instrument or are you itching to revisit your glory days of playing the drums in your best friend’s garage? Those dreams can become a reality with free websites and apps that help you beat the often steep prices of private music lessons and recording and editing software. Hoffman Academy and Drum Ambition offer free tutorials and practice sheet music to beginning learners. MusicTheory.net offers free lessons on music theory for those looking for a more advanced understanding, and MuseScore is a free, open source site for composing and notating sheet music.
You used to have to pay for credit freezes at the three major credit bureaus. A federal law enacted in September 2018 prohibits Equifax, Experian and Transunion from charging a fee to freeze your credit. A credit freeze prevents new creditors from reviewing your credit report, making it more difficult for identity thieves from taking out credit in your name.
Go to Equifax, Experian and Transunion to initiate the freeze and find out more about how it works.
Also check with your state attorney general's office or consumer protection bureau to find out whether your state offers additional consumer protections on security freezes beyond what the federal law provides.
For more, see Free Credit Report Freezes.
Sometimes you just need somebody to talk to. The website 7 Cups provides free counseling and listening services to those in need. The site (and its corresponding app) is based around an instant messaging model where you can either volunteer as a listener or message confidentially with a volunteer. The site does have a premium version where you can chat with licensed therapists, but it’s designed to be an initial step for those seeking help.
Similar to 7 Cups, Blah Therapy offers a premium version where you pay a monthly subscription fee to message a licensed therapist. However, it also has a completely free version that connects you with a trained listener who most likely has also been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. We Are More, while not designed to take the place of in-person therapy, is a network of people diagnosed with chronic illnesses that provide peer counseling to each other.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of five home fire deaths occur in houses that don’t have properly working smoke detectors. In January 2018, Maryland passed a law requiring all residents to have a working smoke detector installed, and Virginia lawmakers have now made it legal for localities to implement similar policies. If you’re a resident of one of these states – or you just want to save $15 when replacing or installing a smoke detector – check out organizations near you that provide free smoke detectors, free installation, and free battery replacement services.
Several local fire departments offer free smoke detectors, and will even come to your house to install them. For example, residents of Baltimore City or Fairfax, Va., can call the fire department’s non-emergency number to request a free smoke detector (contact your fire department’s non-emergency number to see if they offer free smoke detectors and installation). Through its Home Fire Campaign, the American Red Cross provides free smoke detectors to residents of 12 states. You can submit your request through GetASmokeAlarm.org.
The 4 million customers of online and mobile brokerage Robinhood don’t receive the investment research or portfolio tools offered by more-established brokerages. And no, the brokerage’s app doesn’t let you steal from the rich to give to the poor. But Robinhood does offer no-commission and no-fee trades for all U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs. There’s also a free options trading service and, in some states, cryptocurrency trading. (Robinhood’s revenue comes from selling premium subscriptions that allow after-hours trading and margin trades.) There’s no minimum to invest. Just sign up, link your bank account and enjoy the savings.
Also, check with more-traditional online brokers such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab to see if they are offering any promotions.
You can find millions of pages of free information online, but how many of them enable you to reap a tangible benefit? Consider our favorite free sources for reasoned discussion and hard-to-find financial data for income investors. For example, the Closed-End Fund Association has a tool for sorting and screening more than 600 closed-end funds. InvestinginBonds.com offers real-time market data on bond trading action and prices. Screen the tax-free bond universe for top yields with the Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) system. And, get monthly updates by sector (such as the High Yield and Mortgage Market updates) from TCW.
The less you pay in investing fees, the more you have to actually invest—and grow with the magic of compounding. So it really pays to focus on trading commission-free exchange-traded funds. Most online brokers offer a host of commission-free ETFs, and Vanguard offers the most with roughly 1,800 funds, including names from iShares and State Street.
In the last few months, a slew of the major online brokerages started offering commission-free trading on all stocks, ETFs and options (technically, the options have a separate small fee, but it still greatly reduced the cost on them). Among the big players doing so are Vanguard and Fidelity.
You can score everything from small tubes of toothpaste, bottles of shampoo, mouthwash and deodorant to books, magazines, food and clothing. One of the easiest ways to find free samples and products is to visit blogs and websites that cull freebie offers from a variety of sources, such as I Love Free Things and FreeSamples.org. Manufacturers such as Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble regularly offer a limited supply of samples and full-sized products in exchange for subscribing to email newsletters. (Beware offers that require you to pay for shipping.)
Signing up for rewards programs is another easy way to get free samples delivered to your door. For those with a sweet tooth, joining Godiva’s rewards program gets you free chocolate every month as well as free shipping on online purchases. And follow your favorite brands, companies or retailers on Facebook and Twitter to hear about freebies first-hand.
Caring for Fido can be expensive, but there are plenty of free goods and services dog owners should take advantage of to save money. Dog-lovers can subscribe to BringFido’s weekly emails to receive free samples for treats, food, and dog shampoo. Additionally, some restaurants offer free treats to dogs during happy hour. And some hotels, such as Red Roof Inns and the Kimpton hotels, don’t charge extra for pets. For more, see Freebies for Your Dog.
EyeCare America, which is a public service program of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, provides free eye exams and up to one year of care for any disease diagnosed during that exam for those without private insurance who are 65 and older and haven’t seen an eye doctor in three or more years. Visit EyeCareAmerica.org for program guidelines and to see if you qualify.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, most health plans now must provide a variety of preventive-care benefits free -- even if you haven’t met your plan's deductible for the year. Among the benefits that are fully covered: screenings for high blood pressure, mammograms for women older than 40 and routine vaccinations for children, as well as a long list of other tests and services. See the preventive-care page at Healthcare.gov for a full list of these preventive services and eligibility requirements.
Several supermarket pharmacies offer free prescriptions. For example, Meijer pharmacies offer free generic antibiotics, prenatal vitamins, and more. At PriceChopper, you can access free diabetes medication and supplies (including a blood glucose monitoring device) through the store's Diabetes AdvantEdge Plan. And Publix's Free Medication Program offers both select antibiotics and diabetes medication (Metformin), as well as Amlodipine and Lisinopril for high blood pressure, at no cost. You might need to enroll in a pharmacy loyalty program to receive the free drugs. Also: check with your supermarket pharmacy to see if they offer free prescription meds or supplies.
Pharmaceutical companies also offer free and low-cost drugs to low-income people without prescription-drug insurance. You can use the RxAssist database to find free medication through drug companies' patient assistance programs.
Need help sticking to a diet and exercise plan? Turn to apps such as MyFitnessPal.com, Sworkit, Nike+ Run Club and Runkeeper for free meal plans and calorie counters, plans to track your progress, and for help mapping out runs and designing daily workouts. While these apps offer premium subscriptions, they all have free versions for Apple and Android phones. And if you’re an Apple Watch owner, there are free fitness apps built in.
You might also get free diet and fitness help from your employer; ask if your workplace has a wellness plan. These programs may include free gym access, weight-loss support groups and smoking cessation programs. Some will even pay you for your progress.
You may be able to find free fitness and wellness classes taught by experts in your area. For instance, certain Lululemon Athletica stores offer free yoga classes weekly. Many communities also host free workouts in public parks, libraries or community centers.
Want to try meditation? Centers often offer free introductory classes. Shambhala meditation centers located across the country offer free “learn to meditate” classes. We also found free intro classes at Zen meditation centers in Houston, Des Moines, Cambridge, Mass., and other locales.
You can try surfing the web for free workouts, too. YouTube hosts a multitude of instructional videos for yoga, Pilates, Zumba and other fitness practices.
Our national parks boast beautiful scenery, and you can take in the sights without paying a dime at some, 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.
Several state park systems—among them Maryland, New Hampshire, New York and Texas—offer older adults free admission or free annual passes. (Some passes require a small processing fee.)
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 200 museums on the first full weekend of every month.
A great way to see performances for free is to volunteer as an usher at a local theater. Call the theater manager to find out how to sign up.
If you can’t commit to a long-term volunteer gig, take advantage of the occasional free concerts that some performing arts centers hold. For example, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., hosts a free concert every evening. (And for those of you outside the beltway, many of the concerts are viewable online.) Communities across the country have free lunchtime and evening concerts in the park during summer months. Check the websites of your local government or downtown development district for details.
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 In most cases, you still have to buy tickets, but the games are far less expensive than during the regular season and the stadiums are more intimate. And your chances for getting up close and personal with star players are far greater in the preseason.
You can watch Olympic athletes train in Park City, Utah, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Chula Vista, Cal., for free.
Grab your pole and hang a "Gone Fishin’" sign on the door. Most states have select days when you can fish for free 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.
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 (some classes charge a small fee or require a purchase). At REI, you can take free clinics on bike maintenance, backpacking, camp cooking and more (you may have to pay for certain classes, and more if you’re not an REI member). Apple, Home Depot, A.C. Moore and Michaels stores also 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.
Cable and streaming-content subscriptions can add up. Watch free movies and TV series online at SonyCrackle.com or head to the TV networks’ websites. You can also test out Hulu.com and Netflix for a month before they start charging your card; just don’t forget to cancel before the trial period ends. Also, make sure you’re on your cable provider’s email list; they’ll often send you dates when the likes of HBO, Showtime and Epix are free; no signup required.
At Gutenberg.org or the University of Pennsylvania’s Online Books Page, you won’t pay a cent to legally download thousands of books that have expired copyrights, including War and Peace, Moby Dick and Little Women. You can also search for free e-books at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and iTunes.com.
If you have a Kindle or the free Kindle reading app, you can swap e-books with your friends for as long as 14 days per book.
If listening to stories is more your speed, download free audiobooks legally from Digitalbook and Loyal Books. (Both sites also offer free ebooks.) The sites offer up classic books with expired copyrights, including works from Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, Ayn Rand and other renowned authors. They also have children’s titles, such as The Three Little Pigs and The Secret Garden.
Get your groove on with music streaming services, such as Pandora, iHeartRadio and Spotify. All three offer free versions, as well as premium subscriptions. You can listen online or install their handy apps for on-the-go access.
You don’t have to earn a four-year scholarship to get a free ride at college.
For example, Berea College, in Berea, Ky., provides all students a four-year tuition scholarship that amounts to nearly $100,000. Alice Lloyd College — another Kentucky school — doesn’t require students from a 108-county area in Central Appalachia to pay tuition, but it does require students to work at least ten hours a week to offset the cost of their education. College of the Ozarks in Missouri also requires students to participate in a work program rather than pay tuition. The City College of San Francisco recently started offering free tuition for city residents. And New York is the first state to make attending its public colleges free for residents with incomes of less than $125,000 a year.
If you want to get an advanced degree, your employer might help you pay for it. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 report on employee benefits, 56% of the companies surveyed reported offering graduate educational assistance (56% also offer undergraduate assistance). On average, employers offer a maximum reimbursement of about $4,500 for tuition and education expenses (some of us got our master’s degree for free, thanks to our employer’s tuition assistance program).
Typically, employers that help employees pay for grad school require that they maintain a certain grade level and remain employed with the company for a period of time after completing a degree program.
Many colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League schools, offer free, open, online courses—without the rigorous admissions standards. You can search through hundreds of course offerings on sites such as Saylor.org, Coursera and Class Central. You can even get official credits and certifications for certain programs.
And more-seasoned knowledge-seekers can even enjoy free courses offline. Many accredited, degree-granting institutions offer tuition waivers for older adults to earn credit or audit classes. Indeed, we found free or cheap college for retirees in all 50 states.
Several states have laws requiring state-supported institutes of higher learning to waive tuition for older residents (usually age 60 or 65 and older). For example several Kentucky institutions, including the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, waive the tuition and fees for anyone 65 or older. Ohio residents age 60 and older can audit classes for free as part of Kent State University’s Senior Guest Program.
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 free tech guidance can attend the New York Public Library’s TechConnect program, which offers more than 80 tech classes at the library’s branches across the city.
If you’re looking to add a few new skills to your resume to keep up with the tech wave, Khan Academy, Codecademy and Coursera offer free classes in programming languages, data science, and other STEM subjects. Note that some websites also charge money for premium classes, but all have extensive libraries of courses for free.
Whether you want to learn a new language to boost your résumé or prepare for a trip to a foreign country, you can take free lessons online. Go to Open Culture for a list of lessons around the Web. Duolingo offers game-based lessons online and on their popular app in languages including Spanish, Welsh, Hebrew and even Klingon.
Your public library may also offer courses or software to help you learn a few key phrases or even become proficient in another language.
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 résumé 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.
You can also watch for workshops at your local library, community center or college.
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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.
Middle-income families spend $12,680, on average, for food, housing, health care, clothing and more in just the first year of a child’s life, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Expenditures on Children by Families annual report. Fortunately, there are a variety of freebies that can help keep down the costs of having a baby.
Cribbing off Finland, 10 U.S. states — including Alabama, California, and Virginia — have introduced a baby-box program that provides new parents with caretaking education and a safe sleep space for newborns (literally just a nice cardboard box with some padding) that comes filled with baby care essentials, all for free. Residents of those states just need to view a series of short online videos about infant safety from Baby Box University and take an easy quiz. Once you score 100% on the quiz, the baby box is all yours, though it’ll take several weeks to reach you.
You can also score free samples of formula, diapers, wipes, diaper cream and many other baby items from your hospital and doctors’ offices. Many companies also provide free samples of their baby products. Hit up their website or contact customer service.
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. Many online brokerages provide similar tools for their account holders, too.
For ideas to round out your portfolio, consider Kiplinger’s 25 favorite no-load mutual funds, Kiplinger’s top ETF picks and our list of top dividend-paying stocks.