It's been said that the best things in life are free -- and we couldn't agree more. That's why we're back with our third annual list of our favorite freebies.
We looked for primo goods and services, no useless junk allowed. And boy, did we find 'em, from financial management and planning helps to entertainment and vacation freebies.
Go ahead. Embrace your inner tightwad:
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1. Free Video Games
If you're looking for games for the kids -- or an excuse to act like a kid yourself -- head to Kongregate.com, Popcap.com, Pogo.com and OnlineFlashGames.org for thousands of free online and downloadable games of all types.
For educational or just-for-fun games suited to young kids, check out PBSkids.org, DiscoveryKids.com, NickJr.com and Scholastic.com/kids.
2. Free Birthday Goodies
A slew of businesses will give you prime freebies on your birthday that almost make getting older worth it. For instance, anyone can get free admission to Disneyland or Disney World parks in 2009. Join the birthday club at Toys R Us and your child (younger than 10) will get a free toy or gift card every year.
If you sign up in advance to join the club at your favorite eatery, you could score free food on your birthday too. For example, you can get a free meal at Famous Dave's BBQ and free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery and Baskin Robbins. Search the Web for "birthday freebies," then call your local restaurants to ask whether they participate in the deal.
3. Free Shipping
Special delivery! Some retailers still offer free shipping on every order, including Alyssagiftbaskets.com (special-occasion gifts), Bluenile.com (jewelry), Piperlime.com (shoes), Shopbop.com (clothes) and Zappos.com (shoes).
Many merchants offer free shipping if you can pick up the item at your local store, including Walmart.com, Payless.com and REI.com. This comes in handy for online-only items, oversize purchases or goods that have sold out at your local store. Or, look for free shipping deals when you spend a certain amount, such as orders over $25 at Amazon.com. See FreeShipping.org for more deals.
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4. Free Software
For most of your computing needs, you can get free software. For word processing and spreadsheets, go to OpenOffice.org. For antivirus protection, head to http://free.avg.com. For free basic photo editing, check out http://picasa.google.com, or for more advanced touch-ups, try Gimp.org. And to manage your finances, use the free programs at Mint.com or Wesabe.com.
5. Free Stock Trades
At Wells Fargo, you get 100 commission-free online trades per year if your cumulative account balance is $25,000 or more (including your Wells Fargo checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit, IRAs and brokerage accounts).
Also, Zecco.com offers ten free trades per month if you have $25,000 in your brokerage account.
6. Free Credit Report
By law, you're entitled to one free report once a year from each of the three main credit bureaus. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to find out what lenders can see about your credit history.
7. Free TV and Movies
Head online to watch free episodes from hundreds of TV shows -- old and current -- as well as free movies. And it's perfectly legal.
At OVGuide.com you'll find a list of TV and movie sites including Hulu.com, Veoh.com and Fancast.com, as well as individual network Web sites, such as ABC.com and CBS.com.
8. Free ATMs
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.
9. Free (and Risk-Free) Interest
Many banks offer free savings accounts, but they won't help your money grow. Instead, use a high-yield online savings account for your short-term savings, such as ING Direct, HSBC Direct and Emigrant Direct. They're FDIC-insured and were recently paying around 1.4%. They have no minimum-balance requirement, so you earn that rate whether you have $1 or $100,000 saved.
And consider the free interest-bearing checking accounts from ING Direct and Everbank. They're also FDIC-insured and were recently paying between 0.25% and 1.96%. (Most traditional banks' free checking accounts pay you nil.)
10. Airline Freebies
Airlines may be scaling back their perks, but some still have freebies for fliers. For instance, Southwest lets you check two bags for free, while most others charge extra for luggage. JetBlue lets you check one bag free, plus gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks. Continental still serves free meals on several routes. And all kids under age 2 can fly free on your lap on any airline.
Don't forget about the free flights you can score by signing up for an airline's frequent-flier program (enrollment is also free). See the "Program Guide" at WebFlyer.com for the lowdown on each airline's rules.
11. Free Money for Grad School
On average, a year of graduate school costs $28,375 for a master's degree at a public school and $38,665 at a private school. But free money abounds, from grants and scholarships to assistantships and fellowships.
12. Free Rewards
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. (Of course, it's only free if you pay the balance in full each month without incurring interest charges.)
When you have to make a purchase online, start at BondRewards.com to earn another cool freebie: You click on an affiliated online retailer (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.
13. Free Financial Advice
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-finance questions. For instance, Kim Lankford answers your general financial questions, Janet Bodnar tackles family and kid topics and Knight Kiplinger advises readers on ethics and money matters.
14. Free Mobile Apps
You spent all that money on a new iPhone. Now download some free apps to help you save money and recoup the cost. For instance, the free Mint.com or Quicken apps help you track your spending and manage your money and investments on the go. AMT Hunter can help you find a surcharge-free machine near wherever you are. And iShop can help you search for the lowest price on an item before you buy.
There are plenty of other useful applications at the iTunes App Store, with free recipes, weather updates, diet help, music, games and more.
15. Free Books, Movies, & Music
If you haven't been to the public library lately, 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.
16. Free Online Bill Paying
Stop paying your bills by check and put their payment on autopilot. At many banks, including Bank of America, BB&T, SunTrust and Wachovia, you get free bill paying with every online checking account. (Be sure you read the fine print -- some banks may require you to maintain a certain balance in your checking account to get the freebie.)
But even if your bank doesn't give you this freebie, you can probably arrange for automatic bill paying directly with the parties sending the bills, such as your utility, credit-card, phone and mortgage companies.
17. Free Kids' Meals
Yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch -- or dinner. Kids eat free at Denny's, Lone Star Steakhouse and Roadhouse Grill every Tuesday night (and some Saturdays) with a paying adult. IHOP, Golden Corral, Marie Callender's and Chevys restaurants offer kids-eat-free deals at select locations.
You can search for eateries in your area at KidsMealDeals.com.
18. Free Digital Storage Space
With free online backup storage, you can protect your important files and photos from computer crashes, theft or natural disaster.
For instance, Spideroak.com and Myotherdrive.com each give you 2 gigabytes of free and secure digital storage space. You can also store your cherished photos and videos at sites such as Photobucket.com and Flickr.com. You can also store your pics at photo-print ordering sites such as Snapfish.com, Shutterfly.com or Walmart.com, as long as your account is active.
19. Free Tech Recycling -- With Benefits
Not only is it getting easier to keep your old electronics out of the landfill, but you may even get some free cash in exchange. Services such as BuyMyTronics.com, Gazelle.com, MyBoneyard.com and GreenPhone.com recycle or refurbish your old tech and send you a check in return. They take cameras, cell phones, MP3 players, game consoles and more.
If you can't find anyone willing to pay for your dinosaur, look for other free places to recycle. For instance, Best Buy will take many of your tech castoffs at no charge. And keep your eyes open for free e-recycling days in your city.
20. Free Capital Gains
Who wouldn't love to let their investments grow 100% tax-free? Take a pass on paying capital-gains taxes by investing in a Roth IRA. Any money you put into your Roth grows tax-free, and you won't owe Uncle Sam a dime when you cash out in retirement. It's all yours.