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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By the editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance
| Updated for 2017
Only one thing beats getting a good price on something, and that’s getting it for free.
Our list of freebies is packed with 69 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!
Use a fee-free online trading platform such as Loyal3 to trade stocks for free. Open an account online or through Loyal3's mobile app with absolutely no money. You provide your name, address, employer information, birthday and Social Security number, as well as checking account information to fund your trades. To start buying stocks, you can invest as little as $10; you have the option to buy fractional shares.
Similarly, the Robinhood app charges no commission to trade more than 5,000 U.S.-listed securities, and there are no minimum balance requirements on an account. (Broker-assisted phone trades cost $10; foreign-listed securities cost $50 per trade.)
Also, check with any of the more-traditional online brokers such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab to see if they are offering any promotions. For more, see How to Trade Stocks for Free.
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 commision-free ETFs, and Schwab offers the most with 226 funds, including names from iShares, PowerShares, State Street and WisdomTree. See Best of the Online Brokers for details and other options.
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 sites that cull freebie offers from a variety of sources, such as Hey, It’s Free! and Mr. Free Stuff. Manufacturers such as Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble regularly offer a limited supply of samples and full-sized products. (Beware offers that require you to pay for shipping.) 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. For example, 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 Opthamology, 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, at Meijer Pharmacies, you can get a 14-day supply of Amoxicillin, Cephalexin, SMZ-TMP and other select antibiotics for free with a doctor's prescription, regardless of what insurance you have. At PriceChopper, you can access free diabetes medication and supplies 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.
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 sites such as Fatsecret.com, MyFitnessPal.com and SparkPeople.com for free meal plans and calorie counters and to put together a fitness plan, track your progress and get support and advice from other users.
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 175 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 Web sites 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.
You can also 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 a free clinic 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 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.
Cable and streaming services subscriptions can add up. Watch free movies and TV series online at Crackle.com or head to the TV networks’ Web sites. 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.
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 Librophile.com 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.
A free college education is more than just a presidential nominee’s seemingly impossible campaign promise. A handful of schools actually make it a reality.
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 is scheduled to start offering free tuition to city residents for the Fall 2017 semester. 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 2015 report on employee benefits, 52% of the companies surveyed reported offering graduate educational assistance (56% offer undergraduate assistance). On average, employers offer a maximum reimbursement of about $4,500 for tuition and education expenses.
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 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. In fact, 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.
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. 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, three U.S. states—Alabama, Ohio and New Jersey—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 final, 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 your baby’s and your doctors’ offices. Many companies also provide free samples of their products.
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.
Then, check out Kiplinger’s 25 favorite funds and our model portfolios to establish the mix of investments that’s right for you.
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.
Your credit report can affect 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 once a year, no strings attached.
Several sites also offer free credit reports—as well as credit scores and monitoring. At Credit.com, you can see your Experian credit score, view your personalized “report card” that shows how you're doing in five key credit areas and receive alerts when something changes on your report. Credit Karma offers weekly updated free credit scores and reports from Equifax and TransUnion and will monitor your reports daily and notify you of any significant changes. Credit Sesame offers a free credit score from TransUnion and free monitoring.
Also check with your bank or credit-card company—some provide FICO scores to their customers pro bono. Even if you don't have a Discover card of your own, you can get your FICO score for free at www.discover.com/creditscorecard.
Using your credit card may entitle you to some valuable freebies. For example, most credit cards come with free rental-car insurance. Some will cover the cost of your vacation if you have to cancel your trip or reimburse you for luggage that is lost, stolen or damaged during flights purchased with eligible cards. Other credit card perks include free extended warranties, free cell-phone replacement and free museum admission. Contact your card issuer to find out what perks you qualify for.
Check out 11 Overlooked Credit-Card Perks for more.
For the best free checking accounts, look to online banks such as Ally Bank and Bank of Internet USA. They give you free ATM access and free online bill-paying, plus you earn free interest (free money!) on your deposits as well. Or check with community banks and credit unions, which you can find at culookup.com or Kasasa.com.
You have to buy groceries and gas anyway; why not use those purchases to get a little more green in your wallet? Sign up for a rewards credit card to 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 such as BeFrugal.com, Ebates, Extrabux and 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%).
Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. And some places offer freebies on certain holidays or special days, such as tax day, Mother's Day and Veterans Day. Here's a list of what you might expect throughout the year:
Check with your favorite establishment to see if it offers any freebies throughout the year.
Several ice cream—and frozen yogurt—shops offer freebies throughout the year. Some require you to join a club and sign up for e-mail alerts, but others simply give it away. For example, participating Bruster’s Real Ice Cream stores offer free mini ice cream cones to children shorter than 40 inches. You can join Dairy Queen’s Blizzard Fan Club to get a buy-one, get-one-free Blizzard coupon. And Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops have a Free Cone Day each year in the spring—usually April.
Run by so-called urban foragers, FallingFruit.org has an interactive map that shows where you can harvest your own fruit—as well as herbs, nuts and vegetables—from trees and plants that grow mostly on public lands. You can sort by location or fruit type. Then you can drill down to individual locations to see what type of fruit grows there, when it’s in season and whether it’s on public or private land. You also can see reviews by other foragers and a street view image courtesy of Google.
Don’t you hate buying a $12 entrée for a picky 6-year-old? You can stop throwing away that money (if not the leftovers) at participating locations of many national chains including Applebee’s, TGIFriday’s, IHOP and Denny’s on select nights. 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.
A number of eateries offer birthday freebies to customers who sign up for their e-mail lists of join their clubs. For example, you can get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday if you sign up for the Baskin-Robbins Birthday Club. Or at Ruby Tuesday, So Connected members can celebrate another trip around the sun with a free burger or garden bar entree.
For more, see Best Birthday Freebies.
Traveling is expensive enough. Don’t get nickel-and-dimed every step of the way. You might know already that many hotels offer free breakfast, basic Wi-Fi, fitness facilities and parking. But did you know you may be able to borrow bikes, enjoy happy hour or upgrade your room—also all for free? See 15 Things Hotels Give Away for Free for more information.
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-fly-free, 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.
If you tend to stay at one hotel chain’s properties more than others, sign up for its loyalty program to rack up points for your stays and earn free nights. For example, Hilton Honors members earn 10 points for each dollar spent on room rates and other eligible room charges. Earn a free night’s stay with as little as 5,000 accumulated points.
There are other ways to score free hotel stays. Stash Hotel Rewards offers members who stay at more than 150 participating inns, resorts and boutique hotels in 100 cities the ability to earn points for free nights. And with the Hotels.com Welcome Rewards program, you can earn a free night after booking ten nights through the site.
Or get a hotel-branded credit card to earn points toward free stays every time you make a purchase. Just watch out for cards with annual fees, and make sure you pay off your balance each month so you don’t incur interest charges. See Best Rewards Credit Cards for Your Wallet for more information.
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 $130. JetBlue gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks.
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.)
AutoSlash.com offers a similar service for rental cars. For hotels, try Tingo automatically rebooks your room at the lower rate if the hotel drops its price. You'll get a refund for the difference.
Everyone knows crashing at a friend’s place is a good way to save money on travel. Well, what if you had millions of friends all around the world? Couchsurfing makes it kind of possible. The global network allows you to search for hosts in more than 2,000 cities who can offer a place to hang your hat along your travels. It may sound a bit sketchy, but the group offers certain features—such as verified reviews and references, messaging systems to communicate with potential hosts and secure payment options— to help ensure your safety.
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 of 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.
Several free mobile applications can help you save time and money when you travel by car. For example, GasBuddy helps you find the cheapest gas prices near you. Waze provides real-time traffic information contributed by users, so you can find the best route and avoid backups (so you don’t waste gas). You also can use Waze to find the cheapest gas station along your route. Yelp is great for finding restaurants, shops, attractions and more because it provides reviews, star ratings and directions to help you get to the place you want to go. And the Last Minute Travel app offers travelers access to wholesale prices for hotels in more than 150 countries and discounts on theme parks, sporting events and similar activities.
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 Passport Booth app works similarly. The best part: With either, 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?
Don’t own a shredder, or don’t want to clog yours up shredding a stack of papers a mile high? Local governments, police departments and solid-waste agencies in at least 23 states offer free shredding events once or several times a year to help residents keep documents with personal information out of the hands of identity thieves. Shredding companies such as Shred-it also organize free shredding events in cities where they have a presence.
To limit your landline costs or avoid using precious minutes on your mobile-phone plan, use a free calling service such as Skype, Viber or Vonage Mobile. All three allow you to make free calls to other users of these services. Skype and Viber can be installed on mobile phones and computers. Vonage Mobile is available only for iPhone and Android users.
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. Just be careful of what you’re doing online when using a public connection; don't manage any of your financial accounts or take care of any other important private matters.
For many basic computing needs, you can get free software rather than shelling out for the Microsoft Office Home & Student suite ($150), Quicken Deluxe for budgeting ($75), Adobe Photoshop Elements for photo editing ($80) and other popular programs.
For word processing, spreadsheets and multimedia presentations, try Google Docs. To manage finances, we like the free budgeting program at Mint.com. And for photo and video editing, try Pixlr.