Fabulous Freebies 2012

Erin Burt
September 10, 2012

We’re back with Kiplinger.com’s sixth annual list of freebies -- packed with more something-for-nothing deals than ever. We don’t allow any useless junk on our list, only quality goods and services that you would happily pay good money for (or perhaps you already are). From free investing and financial services to free technology and entertainment, there’s something here for everyone.

Go ahead. Put away your wallet. We insist!

TECH FREEBIES

Free Wi-Fi
In an effort to lure you inside, more restaurants and retailers are offering free Wi-Fi, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble. Some public libraries, campgrounds and hotels offer this freebie too. Go to WiFiFreeSpot.com to find places to surf when you’re away from home. Or download the Free Wi-Fi Finder app at iTunes.

[More from Kiplinger: 4 More Tech Freebies]

Free Unlimited Texting
Save money on your cell phone plan by using a free texting service such as textPlus. It assigns you a free phone number through which you can send and receive texts as much as you want on your Android devices, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Free Software
For many basic computing needs, you can get free software rather than shelling out for the Microsoft Office Home & Student suite ($120), Quicken Deluxe for budgeting ($59.99), Adobe Photoshop Elements for photo editing ($99.99) and other popular programs.

For word processing, spreadsheets and multimedia presentations, try OpenOffice.org or Google Docs. To manage finances, we like the free budgeting program at Mint.com. And for photo and video editing, try Aviary, Picasa, Pixlr or Apple’s built-in iMovie software.

TRAVEL FREEBIES

Free Flight Perks

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 $120 on a round-trip flight. JetBlue lets you check one bag free, plus gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks.

Free Language Lessons
Prepare for your international getaway with the free foreign language lessons online at FSI-language-courses.org. Or go to Openculture.com for a list of lessons around the Web that you can download to your MP3 player. Your public library may also offer courses or software to help you prepare for your travels.

Free Tour Guides
To get a real feel for a city when you’re traveling, team up with a local. The Global Greeter Network organizes volunteers in several cities worldwide to show you around, give you the inside scoop and answer your questions. Tours can last a couple hours, and there’s a strict no-tipping policy.

Prefer to explore at your own pace? Browse the free audio walking tours available for download at iTunes.com, Audisseyguides.com and iAudioguide.com. You can also search the Web for walking tours of your destination. In our simple search, we found free audio tour downloads from Boston and Chicago to Dublin and Jerusalem.

[More from Kiplinger: 5 More Travel Freebies]

HEALTH FREEBIES

Free Workouts

Don’t sweat enrollment fees and gym memberships. It doesn’t cost a penny to put on your sneakers and go for a walk or jog in your neighborhood, or to join a pick-up game of basketball at your local park. To encourage public health, more communities are installing free outdoor gyms for adults at public parks. Residents of Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Antonio and others can use free equipment for strength training, flexibility and cardio workouts.

Prefer to work out at home? Check out a fitness DVD from your local library.

Or with companions and instructors? You may be able to find free fitness classes taught by experts in your area. For instance, Lululemon Athletica stores offer free yoga classes weekly. Many communities host free workouts in public parks or libraries, too. For instance, we found free yoga classes in Miami, New York and Los Angeles; free tai chi sessions in San Francisco, Omaha and Washington, D.C.; free Zumba classes in Chicago; and more.

Free Health Care
Under the new health care law, many insurance plans now provide preventative-care screenings without charging deductibles or co-pays. This rule may apply to blood-pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests, mammograms and colonoscopies, flu shots, routine vaccines, well-baby and well-child visits and other services. Medicare also covers certain cancer screenings and preventative care tests. Get more info at Medicare.gov.

Free Rx Drugs
Bring in your prescription, and you can get free antibiotics at some pharmacies, including those at Giant Eagle, Meijer, Publix, Schnucks, ShopRite and Wegmans. You can also get free prenatal vitamins at Meijer and Schnucks. Publix, Price Chopper and ShopRite stores give out free diabetes medications and supplies.


INVESTING FREEBIES

Free Investing Apps

Stay up-to-date on the financial markets with free apps on your iPhone, Blackberry or Android. Some of our favorites: Bloomberg for up-to-the-minute stock quotes and breaking news, Morningstar for mutual fund research at your fingertips, and Yahoo Finance for the latest financial headlines, stock news and videos.

Free ETF Trades
Here’s a great commission rate on exchange-traded funds: $0. Several big brokerages, including Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard have free commissions on ETFs, meaning you don’t have to pay anything extra when you buy or sell. Learn more.

Free Savings Bonds
Before you make any purchase online, consider making BondRewards.com your starting line. You click on an affiliated e-tailer (there are hundreds) to do your shopping as usual, and a percentage of your purchase is given back to you in your BondRewards account. You then redeem your rewards for U.S. savings bonds or cash.

SHOPPING FREEBIES

Free Shipping

If you love to shop online but hate to pay for shipping, go to FreeShipping.org. The site can direct you to retailers who offer free shipping on every order, big or small. The site also gives you coupon codes to snag free shipping at other retailers.

Many retailers’ sites offer free shipping if you’ll pick up the order at a local store, including AceHardware.com, BestBuy.com, Payless.com, REI.com and Walmart.com.

Free Kids Meals
Don’t you hate buying a $12 entrée for a picky 6-year-old? 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.

Free Sales Tax

Back to school season brings tax-free shopping days in several states. That means residents may be able to avoid paying sales tax on clothing, shoes and other school and office supplies.

Some states have tax-free shopping days at other times of the year. For example, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have sales tax holidays for energy-efficient appliances. Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia have tax-free days set aside for buying generators and other storm-preparedness supplies. And on the first weekend of September, Louisiana residents won’t pay sales tax on firearms, ammunition and hunting supplies. Get more information.

FINANCIAL FREEBIES

Free Credit Report

Your credit report can impact your interest and insurance rates as well as your ability to land a job or apartment, so it pays to make sure it’s accurate. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, no strings attached.

There’s a slew of free apps for your mobile phone that can simplify your financial tasks. Among our favorites are apps from Mint.com to track your spending and investments, Allpoint and Moneypass to find surcharge-free ATMs nearby, Expensify to automatically compile receipts for your business expense report, and Venmo or Paypal to instantly pay your friend back for dinner before you even leave the table.

Most banks also have free mobile banking apps that allow you to check your balance, transfer funds and make deposits on the fly.

Free Legal Advice
Nolo.com has been Kiplinger's go-to source for legal information for a long time, and it's still the best. The Web site is packed with free advice on a wide range of legal issues, such as estate planning, buying or selling real estate, managing a business and more. Nolo is authoritative, yet clearly explains when your situation calls for hiring a lawyer.

Free Tax Software and Guidance
Preparing your income taxes doesn’t have to cost a lot. Check out the IRS’s Free File program. If your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less, you qualify for free tax-prep software and filing. If you make more money than that, you can still file for free, but you don’t get the free software.

Have a tax question? Call the free IRS help line at 800-829-1040. Many communities also offer free face-to-face help during tax-filing season, with volunteers at public libraries and community centers. See the IRS’s list of free tax return preparation resources for details.


ENTERTAINMENT & LEISURE FREEBIES

Free Food

Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. Mark your calendar for free IHOP pancakes and Rita’s Italian ice in March; free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Pretzelmaker pretzels, Cinnabon treats and Starbucks coffee in April; free Haagen-Dazs ice cream in May; a free Krispy Kreme doughnut and TCBY frozen yogurt in June; and a free 7-Eleven slurpee and Chick Fil-A meal in July -- to name a few.

You can also sign up to score free food on your birthday from a number of eateries, including Cold Stone Creamery, Denny’s and Famous Dave’s BBQ. Search the web for “birthday freebies,” or call your local restaurants to ask whether they offer a deal.

Free Books, Movies, Music and More
Your public library is a freebies Mecca. Most offer books, magazines, audiobooks, e-books, video games, CDs and DVDs for free (as long as you return them on time, of course). Your library may also host free activities such as book clubs, lectures, film screenings, children’s story hours and craft activities.

Free Movies and TV
Movie tickets, cable TV, Netflix and TiVo subscriptions can add up. Yet there are several free options to get your couch potato fix. Watch free movies and TV series online at Hulu.com and Crackle.com (check out the Crackle app for your phone). Or, head to the TV networks’ Web sites. You can also get free Redbox DVD rentals with coupon codes from InsideRedbox.com.

You can catch free movies on the big screen, too. Many communities nationwide show free outdoor movies in the summer. Plus, your kids can catch free family films throughout the summer at several theaters, including Clearview, Marquee, Muvico and Great Escape.

Free Museums and Parks
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 150 museums on the first full weekend of every month.

Our national parks boast some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and some don’t charge entrance fees, 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.

EDUCATION FREEBIES

Free Money for Tuition
Put a dent in that tuition bill by searching for scholarships at FastWeb.com, or apply for one of the grants handed out by the federal government. Several states also award grants which don’t have to be repaid. Contact your state’s department of higher education to learn more.

Free money also abounds for grad school, from grants and scholarships to assistantships and fellowships.

Free Classes
Many colleges and universities post course material and lectures on their Web sites, including Johns Hopkins, University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 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 Tutoring
Tired of trying to teach your kid the difference between sine and cosine? Ask your school or local library whether it provides free tutoring services, or access to free online tutoring such as Tutor.com and SkillsTutor.com. These sites off tutors in a range of subjects and let students and tutors communicate online.

See All 56 Fabulous Freebies.