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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Sarah Smith, Intern
| June 29, 2018
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!
Online editor Bob Niedt also contributed to this package.
Whether you are a fan of true-crime, comedy, or technology 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, 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. Violin Lab, 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.
Congress just passed a law that will prohibit the three big credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—from charging a fee to place or lift a credit freeze. The free freezes will be available throughout the country this fall; the credit bureaus have until September 21, 2018, to implement the new law. A credit freeze prevents new creditors from reviewing your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to take out credit in your name.
Until the new law goes into effect, the cost to freeze your credit record varies by state. In many states, each credit bureau charges $5 to $10 to freeze your credit record and may charge a similar fee to lift the freeze if you're applying for a loan. (To hinder ID thieves, you need to freeze your record at all three credit bureaus.)
Go to www.equifax.com, www.experian.com and www.transunion.com to initiate the freeze and find out more about the cost and procedures. Equifax, which experienced a massive data breach last year, is offering free freezes for all consumers until June 30.
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. Reachout, 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 can call the fire department’s non-emergency number to request a free smoke detector. 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. (Broker-assisted phone trades cost $10; foreign-listed securities cost $50 per trade.) 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.
Fidelity currently offers 95 commission-free ETFs, while Charles Schwab offers more than 200 ETFs with no commission. TD Ameritrade, meanwhile, offers more than 300 ETFs without a commission.
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, 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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, 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. 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.
If you’re looking to add a few new skills to your resume to keep up with the tech wave, Khan Academy, Udemy, 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.
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.
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.
The days of paying $20 for a peek at your credit score or waiting a year to order a new batch of credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com are over. Now you can visit a number of websites to get your FICO or VantageScore credit score free. And you can get at least one of your credit reports from the three major bureaus, updated on a weekly or monthly basis, whenever you want. On top of that, some sites will monitor your reports for suspicious activity and ping you via e-mail as soon as changes appear.
To join an online service that grants access to your scores and reports, you’ll have to enter a few personal details, including the last four digits of your Social Security number, and answer questions to verify your identity. Because you’re handing over personal information, stick to reputable, well-known sites (we trust the sites listed below). Be sure to enter the URL exactly, to avoid ending up on a “copycat” website that lures you into paying for these products. One dead giveaway that you’re at the wrong website: It asks for a credit card number in order to see basic credit information. The site is probably trying to sell you information that you can find free elsewhere.
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.
Check out Best Deals in Online Banking, 2017 for more.
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, and Extrabux. 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 or 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, a free beverage from Dunkin’ Donuts if you sign up for their rewards program, and a free waffle from Waffle House when you join their Waffle House Regulars Club. Or at Ruby Tuesday, So Connected members can celebrate another trip around the sun with a free burger or garden bar entree.
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.
Check out The Travel Tipping Quiz for more.
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, which 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. Want to travel the world with a buddy and a backpack? Hostelz.com has listings for nearly 50,000 hostels across 9,000 cities, and provides its users with professional reviews.