Our needs don't stop just because the holidays have curbed our desire to spend. There are some great ways to get things for free -- definitely worth trying before pulling out that tired credit card!
Now that 2017 is rolling along, the holiday bills are rolling in and cash is tight. But guess what? We still need and want things — soccer cleats for the kids, tools for the yard, maybe a new appliance to replace one that has died. Here’s the good news: Many valuable things can be obtained for free — as well as some super useful services — if you know where to look.
So, take some time before you pull out that tired credit card. And start your quest for free treasures and services here.
1. Phone calls
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If you haven’t by now, you should try Skype.com for at least some of your calls. You can download the app to your computer, mobile or tablet and make voice calls, video calls and international calls for free.
2. Garden, household and project supplies
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Have the need for some pavers, a garden trellis, insulation? Many supplies and odds and ends are available through the local listings on Freecycle and Craigslist (click on the “free” category in the For Sale section). Mind you, some of the stuff that people are trying to shed is free for a reason — I personally wouldn’t want most of the free sofas or mattresses I see listed (eww!).
But there are many great treasures — and getting them this way helps keep useful things out of the landfill. So, for instance, from my local Freecycle listings right now, I could nab a dog kennel, some glass-and-metal display shelves, a fresh-water aquarium and moving boxes. The local Craigslist freebies include an old piano, a working refrigerator, shipping pallets, wood chips for landscaping and a big load of broken tiles for someone’s next mosaic project.
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The public library is an awesome resource. Make sure you have a library card for free access to thousands of books, including many that are now out of print. If you still love to read old-fashioned books and keep them on the shelf, try out sites like BookMooch, which allows you to search for and get free books from other members. (You can also offer books you are willing to give to another reader.)
If you have made the switch to digital reading, the options available to you continue to expand. Check out these “11 Places to Get Free e-Books.”
4. Tax preparation
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When this time of year rolls around, it can be doubly painful — to do the work it requires to pull together tax documentation and then to pay for help with the filing. But you may not need to fork over any money for tax filing.
For people with low and moderate incomes there are a number of free services available for help with tax filing, including Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a free, IRS-sponsored service for people who make $54,000 a year or less, and IRS FreeFile, no cost tax-preparation-and-filing software for people who make $64,000 or less.
But there are other options, even if you earn a higher income. Check out “7 Ways to Get Your Taxes Done for Free.”
5. Preventive health care services
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As long as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains intact, people who have health insurance can get free preventive care. That means there will be no co-pay or co-insurance fee charged for some important health services.
Worried about how much alcohol you drink? Private insurance companies now are required to cover alcohol abuse screening and counseling for free. Concerned that you’re depressed? Screening is free. Want vaccines to fight off the flu, measles or another disease? Your insurance must cover vaccines for those and many other diseases.
Those are just a few of the dozens of screenings, treatments and other forms of preventive care that people who buy health insurance are eligible to obtain free, according to healthcare.gov. The only catch? You have to have health insurance to get them for free.
Of course, the future of the ACA, or Obamacare as it’s also called, is up in the air while lawmakers haggle over repealing it. So if you need preventive care, you should probably get it soon — surely before the end of 2017 — in case such services won’t be provided for free after the next political round.
6. Other health-care freebies
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Even without using health insurance, you can still avail yourself of free health care and preventive care options.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers free eye exams to those who qualify. For details, check out the AAO website.
What about medications? Ask your pharmacist or primary care physicians if they have suitable free samples to share. Don’t forget to keep an eye on pharmacies that offer one-time and other discounts to new customers. It may pay off to change your main pharmacy.
In need of a certain medication? You might qualify for free medications through RXAssist.
7. Party swag and goodies
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If you’re the type to plan events, the site HouseParty could lead to freebies for you and your guests. Apply — for free — to host a party with sponsorship from one of the big-name companies listed on HouseParty, and you can score all sorts of goodies in exchange for some publicity.
Past freebies have included branded clothing, kitchen ware, health and beauty products, and lots of food. At this writing, some recent parties were supplied by Thomas bagels, Kikkoman cooking sauces and RoC skin products. Upcoming party opportunities include the “Family Oreo Dunk Challenge,” “Bob Evans Side Dishes House Party” and “Fox Sports Daytona Day House Party.”
8. Fitness guidance and inspiration
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Personal trainers and posh gyms are great, but you can get the same results — a toned, fit body — and keep your bank account healthy, too, when you use some of the free exercise options available.
How about finding a top-flight exercise instructor? Sparkpeople.com offers a myriad of recipes, nutrition and fitness tracking, workout videos, on-site checks and much more — all absolutely, 100 percent free. Sign up, use as much or as little of the site’s features as you want, and they absolutely won’t spam you.
Want more variety? Consider these 10 free or cheap fitness apps that offer a wide range of exercise and diet guidance, as well as many means of motivation.
Exercise DVDs can be pricey, so you may want to try before you buy. Exercise gurus including Leslie Sansone and Jillian Michaels have a host of free videos online. Also, check your cable providers’ free extra offerings, and you may find some free videos there, too.
9. National parks entry
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If you love the great outdoors, consider planning a trip to one of this country’s spectacular national parks on a free-admission day. This year the National Park Service has scheduled 10 fee-free days. The next one up is President’s Day, Feb. 20.
10. DIY skills
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Wonder how to turn some home ideas into reality? Home Depot and Michaels are among the national retailers that offer free in-person and online classes and guides. So, for instance, my local Home Depot has upcoming workshops on “Easy Bath Updates,” “Paint Tips and Trends” and “How to Install a Tile Kitchen Backsplash.” At Michaels site, I’m seeing a whole slew of upcoming classes for kids and adults on such things as paper crafting, painting and decorating Valentine’s Day treats.
11. Mind-expanding classes
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The digital age has given us access to all kinds of experts and instructional courses. Even if you’re dead broke, there’s little excuse not to take an online course. Here are a couple of places to pick up some free education:
- Saylor.com: Choose from Saylor Academy offerings in art history, math, philosophy, economics and more.
- OpenCulture.com: This site offers links to free courses that teach 48 languages, online lectures, free e-books and more.
12. Free samples
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There are a lot of ways to find fun-size freebies, including signing up for email newsletters from your favorite brands. Also, you can check the websites of your favorite companies for free samples, such as Sephora for makeup and beauty products. Or, if want to peruse a whole bunch of free stuff out there, check out sites like SnagFreeSamples and Mr. Free Stuff to see what’s currently offered.
Where do you find free treasures? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.
Nancy Dunham and Brandon Ballenger contributed to this post.