Whoever said nothing in life is free clearly didn’t look hard enough! A little time is all it takes to track down worthwhile products and services for literally no cost. Check out what you should never pay for and how to take advantage of these legitimate deals.
1. Product samples and travel-size toiletries
You’re limited to 3.4 oz in your airplane carry-on bag, but specialty sizes may cost more per ounce than their full-size counterparts. Save money by scouring Sweet Free Stuff, TheFreeSite and Free Stuff Channel, which aggregate promotions and trial-size offers from manufacturers. While some freebies involve effort — such as liking a brand’s Facebook page or filling out a quick survey — it’s usually worth it. Check out Freeflys and Hey, It’s Free for additional details on what to do. Most offers require an email address, so create a separate account for deals to prevent your regular one from being inundated with junk. But no matter what, act fast — companies give away limited quantities.
2. Short-term gym memberships
Say you’re looking to drop a few pounds before a big event, like a class reunion or beach vacation. You want to hit the gym, but you don’t belong to one — and you certainly don’t want to spring for a membership that’ll go unused after the occasion. Sign up for a short-term membership; nearly every gym offers a free trial period to test out equipment or classes. National gyms like Life Time Fitness and Anytime Fitness give seven-day passes with no obligation to become a member, while 24 Hour Fitness lets you work out for three days at no cost.
3. Classic books
Project Gutenberg has more than 40,000 titles — many of them classic literature — that can be accessed for free because their copyright has expired and they’re back in the public domain. Search by author or title, and then download to your desktop, laptop or mobile devices, including Kindle, iPad or Nook. With choices likeAdventures of Huckleberry Finn, Little Women and Hamlet, you’ll never be without a worthwhile read. Also, many public libraries are starting to “lend” eBooks. Once you have a library card, you don’t even have to leave your house to bury your nose in a great story.
4. Music from newer artists
Many sites offer completely legal MP3 downloads, like Last.fm, where indie musicians upload, promote and manage their own tunes. Choose from more than 1 million free songs across all genres and eras, from bigger artists like Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens to lesser-known names. Noisetrade is a smaller site where bands can distribute their music for free to get exposure and connect with fans without relying on record labels.Amazon’s Artists on the Rise section also offers free music from emerging artists (about 12 tracks a month), but you can pick from 50,000 free tracks anytime by typing “free MP3 downloads” into the site’s search box. But remember: If you really want to support a new band or artist, pay up.
5. Birthday deals
From a free Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s to a free drink at Starbucks, there are literally hundreds of birthday offers, all in celebration of you! Check out sites likeFreebie Depot and Bday Free Day to determine eligibility. Remember to sign up well in advance of your special day — while some vendors email you a coupon immediately, others may need a month or more to process the request or send vouchers via postal mail. Have your ID handy when the time comes.
6. Wall art
Can’t splurge on fancy interior design? That doesn’t mean your walls need to be bare. A few sites offer gorgeous graphics you can print and frame yourself. Vintage Printable, for example, features classic botanical, landscape, seasonal and even wild animal images that are out-of-copyright, and thereby in the public domain. The Graphics Fairy has more than 3,500 royalty-free images, including a vintage Eiffel Tower postcard with postmark. And Feed Your Soul: the free art project gives indie artists the chance to have their work seen and distributed.
7. Learning opportunities
So much info, so little time. Experts are giving away information out of sheer excitement for their subject matter. Start with the talks made famous by the idea-spreading nonprofit TED; the group offers 4,000 videos of speakers covering technology, entertainment, design, business, science and global issues. Learn about deep sea diving in a wheelchair, the power of introverts or why kids need structure. To access lectures from professional educators, go to iTunes U, where Emory University’s sociology faculty share their insight on Hollywood, for example, and Stanford professors talk about entrepreneurship. And language lessons are available via theBBC, as well as at Open Culture. With all of these educational opportunities, maybe the price of a degree will go down!
8. Places to stay when traveling
Adventurous voyagers should check out Couchsurfing, a community of 5 million members offering strangers a warm, dry place to crash during a visit to a big city. It’s not just for broke backpackers; sleeping on a local’s couch (or in a spare bed) can offer a more authentic experience than a hotel stay. See how residents live, eat and work in your destination, and take advantage of your host’s recommendations and insight. The site lets you search by gender, languages spoken and more; for safety’s sake, read other people’s references and determine whether hosts have been verified.
9. Money management services
Keep track of your finances with online tools like Mint. The sites aggregate your financial information — checking and savings accounts, retirement funds, credit cards, mortgages, car loans, bills and more — making it easy to see all of your balances and accounts in one place, at one time. Track household spending, create budgets and sign up for alerts to pay bills before they’re due.
10. Kids’ meals
More than 6,700 restaurants across the country offer free meals for kids, usually with the purchase of a regularly priced adult entree. MyKidsEatFree lists practically all of them. Search by state and town and find restaurants offering free kids’ meals, as well as when the deals are valid. While national chains are most likely to participate in freebie programs, local favorites also pop up on the lists for larger metropolitan areas.