27 Things You Should Never Pay For — and How to Get Them for Free

Woman reading on a tablet
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There are many things we purchase these days that we’d never have dreamed of paying for a few decades back: Television channels? Grocery bags? Drinking water?

But a savvy shopper can find a way to get many things free. From entertainment to education, knowing these tricks can help you save big, even for things your neighbors and friends may be paying for.

Here are some of the many things you should never pay for.

1. Genealogy

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Tracing your family tree has never been easier, thanks to online resources.

If you’re really into genealogy, you may want to pay for a subscription-based service. But you can do plenty of research for free. You’ll find these resources in “10 Ways to Research Your Family Tree for Free.”

Two favorites:

2. Credit cards

A senior man holds his credit cards while using a laptop computer at a coffee shop
YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock.com

Offers for credit cards abound.

For example, Money Talks News’ Solutions Center lets you comparison shop for cards. Here are the three magic words to look for: No annual fee.

You may earn fewer perks, such as airline points, than you would with other cards. But you shouldn’t have to pay to use a credit card unless you choose to. (Caution: Some cards offer no annual fee for the first year only. After that, an annual fee kicks in.)

3. A birthday meal or dessert

birthday meal
Dmitry Lobanov / Shutterstock.com

No matter when your birthday falls on the calendar, there are restaurant chains with free eats for you.

For example, you can get a free sub at Jersey Mike’s, a free burger at Red Robin and a free sundae at Friendly’s.

Some birthday freebies may require a purchase, so check details. Still hungry? We’ve got a long list of restaurant chains with birthday freebies.

4. Streaming video

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You may be paying for premium channels such as HBO, sports subscriptions like NFL Sunday Ticket, or streaming services Hulu or Netflix. But if the monthly fees are adding up, know that you can stream movies and TV shows online for free.

You’ll find many free streaming services here.

Don’t forget your local library: many give patrons free remote access to services such as Kanopy or Hoopla.

5. Over-the-air TV

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Regular, over-the-air TV channels remain free, although you’ll need to buy a digital TV antenna to watch them.

To see over-the-air channels available where you live, enter your address at the Federal Communications Commission’s “DTV reception maps.”

6. Credit reports

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With constant news of identity theft and corporate hacks, it’s more important than ever to watch your credit report.

Don’t pay for it, though. You can get it free. We walk you through the process in “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”

In fact, through next spring, you can get free credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion as often as once a week.

Ordinarily, consumers can access one free credit report from each of these three major credit-reporting agencies every 12 months.

And it’s good to know that there also are a few other ways to get this freebie.

7. Credit scores

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

Believe it or not, your free credit report doesn’t usually include the three-digit number that indicates your credit score.

Of course, you can pay to get your score. But why do so, when there are ways to get it free?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a good summary of options: For example, you can learn your credit score at no cost from your credit card company or a nonprofit credit counselor.

8. Cloud storage

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Gazing at the clouds is free — and, if you look in the right place, so is storing data in the cloud.

You have numerous options for free cloud storage. Learn about them in “10 Places to Get Free Online File Storage.”

9. E-books

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Many libraries offer e-books for download. Just as with paper books, you check them out for a limited time.

Booksellers Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer free e-books for downloading, ranging from cookbooks to classics. And we list more sources for free e-books.

10. Magazines

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There aren’t as many print magazines as there once were, but whatever your hobby or interest — from bridal gowns to babies to bird-watching — you can still find titles to stoke your obsession.

Libraries, when they are open to the public, have print magazines available. When they are closed, or when it is more convenient to stay home, many local branch websites offer free access to digital copies of magazines.

Another source is Amazon Prime. Prime members may read magazines and comics online, and many are free. Learn the details from “4 Ways to Read Magazines for Free or Cheap.”

11. Admission to museums

Museum
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Museums want visitors. Many offer free admission, either on certain days or — at some institutions — every day.

Some museums are free to active-duty military families in the summer. In other cases, your Bank of America card can get you free admission. Check out our roundup in “6 Ways to Visit Top Museums Across America for Free.”

12. Admission to national parks

hiking
sunsinger / Shutterstock.com

America has amazing national parks, from the famous — like Yellowstone and Yosemite — to the lesser-known, such as Michigan’s scenic Isle Royale, or South Carolina’s diverse Congaree.

Every year, the National Park Service offers free admission on a handful of days scattered throughout the year. Here’s the list for 2020. Mark your calendar and polish up those hiking boots.

13. Certain dollar-store items

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Bargain hunters already know about the joys of dollar stores. But why spend even a dollar when you don’t need to?

Look for a $1 coupon for an item that’s priced at $1 to begin with, voila, you’ve got a freebie.

Our post “The Secret to Getting Dollar Store Items for Free” explains how to do it.

14. Toilet paper roll extender

Toilet Paper
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

Here’s a very specific — and kind of funny — freebie.

If your bathroom came with a built-in toilet tissue dispenser, you may already know that some modern TP rolls are too fat to fit. Seems the architects of earlier decades couldn’t foresee the gigantic double-sized rolls in the 21st century.

Charmin, however, will send a free TP roll extender if you fill out this online form.

15. Music

Businessman listening to music on his smartphone
Pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

Love your techno? Or funk? Or maybe you’re a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Hit the right note with free streaming music.

If you have Amazon Prime, the Amazon Music benefit gives you access to more than 2 million songs and more than 2,000 playlists and stations. Pandora has a free ad-supported offering, as does Spotify.

16. Antivirus software

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Getting a computer virus is kind of like getting a real virus. You trundle along happily until — boom — you’re laid low by an evil blast.

PCMag notes that Windows 10, released in early 2020, comes with Windows Security Center. But the magazine awards its Editor’s Choice honor to a third-party app, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free.

Macworld says that, although Macs may be attacked less frequently than PCs, they need antivirus protection, too. That publication rates Avast Free Mac Security the best free antivirus software for Macs.

17. ATM use

bank customer
Andrey Arkusha / Shutterstock.com

Paying money to get access to your own money? Fuhgettaboutit. Use a bank or credit union that waives ATM fees.

One caveat: You may need to stick within certain boundaries.

Ally Bank, for example, reimburses up to $10 of ATM fees each month for customers with an interest checking account. My credit union, First Tech Federal Credit Union, refunds fees if my account meets certain criteria, such as using direct deposit and receiving electronic statements.

18. Trading fees

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Stock traders, rejoice! Trading recently became more affordable. Charles Schwab, E*TRADE, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Vanguard have announced $0 commission trades on stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

But don’t go trade-crazy: Kiplinger and others worry that undisciplined traders will trade too much, paying for free trades with losses on their investments.

19. Checking accounts

Checking account
The Adaptive / Shutterstock.com

Don’t pay to open or maintain a checking account. With a little shopping around, you should be able to find free checking to fit your needs.

One example: The Ally Bank checking account we mentioned earlier charges no monthly maintenance fees and no minimum opening deposit — and it pays interest.

20. Online courses

Woman Studying
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

Learning should be lifelong. But if you don’t have the time or tuition to enroll at a nearby college, look into online learning.

Elite Ivy League universities — yes, even Hah-vard — have free online courses you can audit. Inquire at your local library. It may offer online classes from LinkedIn Learning or other sources.

21. Shipping

Evok20 / Shutterstock.com

This is the golden age of free shipping. Amazon Prime is one well-known offering. Generally, you must pay over $100 annually for a Prime membership, but there are ways to get Prime membership free.

There are other approaches to free shipping, though. Our “5 Ways to Land Free Shipping When Shopping Online” explains some.

We also list dozens of retailers offering free shipping year-round. And, some credit cards include free shipping at various retailers as a perk for cardholders.

22. Classified ads

Woman on cellphone
GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com

Want to sell something? A china tea set, maybe? Or a used car? You can do it free of charge by placing your ad on the massive marketplace Craigslist, or on OfferUp.

If you’re on Facebook, you might try Facebook Marketplace.

23. Toothbrushes

Bilanol / Shutterstock.com

Personally, I love my Sonicare electric toothbrush, and don’t mind paying for it. But my daughter has sleepovers regularly and her friends forget to bring their toothbrushes.

Thankfully, after our checkups my dentist always gives us wrapped toothbrushes, paste and floss. I toss them in a bathroom drawer for the forgetful friends. That way, I never have to spend money on disposable toothbrushes.

24. Water

nenetus / Shutterstock.com

Here’s the easiest freebee of all: Instead of paying for pricey bottled water, get a reusable bottle and fill it at home. My daughter likes to fill and freeze the water bottle she brings to school. It melts slowly throughout the day and her drink is always icier than her friends’ beverages.

You’re not just saving cash. You’re saving the planet by keeping one more plastic bottle out of a landfill.

25. Pianos

Skumer / Shutterstock.com

Pianos can cost thousands of dollars new. But if you or someone in your family is itching to play, don’t sweat the sticker price. Here’s the musical secret: Many people need a piano for only a very short time — say, the grade school years when a child is taking lessons.

At any time of the year, people who have passed through the piano years are looking to get this large, heavy object out of their home. Check Facebook Marketplace or the free section of Craigslist — but be warned, you’ll need a strategy to get that piano moved. It won’t just fit in a Honda Civic.

26. Moving boxes

Solis Images / Shutterstock.com

You can buy brand-new boxes of all sizes when it’s time to move. But why? Cardboard boxes are free, and they’re everywhere.

Ask nicely if your local grocery store or liquor store will save you a bunch. Try to ask well in advance of your move, so these stores have time to save you the best ones they have before flattening and recycling them.

Also helpful: Keep an eye on giveaway sites like the Buy Nothing Project. Someone’s always moving and looking to pass on their moving boxes.

27. Cookbooks

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Cookbooks can be works of art. There are some print editions I will never give away. But could I live another 100 years without ever buying one? Honestly, yes — as long as the internet’s supply of recipes never goes away.

Two tips from my 20 years of online recipe reading:

  • Choose a recipe with plenty of reviews so you won’t waste money on ingredients for an untested dish.
  • Read reviews and comments carefully. Often, previous cooks will point out typos or flaws, or suggest a quicker or more flavorful way to prepare the meal.

Bon appétit!

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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