17 fabulous freebies for 2014

Kiplinger

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There’s only one thing better than getting a good price on something, and that’s getting it for free. Our list of freebies is packed with more something-for-nothing deals than ever. We don’t allow any useless junk on our list, only quality goods and services that you would happily pay good money for (or perhaps you already are).

From shopping perks to technology and entertainment, there’s something here for everyone.

Go ahead. Put away your wallet. We insist!

Free Fruit

Run by so-called urban foragers, FallingFruit.org has an interactive map that shows where you can harvest your own fruit -- as well as herbs, nuts and vegetables -- from trees and plants that grow mostly on public lands. You can sort by location or fruit type. Then you can drill down to individual locations to see what type of fruit grows there, when it’s in season, and whether it’s on public or private land. You also can see reviews by other foragers and a street view image courtesy of Google.

(More from Kiplinger: 10 Surprising Things You Should Buy in Bulk)

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Free Car For Your Roadtrip

If you love road trips but don’t own a car, you can get one free to travel the highways and byways of the U.S. if you sign on as a driver for an auto relocation service. Services such as Auto Driveaway need drivers to transport cars for corporate fleets, RV owners, people who purchase vehicles online and those who migrate south in the winter. You must be 23 years old and have a valid driver’s license. You must pay a security deposit of $350, but it will be refunded. You’ll even get a free tank of gas. You’ll have a specified number of days to complete your trip.

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Free Auto Services

Auto service chain Pep Boys offers eight free services, including tire repair, tire rotation and brake inspection. No purchase is necessary to take advantage of any of the services.

If you’re buying a new car, consider the value of free maintenance programs offered by various automakers. New cars typically don’t require a lot of upkeep, so a nonluxury brand, such as General Motors, Toyota or Volkswagen, with a free maintenance program might not offer you a lot of savings and shouldn’t sway your purchasing decision. But free maintenance on a luxury brand, such as BMW, Cadillac or Volvo, can save you a lot because service costs are much higher than they are for nonluxury brands.

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Free Trees

Some utility companies offer customers free trees to help reduce energy use through strategic planting, so check with yours to see if it offers such a program. Local governments and conservation districts also give away seedlings on Arbor Day or during other events. For example, West Sacramento, Cal., gives residents up to two free 15-gallon trees a year if they attend a workshop on tree planting and care.

Many cities, counties and utility companies also offer residents free mulch, made from recycled leaves or wood from tree trimmings and tree removals, if you pick it up.

 (More from Kiplinger:
Dollar Store: Deal or No Deal?)


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Free Tools

National auto-parts retailers, such as Pep Boys, Advanced Auto Parts, O’Reilly Auto Parts and AutoZone, let you borrow expensive-to-own, specialty tools to repair your car. You’ll have to pay a deposit (which varies depending on the tool), but you’ll get it back when you return the tool.

Several cities also have tool lending libraries that let residents borrow tools -- from plumbing tools to circular saws to demolition hammers and more -- free. Check this list to see if there’s one near you, but note that some of these libraries require a membership fee.

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Free food at restaurants

Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. And some places offer freebies on certain holidays or special days, such as tax day, Mother's Day and Veterans Day. Here's a list of what to expect throughout the year:

 -- A free Rita’s Italian Ice in March

-- Free Arby's fries, California Tortilla chips and queso and Cinnabon Bites on tax day in April

-- A free Haagen-Dazs ice cream and free treats for moms on Mother's Day from restaurants such as McCormick & Schmick's in May

-- A free doughnut from Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, LaMar's and Tim Hortons Cafe and Bake Shop for National Donut Day in June

-- A free 7-Eleven slurpee on 7/11 and a Chick Fil-A meal in July

-- Free meals for veterans at Applebee's, Chili's, Golden Corral, Lone Star Steakhouse and more restaurants on Veterans Day in November

Check with your favorite establishment to see if it offers any freebies throughout the year.

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Free Software

For many basic computing needs, you can get free software rather than shelling out for the Microsoft Office Home & Student suite ($139.99), Quicken Deluxe for budgeting ($23.35), Adobe Photoshop Elements for photo editing ($64.98) and other popular programs.

For word processing, spreadsheets and multimedia presentations, try OpenOffice.org or Google Docs. To manage finances, we like the free budgeting program at Mint.com. And for photo and video editing, try Aviary, Picasa, Pixlr or Apple’s built-in iMovie software.

(More from Kiplinger: 11 Things NOT to Buy at Warehouse Clubs)

 

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Free Workouts

Don’t sweat enrollment fees and gym memberships. It doesn’t cost a penny to put on your sneakers and go for a walk or jog in your neighborhood, or to join a pick-up game of basketball at your local park. To encourage public health, more communities are installing free outdoor gyms for adults at public parks. Residents of Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Antonio and others can use free equipment for strength training, flexibility and cardio workouts.

Prefer to work out at home? Check out a fitness DVD from your local library.

Or with companions and instructors? You may be able to find free fitness classes taught by experts in your area. For instance, Lululemon Athletica stores offer free yoga classes weekly. Many communities host free workouts in public parks or libraries, too. For instance, we found free yoga classes in Miami, New York and Los Angeles; free tai chi sessions in San Francisco, Omaha and Washington, D.C.; free Zumba classes in Chicago; and more.

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Free Shipping

If you love to shop online but hate to pay for shipping, go to FreeShipping.org. The site can direct you to retailers who offer free shipping on every order, big or small. The site also gives you coupon codes to snag free shipping at other retailers.

Many retailers’ sites offer free shipping if you’ll pick up the order at a local store, including AceHardware.com, BestBuy.com, Payless.com, REI.com and Walmart.com.







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Free Grocery-Shopping Assistance

ZipList lets you organize your shopping lists, recipes and grocery deals in one place. You can create your shopping list online and access on any phone (not just a smart phone) while you're shopping. If you do have a smart phone, you can use the ZipList app to scan items you have at home that you need to purchase, and they'll automatically be added to your list. You can share the list with family members, and they can add to it. Plus, the site has thousands of recipes, provides recipe recommendations based on ones you've already chosen and will add the ingredients you need to buy for recipes you select to your shopping list. It also shows which items on your list are on sale at local grocers, so you’ll know where to shop to get the best prices.


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Free Sales Tax

The chance to make purchases free of sales tax isn’t technically a something-for-nothing deal, but it’s definitely a money-saving opportunity you don’t want to pass up. Seventeen states have sales-tax holidays in July or August that allow consumers to make noncommercial purchases of back-to-school items, such as clothing, computers and school supplies, tax-free.

Six states exempt purchases of Energy Star products on certain days of the year. And three coastal states have sales-tax holidays for hurricane preparedness items. See a complete list of sales tax holidays from the Federation of Tax Administrators.




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Free Shopping Apps

Are your key ring and wallet getting crowded? Use the free Key Ring app to store all of your bar-coded loyalty, membership and library cards on your phone. You simply scan your phone at the point of service. Online shoppers can stay organized with Slice, which tracks packages and notifies you of price drops on items you already bought so you can recoup the difference from the merchant.

To help you get the best price, use apps such as Red Laser or ShopSavvy, which scan any bar code in the store and instantly compare prices for the same item online. For in-store coupons, try Coupon Sherpa or RetailMeNot.


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Free Cash

You have to buy groceries and gas anyway, so why not use those purchases to get a little more green in your wallet? Sign up for a rewards credit card and get free money, gift certificates, airline miles or other perks. (Of course, it's only free if you pay the balance in full each month without incurring interest charges.)

You can get even more free cash when you shop online by starting at rebate portal sites such as BeFrugal.com, CouponCactus.com, Ebates and Extrabux. You select a retailer from their lists, and they pay you back a percentage of your purchase price (typically between 1% and 10%).


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Free Books, Movies, Music and More

Your public library is a freebies Mecca. Most offer books, magazines, audiobooks, e-books, video games, CDs and DVDs for free (as long as you return them on time, of course). Your library may also host free activities such as book clubs, lectures, film screenings, children’s story hours and craft activities.



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Free Hobbies

Want to learn something new in your spare time? Many local retailers offer free workshops. For instance, improve your culinary skills at Williams-Sonoma’s free technique classes. At REI take a free clinic on bike maintenance, backpacking, camp cooking and more. Apple, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Michaels stores offer free classes for adults and kids. Check your local library, too. We’ve seen hands-on workshops for computers, chess, knitting and more. Or check out a book or DVD on a topic that interests you, such as origami, pilates or international cooking.


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Free Digital Storage

With free online backup storage, you can share files and protect them from computer crashes, theft and natural disaster. Windows SkyDrive gives you 7 gigabytes of free, secure digital storage space. You can also use Amazon Cloud Drive (5 GB free) or Dropbox (2 GB free).


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Free Calls

To limit your landline costs or avoid using precious minutes on your mobile-phone plan, use a free calling service such as Skype, Viber or Vonage Mobile. All three allow you to make free calls to other users of these services. Skype and Viber can be installed on mobile phones and computers. Vonage Mobile is available only for iPhone and Android users. 

 Readers, have you spotted any great freebies lately? Please share them with us in the comment section below.

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