10 Free Things That Used to Cost Us Money

Man listening to music on headphones at work
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As the years roll along, the cost of most things just keeps increasing. That’s inflation for you.

Due to that sustained increase in the general price level of things in an economy over time, you would need about $350 today to buy the same stuff you could have bought for $100 in January 1980, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But some items actually have gotten cheaper in recent times. In fact, many are now free.

Following are examples of things that used to cost money but no longer do.

1. Investments

Woman working on investments at her computer
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There was a time when you would pay to invest. But as we have reported, such fees rapidly have disappeared in recent years.

Many of the heavy hitters — Charles Schwab, E-Trade, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Vanguard among them — now offer $0 commission trades on stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

2. Your credit reports

working from home
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In the past, if you wanted to see a copy of your credit report, you needed to pay for it. Now, thanks to changes in federal law, you’re entitled to one free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit-reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

And until April 2022, you actually can get a free copy of your credit report from each company every week on account of the coronavirus pandemic.

We walk you through the process of requesting your reports in “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”

To get your credit score, however, you typically have to pay. But there are ways to get both your FICO score and your VantageScore gratis, too.

3. Books, movies and more

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While you’re at the library, take a look around. Long gone are the days in which your library was filled only with musty and dusty books.

Today, you can borrow e-books, movies and more at many branches — and often via their websites. My local library even has an iPad and an electricity usage monitor available for checkout.

Want more? Check out:

4. Data storage

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Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

Backing up your important documents to the cloud can be a smart way to avoid the heartbreak that comes from a fried hard drive and the loss of irreplaceable files.

In addition, cloud storage is a convenient way to access information and photos from anywhere with an internet connection.

While there are plenty of good cloud storage options that cost money, there are numerous others that offer a certain amount of storage for free. They include Microsoft OneDrive and others we detail in “10 Places to Get Free Online File Storage.”

Additionally, if you have Amazon Prime, you have unlimited photo storage through a feature called Amazon Photos.

5. Music

Woman listening to music
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This one has come full circle. In the early days of the internet, you could listen to music for free, albeit generally illegally. Then, you had to pay for music through iTunes, Rhapsody or similar services.

Today, we’re back to free music options through services such as Spotify and Pandora. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can also use Prime Music at no additional cost.

6. Reading the news

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Buying a newspaper used to be the way to stay up to date on current events. Now, you merely have to flip on your computer to find all sorts of free news 24/7 on the internet.

Even if you don’t have home internet service, you only have to head to the library to take advantage of this freebie.

7. GPS

Woman using a GPS device while driving
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At one time, you had to pay more than $100 for a GPS unit. In some cases, you had to shell out extra to update maps periodically.

You can still buy separate GPS devices, but if you have a smartphone, there’s really no reason to do so. There are plenty of free GPS-based map and navigation apps that work perfectly fine.

8. Classified ads

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Once upon a time, if you wanted to sell something, you had to fork over money to run a classified ad in the newspaper. Now, there are plenty of free ways to sell your wares.

Craigslist has perhaps the widest reach. But there are also free buy/sell groups on Facebook, free smartphone apps, and some newspapers that allow free classifieds on their websites.

9. Long-distance phone service

African American woman with cellphone
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There is no reason you should be paying for long-distance phone calls.

If you don’t have a cellphone plan that already gives you free long-distance service, check out services such as Skype, which allows you to make certain types of calls in the U.S. for free.

10. Practically anything — if you know where to look

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Finally, thanks to the internet, you can now get practically anything for free if you know where to look.

Freecycle and Craigslist can help you pick up free stuff, but browsing the web can turn up all sorts of ideas on how to get services for free, too.

Here are just a few examples of things we’ve told you how to get for free:

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