10 Things That Used to Be Free

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We love “free” stuff, whether it’s an autograph after a concert, a towel to wave during football games, or chocolates on a hotel pillow. Sure, we paid for the tickets and the hotel room, but nevertheless, the extras were “free” – and that feels good.

But in recent years, freebies from no-fee checking to in-flight meals have vanished. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson offers an amusing glimpse into some of the goods and services that were once free but now have a price tag. Well, at least his video is free. Check it out and then read on for more…

So what types of goods and services now require that we pay a pretty penny? And what can we do to make sure we get these items as cheaply as possible? Here are some things to consider:

1. Airline services

From baggage and leg room fees to charges for in-flight movies, meals, and even bottles of water, airlines have “unbundled” many of their complimentary services and passed these costs on to the consumer.

How to save: Consider all of the extra charges before simply selecting the carrier with the lowest fare. Also fly prepared: Pack snacks and consider bringing your own entertainment, like a mini DVD player or a tablet.

2. Food delivery

Many restaurants now charge a delivery fee, usually anywhere from $1.50 to as much as $6. Then you’re expected to tip the delivery person on top of that.

How to save: Simply ask if there’s a delivery fee before placing your order. If so, consider doing take-out, or call another restaurant that offers free delivery.

3. Banking

Today, charges abound – from monthly fees to overdraft and ATM fees. Some banks have even charged for talking to a teller.

According to Bankrate’s 2011 Checking Account Survey, only 45 percent of non-interest checking accounts were free and maintenance fees averaged $4.37 last year, up from $2.49 in 2010. The average ATM withdrawal fee for a noncustomer was $2.40.

How to save: Comparison-shop for checking accounts, just like you would for, say, a new flat-screen TV. Ask about hidden fees to make the most informed decision. Also limit ATM withdrawals to the financial institution where you hold that account.

4. Television

Years ago, TVs with “rabbit ears” might have looked silly, but the programming was free. Today, local TV is still free, and some viewers are using rabbit ears to gain access to free HDTV. However, more than 100 million American households are paying cable and satellite providers, according to research company SNL Kagan – with monthly costs averaging $50, or $75 for the digital version.

How to save: Negotiate the best rate and don’t be shy if a competitor is offering a better deal. Your cable company might match it.

5. News

Sure, there’s still plenty of news out there for free, but today, 20 percent of U.S. newspapers require readers to pay to access online content, according to Mashable.

How to save: If the news outlet that you can’t live without has a paywall, keep an eye out for special promotions to reduce monthly or annual fees.

6. Trash pickup

Trash removal is certainly something we wouldn’t want to pay for, and often, it’s included in your property taxes. But in some areas, that’s changing. According to a survey of 70 Indiana cities conducted by Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, 46 of those cities have a trash fee, while only 24 have no fee.

How to save: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do if your city charges for trash removal. However, if you bring your own cans and bottles to a recycling center, perhaps your refund can help offset your city’s fee.

7. Gas station services

There was a time when gas station attendants would pump your gas and clean your windshield for free. Today, this complimentary service is nearly gone, with the exception of New Jersey and Oregon, where state laws prohibit self-service. Often, you’ll even have to pay to pump air into your tires.

How to save: Since gas stations aren’t exactly rolling out white-glove service these days, focus on navigating the car-wash scene instead to find the best deal.

8. School fees

As if college tuition wasn’t high enough – the average in-state tuition at public colleges is $8,244 a year, according to the College Board – schools are increasingly charging extra fees for fitness facilities, parking garages, or even campus health services.

Some public elementary and high schools have jumped on the bandwagon too, doling out fees for extracurricular activities and lab or course activities. Even field trip costs are on the rise in some schools.

How to save: Ask if a specific fee can be waived if you’re not going to use the service.

9. Directory assistance

Back in the day, you weren’t charged for calling directory assistance. Today, calling or texting your carrier’s 411 service could cost you a couple bucks.

How to save: Look a phone number up for free online or do it the old-fashioned way: the phone book.

10. Paying a bill by phone

Today, you often have to pay a fee just to pay your bill – over the phone, that is. For example, DirecTV charges $5 and Verizon charges $3.50 for over-the-phone payments.

How to save: Pay online or send a check by mail. If you sign up for paperless billing, you’ll eliminate the cost of a stamp each month. If you tend to forget to pay your bill till the last minute, put reminders on your calendar or make your online payments automatic.

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