Top 13 things you should never pay for

From smartphones to magazine subscriptions, Crowe tells you where to find freebie deals. Don't pay full price on anything until you read this list.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
Used models of the HTC First phone, which was released in mid-April, sold for just 99 cents by the first week of May. Other Android smartphones have sold for free (with new two-year contracts).

There are few things more thrilling for a deal shopper than getting something for free. In fact, freebie deals are often the most popular offers on our site. From smartphones to restaurant food, there are certain categories that are regularly flush with gratis promotions. So next time your whip out your wallet, consider first if that purchase could come at no cost to you.

Android Smartphones

If you're a fan of phones with Google's operating system, then you're in luck; so many new Android smartphones are released these days that the market has become saturated — and as a result, most models quickly fall to $0 (with new 2-year contracts) after a few months. For example, the HTC First (the "Facebook Phone") was released in mid-April this year, and by the first week of May, we saw a deal that knocked it to just 99 cents. Even trendy models with lots of media hype do eventually follow the same deal path; last year, it took the Samsung Galaxy S III just four months to become free with contract. For more details on how long to wait until phones become free, read our smartphone price guide.

Phone Calls

Skype, Google Voice, and other services let you make calls for free over the Internet, though be careful if they try to get you to upgrade to a paid plan. You can drop your landline and your cell phone plans for a few months and see if these services meet your calling needs.

MP3 Downloads

Getting a full album for free can be difficult, but with the number of music credit freebies we see bundled with Amazon deals, you should be able to amass a stockpile of credits to purchase a number of MP3 downloads that tempt you. Moreover, Amazon currently has more than 50,000 free songs available for download. Not enough of a selection? Leave the DJing to Starbucks, which gives out a free downloadable song each week.

Smartphone Apps

Free apps are everywhere. In fact, we round them up every day! And while some are more enticing than others, at some point even the typically expensive titles see a temporary price drop; for example, you can currently get a download of Adobe Ideas for free, which is a hefty $10 savings. If you're particular, set up an email alert and wait patiently for the app of your choosing to fall in price.

Magazine Subscriptions

Companies want to know more about you so they can market to you. If you're willing to give up some information about yourself — like your career title or location — you can get a free year's subscription to a variety of magazines. In recent months alone, we've seen popular titles like Maxim, Popular Science, AFAR, Forbes, Shape, Food & Wine,Newsweek, Esquire, and more, all for free.


Besides going to the library — which is an obvious first place to start for free books — there are lots of ways to get free digital books that can be read on a computer, tablet, or eBook reader. You can find such material in various ways, including browsing through Project Gutenberg, which has more than 39,000 free eBooks; downloading the Free Books app for the iPad, which offers 23,469 classics; and searching for "0.00" on the Barnes & Noble NOOK will lead you to thousands of free reads, too.

If you've got book cases full of physical books that you'd like to swap out, sites such as PaperBack Swap and Bookmooch allow you to mail your books to members who request them, and then you can request books from others that you'd like to read. The more books you give, the more you can receive. These sites are free to join, but the sender does pay postage.


Your cable TV bill can be a thing of the past after a few startup expenses. Amazon Prime members can buy a Roku or other media streaming device and stream TV and movies via Amazon Instant Video. If your HDTV doesn't come preloaded with apps, consider buying a cable to connect your computer to the TV to watch free shows on Hulu, FX, or other stations that stream free TV shows online. Moreover, keep an eye out for free movie screenings in your area; large studios will frequently try to give a film early buzz by showing it for free to audiences, and the screenings aren't limited to only big urban areas.

Car Trips

If you want to take a drive across the country but haven't got any wheels and don't want to rent a car, there are websites like Auto Driveaway that will help you find a car to drive for someone who is moving and doesn't want to drive their own car. For the return trip, either wait for a car to drive back or book a cheap flight home. It’s a great way to see the country if you have the time.

Dining Out with Kids

Many restaurants offer free meals for kids if they're accompanied by a paying adult. However, some do so only on certain nights, so it's worth checking to find restaurants in your area that offer free kids' meals. Search for your state and city, and up pops a list of restaurants and the nights they offer free meals for kids. This site could also be handy for diners without kids who want to make sure they don't visit on such nights when a throng of children is likely to be there.

Food for Everyone Else

Did you know that August 3 is Free National Watermelon Day? Or that May 28 was National Hamburger Day? Almost every day of the year is some type of national food day, and restaurants are always looking for opportunities to run promotions. (We’re especially looking forward to National Spumoni Day on August 21.) Check your local restaurants, or do a Google search for your city and the free food you're looking for. While you might not be able to score freebies regularly enough to avoid ever paying for food, you can certain get at least monthly free food, drinks, and the like.

Birthday Treats

It's a given that your friends should buy your drinks on your birthday, but before you get to the bar, keep in mind that there are plenty of businesses that offer free things on your special day as well. The trick is to plan ahead and hit as many of them as you can. Start at or just Google "birthday freebies" to find what's free near you. You should at least be able to find a few free meals and a piece of cake. 

Travel-Sized Toiletries & Grooming Products

Many health and beauty companies offer free samples, and like free magazines, you'll have to offer up some personal information to get the goods. Keep an eye out for free samples from Target and Walmart, as we often see complimentary toiletries and the like from these merchants. Individual brands also offer free samples of new products they're trying to promote, but if you want to skip the customary six to eight weeks for delivery, you can instead scout out free samples at drugstore counters and Sephora.


While you can't always wait around for free shipping when a special promotion is on the table, everyday orders that aren't time sensitive can benefit from waiting for a shipping discount. We frequently see a variety of popular vendors offer some sort of shipping deal, which makes it hard to justify spending your cash on the service for an average order.

Everything Else

As a society, we often dispose of perfectly good items in the pursuit of finding something newer or better, so before you make any large purchases, because sure to check Craigslist and Freecycle for free goods. Often, people just don't want to make the effort to move or properly trash them, so you can sometimes get something substantial — like a couch — without paying. It goes without saying though that you should make sure any and all items are in working order and in good shape — you don't want to be hauling away another person's junk, even if it is free.

Saving money is a great thing. Saving money and acquiring goods and services you might want or need for free is even better. Let this list of 13 things you shouldn't be paying for ring in your head the next time you head to the store (or jump online) to buy, well, just about anything. Your wallet will thank you.

Aaron Crowe is a contributor at, where this article first appeared. Original article:

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