Fabulous Freebies

Kiplinger

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but there are some freebies that are just as good -- if not better. So go ahead. Embrace your inner tightwad. Here is a list of 15. For more, go to Kiplinger's.

FREE (AND LEGAL) MUSIC

You can find a smattering of free and legal music tracks online at Amazon.com, CNet's Download.com and Walmart.com. But listening to Internet radio is the best way to get your free groove on. At Slacker.com, for example, you can listen to 75 genre stations and 10,000 artist-specific stations for free. Or be your own DJ and build a customized station. (It's in beta-testing mode, and the free service will be ad supported.)

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Many merchants offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. (Some of our favorites: Amazon.com for orders over $25, eBags.com on orders over $50 and Sephora.com on orders over $75.)

But a few sites offer this freebie no matter how much you spend. These include 1800Contacts.com (contact lenses), Alyssagiftbaskets.com (special-occasion gifts), Bellacor.com (lighting and home furnishings), Bluenile.com (jewelry), Shopbop.com (clothes) and Zappos.com(shoes).

Guard against spyware, viruses and other invaders with three free software defenders:

1. For a firewall: Zonealarm.com.
2. To annihilate spyware: Microsoft Windows Defender
3. To kill viruses: AOL's Safety and Security Center

If you haven't been to the public library since you graduated from high school, dust off your card. It's your ticket to mounds of free books, magazines, CDs and movies. Many libraries also offer free lectures, book readings and community clubs to residents.

You're entitled to one by law once a year from each of the three main credit bureaus. Go to annualcreditreport.com" to see what lenders can see about your credit history.

No more fretting over someone sending you a huge e-mail file. Free accounts from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo now give you at least 2 GB of storage.

Sure, you get an e-mail address from your Internet service provider. But it's nice to have the freedom to change ISPs if you want without worrying about alerting all your contacts about an e-mail address change.

A buck or two here and there may not seem like a big deal, but if you're frequenting ATMs outside your bank's network, the surcharges can add up quickly. Get money from an ATM that belongs to a surcharge-free network. Allpoint has about 200 participating institutions and 32,000 ATMs. Money Pass has 600 members and 8,000 ATMs.

A year of graduate school costs, on average, anywhere from $17,000 for a master's degree at a public university to more than $56,000 at a private dental school. But free money abounds, from grants and scholarships to assistantships and fellowships.

Colleges and universities worldwide are posting course materials on the Internet, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School. You won't get credit toward a degree, but you can pursue an interest or sharpen your skills.

You'll find all sorts of stuff for free on your local Craigslist and Freecycle sites, including couches, chairs, beds and tables. Many are in heavily used condition and will work fine to furnish a dorm or first apartment.

Keep your eyes peeled for diamonds in the rough, too. We recently spied a free pool table in good condition in Baltimore, and a free 1-year-old TV in San Francisco in perfect working order.

You have to buy groceries and gas anyway, so why not use those purchases to get a little more green in your wallet? Sign up for a rewards credit card and get free money, gift certificates, airline miles or other perks.

For example, the Discover More and American Express Blue Cash cards each give you up to 5% cash back. Spend just $500 on gas and groceries in a month, and you'll get $25 back. That's $300 of free money in a year. Sweet.

Kids eat free at Denny's and Lone Star Steakhouse every Tuesday night (and some Saturdays) with a paying adult. IHOP, American Cafe, Hooters, Red Robin and Roadhouse Grill restaurants offer kids-eat-free deals at select locations. You can search for eateries in your area at KidsEatFree.com.

Looking for help keeping tabs on your budget? You don't have to shell out for Quicken or Microsoft Money software. Track your spending instead through the free service at Wesabe.com. You enter your accounts to organize your spending into different categories on one convenient site.

Wesabe will also help you pinpoint areas where you could improve, and lets you get feedback from other Wesabe users, all while protecting your passwords, identity and other sensitive information.

Save on your long-distance bill and chat via computer with free software from Skype.com. You won't pay a dime for any call to another Skype user. You can call non-users' landlines, too, for about $3 a month.

Not to toot our own horn (okay, maybe just a little), but Kiplinger.com is a treasure trove of free financial advice. Our tools and calculators will help you get on the right financial track. Our expert columnists will answer your personal questions, including general financial answers from Kim Lankford, family and kid topics from Janet Bodnar and big-picture financial planning from our Portfolio Doctor, Jeff Kosnett.

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