The Internet is filled with coupons, free product samples, and other giveaways that let you nab all kinds of goodies without spending a penny. But, naturally, there's a trade-off, which usually involves giving up some (or a bunch) of your personal information.
This week, our Shopping Strategist shares ways you can find freebies on the web–and how to steer clear of the potential gotchas.
Signing up on their websites can net you multiple freebies in one package. On Proctor & Gamble's P&G Everyday site, your free registration entitles you to one free order (which can include several items) per household, per quarter. Recent offerings included samples of Cascade Platinum dishwasher detergent, Prilosec OTC, Charmin, and Gain Fireworks laundry scent booster. Kraft Foods First Taste site offers coupons and mails free samples of new products.
Start with the familiar mass-merchandise giants. Target, for example, runs Samples.target.com. Some items are free to all; others require a code from an in-store receipt (so hold on to them). Costco and Sam's Club generally require a membership to get free samples, though bloggers say you can get around that by entering nine random digits. But some sites don't deliver. We tried Walmart's Free Samples & Savings section three times but couldn't find an offer that worked (although we did find a ton of coupons).
Many companies offer giveaways on sites like Facebook and Twitter. For example, Slurpee fans (you know who you are) can find announcements of free Slurpee days on 7-Eleven's Facebook page, while Starbucks is testing a Tweet-a-coffee program that lets registered users send a free $5 Starbucks gift card to fellow Tweeters.
Search social sites for your favorite retailers and products. If you find something good, you can share the offer instantly with your family and friends.
Sign up for frequent moviegoer programs, such as AMC's Stubs rewards or Regal Cinemas Crown Club, to get free tickets and concession goodies.
Your bank might hook you up with free events and tickets. Citibank credit or debit MasterCard cardholders are automatically enrolled in its Private Pass program, for example, while Bank of America cardholders can attend museums gratis once a month.
Thes sites–such as Freeflys.com, HeyItsFree.net, and Hunt4Freebies.com–are places to find tons of freebies.
How to dodge the gotchas (mostly)
Manufacturers and retailers aren’t giving stuff away just to be nice. They want something in return—usually your contact info, which they’ll use to try to persuade you to buy from them in the future. And, of course, they might share your data with a kabillion of their business partners. Here are some ways to minimize the resulting hassle:
Create a new e-mail account. Use it specifically for freebies to prevent overload on your regular e-mail. We didn’t get inundated with spam, though we received a few newsletters we hadn’t signed up for.
Opt out of mailings. Usually it’s presented as an option. Only two companies‚ Beech-Nut and Nine West, required us to agree to mailings before we could order their freebies.
Read comments and reviews. You’ll find them on aggregator sites like HeyItsFree.net and MoneySavingMom.com. People are vocal about how well (or not) the links, forms, and mailings worked.
Fudge your personal info. Many offers request names and birth dates. Make up something so that your identity remains private.—M.W.
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