As a smart shopper, you probably spend a lot of time searching for the best deals. However, some of those great finds aren’t really all that terrific. In fact, a lot of so-called “good deals” can actually be found for free.
However, freebies are not the only way to save money. In this report, we look at some free things, but also highlight lower-cost options you might be overlooking when purchasing items you use on an ongoing basis.
The following examples are among the things for which people commonly overpay.
1. Book downloads
Unless your tastes run to the esoteric, there is no excuse for paying to download e-books. You can probably download just about any best-seller your heart desires from your local library.
For plenty of other options, check out “11 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.”
In addition to e-books, your local library likely has at least a few shelves of DVDs and Blu-ray discs just waiting to be picked up for movie night. Your library might even offer you the ability to stream movies for free from home, as we explain in “Don’t Pay for These 10 Things: They Are Free With a Library Card.”
Again, if you have Amazon Prime, explore the options there, too. Prime members can watch many of the titles available through Prime Video for free.
For plenty of other options, check out this article on free movie streaming.
3. Magazine subscriptions
How many times do you spend 10 or 15 minutes flipping through a magazine and then toss it into the recycling bin?
Sure, you might use a cooking or woodworking magazine again and again, so that purchase might be worth it. But are you really going to look at celebrity wedding photos more than once?
Get quick reads from the library or even online — see “4 Ways to Read Magazines Online for Free or Cheap.”
4. Bottled water
There is a secret behind bottled water: Although companies promote it as crisp, pure spring water, it’s often just water that comes out of the ground — much like the water that pours from your faucet.
Unless you live in an area with known contamination, there’s no guarantee the bottled water you pay for at the store is any better than the water coming out of your own tap.
5. Brand-name medications
Brand-name drugs are big business, and pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money trying to convince you to buy items with their name on the label.
Instead of jumping on the brand-name bandwagon, consider buying a generic instead.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
“All generic drugs approved by FDA have the same high quality, strength, purity, and stability as brand-name drugs. In addition, FDA inspects facilities to make certain the generic manufacturing, packaging, and testing sites pass the same quality standards as those of brand-name drugs.”
Even better: You might be able to get certain generic medications for free — see “4 Grocery Store Chains That Offer Free Prescription Drugs.”
6. Brand-name everything else
Brand-name medicines aren’t the only purchase you should be rethinking. Practically any brand-name product might be a bad deal when lower-priced generics are inches away.
Some people bristle at the thought of generics, envisioning watered-down shampoo or cardboard crackers. Certainly, there are some low-quality off-brands. However, your grocer’s store brand is often just as good as a national brand when it comes to quality and taste.
7. Credit cards
Credit card rewards such as cash back and travel perks can blind us to the high interest rate we might pay on a card we’re considering. If you ever carry a balance over from one month to another, that interest stands to cost you more money than you gain in rewards.
It’s an even worse deal when we have money sitting in savings, earning practically nothing, while we pay through the nose for credit card interest. The better deal might be to pull money from savings, pay off the card and file the plastic away.
If that’s not an option, at least consider shifting your balance to a no-interest credit card while you pay it down. That way, at least you won’t incur more interest charges for as long as the 0% rate lasts.
8. Annual credit reports
Credit report offers can be among the worst “deals.”
Some unscrupulous companies offer to send you a “free” report in exchange for your personal information, which might then be shared with identity thieves. Or, there might be a small processing fee and tiny print that says you’ll be signed up for some credit-monitoring service you don’t need.
Under federal law, each of the three major nationwide credit-reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — must provide consumers one free report every year. However, the only official place to get your free report is at AnnualCreditReport.com.
We walk you through the process of requesting reports in “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”
9. Antivirus software
Like an annual credit report, antivirus software is something you need. It’s just not something that requires you to open your wallet.
A variety of free antivirus programs are available online. PCMag recently selected what it considers to be the best of 2020.
You may also be able to download antivirus software for free via your internet service provider.
10. Smartphone apps
It’s so easy to push the “buy” button for that 99-cent app. But more often than not, we’ve spent money on something we either won’t use or could have gotten free.
Do some research before you buy an app. There are plenty of great free iPhone apps and Android apps.