21 things you can get for free

One of the best ways to become richer is to stop paying for things you could be getting for free. Here are 21, from cars to software. 

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    A money changer shows some one-hundred US dollar bills at an exchange booth in Tokyo in this 2010 file photo. Johnson argues that a large part of saving money involves figuring out what you can get for free.
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Here are only two ways to become richer – make more or spend less.

There are a few ways to make more, from getting a raise to finding weird ways to make extra money. And there are tons of ways to spend less. One of the best? Stop paying for things you could get free.

1. Free cars

Many people want their cars moved from place to place, but don’t want to do the driving. Sometimes these cars are delivered by truck, but often they’re driven – by people like you. If you have a clean driving record, a car delivery company like AutoDriveaway might hook you up.

Recommended: Can you manage your money? A personal finance quiz.

I did car delivery a few times when I was in college – it’s a great way to get where you’re going. It’s best if you’re flexible about when you leave, return, and perhaps even where you go. You still have to pay for gas, and the trip home can be problematic. I used to hitchhike, but smarter choices today would be bus, plane, or waiting at the other end for another drive-away car.

For more, see How to Drive Across the Country Free.

2. Free lodging

Why stay in a hotel when the nonprofit Couchsurfing.org offers tourists a chance to stay at homes for free? Make friends with sponsoring families throughout the United States and countries ranging from Croatia to France. You have to set up a profile on the CouchSurfing website, which provides tips on how to find families willing to open their homes to you. Obviously, the digs won’t be fancy, but they’ll be free.

Another way to get free lodging is to home-swap. Check out Best Price for a Hotel Room? $0.

3. Free audio books

Now you can find out for free the fate of Pip in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” or Elizabeth in “Pride and Prejudice” as you drive or jog. Download free audio books from the nonprofit LibriVox.org, which has volunteers recording classics in the public domain – including many Shakespeare plays. You can also volunteer to help by reading. LibriVox will even provide you with free recording software.

4. Free food

There’s at least one day every year when you shouldn’t think of paying for a meal. Frugal Living has a list of hundreds of businesses that offer birthday freebies, most of which are food. For a free libation at your favorite pub, do what I do: Loudly proclaim it’s your birthday and demand that everyone within earshot pick up the next round.

5. Free food for kids

Don’t go to another restaurant that doesn’t feed your kids for free. MyKidsEatFree.com offers a roadmap of where you can save on kids’ meals – just type in a state and city. You’ll pay but your kids won’t at more than 5,000 restaurants across the country.

6. Free samples

Before you go to the drugstore and shell out silly sums for travel sizes of your favorite toiletries, go to Volition.com or one of many other websites that offer free samples. In addition to soap, shampoo, etc., you might find all manner of interesting things. For example, we’ve spotted circus tickets, a free diet analysis, and free advance movie screenings. Other free mega-sites include TheFreeSite.com and freechannel.net.

7. Free TV

Despite that more than 100 million Americans shell out an average of $75 every month for satellite or cable TV, local channels are still free. And thanks to digital signals, reception is better than ever. Need more programming without the big cable bill? No problem. Check out You Don’t Have to Pay for Cable TV.

8. Free software

You can get free software for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and other uses by going to OpenOffice.org. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. No matter what kind of software you want, you can probably find it free. Check out 5 Best Free Software Programs.

9. Free anti-virus

This one could go under “free software,” but it’s important enough to warrant its own spot on the list. Check out Antivirus Software is a Waste of Money for more.

10. Free speech

Make your voice heard around the world with your own blog. Many companies will help you set up your own site at no charge, such as WordPress or Blogger. They’ll even give you free, easy instructions and a choice of blog templates.

11. Free foreign language lessons

The BBC is on the other side of the pond, but it offers a free 12-week class to learn French, Spanish, Italian, or German, gratis. You’ll even get a certificate at the completion of the course. BBC also offers other audio and video courses in the four languages – as well as help in learning more exotic languages such as Chinese, Russian, and Greek.

12. Free checking

According to The Wall Street Journal, the average minimum checking account balance required to avoid a monthly fee at U.S. banks is $723 – and the average monthly fee is $5.48.

But banks aren’t the only game in town. While not all offer free checking, the prospect of lower fees is one of reasons You Should Join a Credit Union.

Another option is online-only banks. Without the overhead of brick-and-mortar branches, the terms are often much better. 

Too much hassle to leave your bank? Threaten to and see if you can have fees reduced or eliminated.

13. Free credit reports and scores

Don’t ever pay for a copy of your credit report. Instead, go to AnnualCreditReport.com for a free look at your credit history once a year.

When it comes to free credit scores, you can turn to sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, although they won’t give you the most widely used score, the FICO score. For that, you could try enrolling in a FICO product that comes with a free score, then cancelling within the cancellation period. 

14. Free cash

Tired of paying a $2.50 “convenience fee” for using an ATM that’s not in your bank’s network? Use an app like ATM Hunter to find a branch ATM. If you can’t find an ATM near you for a free cash withdrawal, no worries: Plenty of stores will give you cash back with no fee when you make a purchase.

15. Free information

Use the search feature on your smartphone, or text a business name to G-O-O-G-L-E, and you’ll get the number texted back. You can also dial free 411 (1-800-Free411). The results are sponsored by companies (you’ll have to listen to a 10-second ad), but it’s free.

16. Free scholarship search

Plenty of websites offer free searches for scholarships, such as Fastweb. There’s even a company called Free Scholarship Searches that offers links to 40 websites that offer free scholarship searches.

17. Free baggage

My wife and I went to Europe for 10 days with just one carry-on each. If we can do it, so can you. But if you insist on checking a bag, try to fly with the only two airlines that allow one free checked bag: Southwest and JetBlue. And avoid the two that slap consumers in the face by charging for carry-ons: Spirit and Allegiant.

Need to check and need to fly an airline that charges? Delta, United, and American all offer credit cards that include checked-bag fee waivers for cardholders and, in some cases, their companions.

18. Free entertainment

As we point out in 19 Tips to Save on Entertainment, your local library, parks, and universities offer lots of free fun, from books to plays to concerts. Join email lists to see what’s up. And of course, there’s the Internet, offering free games as well as articles. Just go to the website of your favorite news source.

Volunteering doesn’t cost a dime and can pay off for both you and your community. Local animal shelters, home-building groups, shelters, and food banks are always looking for volunteers. And check out volunteer opportunities at local festivals and events. By volunteering, you get to go to the event free.

19. Free water

While technically not free, tap water is about as close as you can get. If you’re concerned about water quality, buy a filter. But don’t ever pay for water at a convenience store.

20. Free telephone calls

Always calling a loved one long-distance? If you both get something like Skype, you can talk all you want without paying a dime. And with a service like Google Voice, you can get all of your cell phone calls free too.

21. Free everything else

You have something you don’t want, but it’s too valuable to throw away. You might donate it to charity, but you also might give it away at sites like Craigslist or Freecycle, a nonprofit set up to help you find free stuff and keep it out of landfills. From used furniture to sport equipment, you’ll be amazed at what people give away.

Bottom line? While the best things in life are always free, so is lots of other stuff. If you want to find some extra money in your budget, stop paying for things you could have for nothing.

Stacy Johnson is the founder and CEO of Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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