It’s been said that the best things in life are free. And we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’re back with our fourth annual list of our favorite freebies.
We looked for primo goods and services — no useless junk allowed. And, boy, we found them, from financial tools to entertainment to cold, hard cash. So put away your wallet — your money is no good here.
Free Car-Repair Help
It won’t fix your car free (darn), but RepairPal.com will help you find out whether your mechanic is quoting a fair price.
Enter your car’s make, model and year, plus your zip code. Then choose among dozens of fixes to get a price range for the job at dealerships and independent shops in your area.
Free Tech Support
If you’re a member of Sam’s Club or Costco, you can get free tech support — even if you didn’t buy the device at their store.
Or, for PC problems, anyone can head to TechGuy.org or 5starsupport.com for free help. You can search the forums for your computer’s particular ailment or post a question to receive a timely response from the sites’ groups of geek volunteers. And don’t forget to try the manufacturer’s website. Many post user manuals and FAQs to help you solve your dilemma.
Rejoice! About 6,800 Starbucks and 11,500 McDonald’s nationwide recently began offering free Wi-Fi.
You can also go to WiFiFreeSpot.com to find places to surf free when you’re away from home. The database includes airports, restaurants, hotels and more.
Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. Mark your calendar for free IHOP pancakes in February; free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Rita’s Italian ice, and a Starbucks pastry in March; free Pretzel Time pretzels and a Cinnabon treat in April; free Haagen Daas ice cream in May; a free Krispy Kreme doughnut, Sonic root-beer float and TCBY frozen yogurt in June; and a free Chick-Fil-A meal in July — to name a few.
You can also sign up to score free food on your birthday from Famous Dave’s BBQ, Cold Stone Creamery, Denny’s and other eateries. Search the Web for “birthday freebies,” or call your local restaurants to ask whether they offer such a deal.
Free Books, Music, Movies and More
You’ll find the mother lode of freebies at your public library. All the books, magazines, audio books, video games and CDs you can carry won’t cost a cent. Many libraries also have free Wi-Fi, DVDs and e-books. You may be able to go online to place your order for materials and a librarian will have them waiting for you when you arrive.
And that’s not all. Your library may host free book clubs, lectures, film screenings, children’s story times, craft activities and other community events.
Free Credit Report and Credit Score
One of our all-time favorite freebies is AnnualCreditReport.com, which gives you a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. (Don’t fall for other sites that offer “free” credit reports, which often end up enrolling you in expensive credit-monitoring programs that you usually don’t need.)
But your credit score has usually been costlier to come by. Now you can get a free score from CreditKarma.com and Quizzle.com. The sites give you a real credit score. While it’s not the FICO score that most lenders use, you’ll still get a good idea of where you stand.
Free Computer Protection
Is your computer vulnerable? You can download malware-protection services available free online.
We recommend PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice: Panda Cloud Antivirus. Or try Microsoft’s Security Essentials, which PCWorld.com says renders subscription antivirus services unnecessary.
Free Business Advice
Run your own business and you’re bound to have questions. Go to SCORE.org to get free, confidential small-business advice. The nonprofit has 12,400 volunteer counselors, who are working and retired executives and business owners. Drop in to one of SCORE’s 364 offices nationwide for a face-to-face consultation, or chat with an expert online.
Another great resource is the Small Business Administration. It often hosts free local workshops, and its Web site (SBA.gov) has an extensive list of tools and resources for entrepreneurs.
Free Phone Assistant
Streamline your personal phone system with Google Voice, a free service that allows people to dial one phone number to ring all your phones simultaneously. It converts voice-mail messages to text that you can go back to and search by keyword (no more Post-It collages on the wall). You can set up different voice-mail greetings for different callers, plus you can easily screen or block calls — all without paying for a personal assistant.
Bonus: Even if your cell-phone plan charges you per text message, you can send free texts from your Google number.
Free Credit-Card Perks
By simply carrying a credit card, you’re entitled to some pretty cool freebies. For example, most credit cards come with free rental-car insurance, and some will cover the cost of your vacation if you have to cancel your trip. Some cards will even cover the cost of an item you bought that gets lost, stolen or destroyed, or will allow you to return an item to them that the store won’t take back (like those shoes you bought on clearance). You might also score a free extended warranty on your purchase.
Call your card issuer to ask for a list of your benefits.
Many colleges and universities, such as Johns Hopkins, University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, post course material and lectures on their Web sites. 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.
Free Tax Software and Filing
Some tax professionals and tax-prep software charge you extra to actually file your return — which seems downright silly. After all, you already paid them for their service, not to mention you already paid your taxes.
Check out the IRS’s Free File program. If you make less than a certain amount ($57,000 in 2009), you qualify for free tax-prep software and filing. Make more than that, and you can still file for free, but you don’t get the free software.
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 it on your home printer.
The best part: You can redo your picture as many times as you like to get it right. After all, who wants to get stuck with a bad photo for the next 10 years?
Don’t let your short-term savings stagnate. Stash it in a high-yield online savings account such as ING Direct or HSBC Direct. They’re FDIC-insured and were recently paying 1.1%. (For every $1,000 in your account, that’s $11 free every year.) Online interest-bearing checking accounts from ING Direct and Everbank are also a good deal. They pay from 0.25% to 1.46%.
Another source of free cash: Some employers will match your contributions to your workplace 401(k) plan. For instance, if you contribute $100 per month, they may toss in another $50. You’ve got to save for retirement anyway, so take the free cash if it’s offered.
If you own a Kindle, iPad or other electronic reader, you can populate your e-library without breaking the bank. E-books commonly sell for $9.99 — less than hard covers but about as much as paperbacks. But at Gutenberg.org, you won’t pay a cent to download about 33,000 classics whose copyrights have expired, including War and Peace, Moby Dick and Little Women.
You can also search for free e-books at Amazon.com, Borders.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
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