Conventional wisdom holds that you only get what you pay for, but the real free geek knows that with the right knowledge (and maybe a charming smile) pretty much anything, even the good stuff, can be had for less or in the best case scenarios nothing at all. Despite this, there are a number of things out there that don’t seem to scream “free” majority of the time (MIT being one). Here’s a list of a few free things that might surprise you.
- Classes at MIT If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to get a first class nerd education but never had the money or the grades, MIT offers a majority of its curriculum (graduate and undergraduate) online free of charge. On the downside, the quantum physics class you decide to take won’t count for any actual college credit, but free education is free education whether you get credit or not.
- Language Lessons The world is an increasingly smaller place, and the ability to communicate in a language other than your native tongue is an increasingly valuable skill to add to your resume. There are a number of resources available on the web to help you learn languages (everything from French to Urdu) via Podcasts. A good one to try is the BBC. There, you can brush up on your Spanish or learn something a more complicated. Best of all, you can load it onto your MP3 player and take it with you to listen to while you’re driving to work or running errands.
- Business Education Learning to run your own business can be a trying experience, but you can get a little help and advice for free from the Small Business Administration. Local business centers offer classes that can teach you how to write a business plan or even how to take care of all the tax details associated with business ownership.
- Computer Classes Technology changes so fast these days it can be hard to keep up. There is a solution to at least some of your computer and gadget illiteracy woes, however. Apple stores nationwide offer workshops on a variety of (Apple) software and hardware techniques as well as some computer basics. The classes might not do you a lot of good, however, if you don’t own any Apple products.
- Museum Admission Going to a museum can be pretty expensive, especially if you’re trying to bring a family along. Many museums offer free days or hours, especially during the summer (like the Art Institute of Chicago summer programs). Why pay $20 to see a Van Gogh when you can study his work for free?
- Concerts, Movies and Shows Many communities offer a wide variety of free entertainment through local park districts and organizations. While it may not always be the hottest new feature, taking advantage of free entertainment can be a great and cheap way to spend an evening. Many large cities, like Chicago, show series of movies for free during the summer in the parks. You can bring a picnic, refreshing beverages, and enjoy the weather and scenery along with your free movie. Check your local park district’s website to see if there are any events in your area. Certain reward credit cards can get you free VIP access to certain events as well.
- Pets Choosing to adopt or buy a pet can be a potentially costly endeavor, but there are ways to get around at least some of the initial costs. Sites like Craigslist and PetFinder often offer pets for free. You can find great animals whose owners can no longer keep them do to allergies or living situations. Make sure to meet the animal before you commit to taking it home, though, as not all posters might be as honest as they should be about the temperament of the cat or dog.
- Gym Membership While more long-term solutions to free gym membership may be more complicated, you can get free passes to visit almost any gym in your area. Beware, however, that you might end up listening to their spiel to sell you on a pricier membership plan. If you aren’t pained by the idea of a sales pitch, you could theoretically shop around at every gym in town to maintain the free access for several weeks, depending upon the size of your town. The best time for free trials is at the beginning of the year, as many people want to make good on their New Year’s resolutions.
- Photo Prints Many online photo album services not only allow you to share your photos with family and friends through the internet but they’ll give you free prints of your photos as well. Check out Snapfish, Kodak, dotphoto
and Adorama to see about getting free prints when you sign up. Sometimes you can get anywhere from 15 to 50 prints of your photos depending on the site and the time of year when you register. The photos aren’t entirely free, however, as you do have to pay for shipping; but it’s considerably cheaper than having all those prints made at your local photo store, and usually amounts to mere pennies for each photo.
- 411 Service Need directory information but don’t want to pay for it? Simply dial 800-373-3411 (800-FREE-411).
You’ll get free directory assistance from your cell or land line. The catch is, however, that you do have to listen to a short (only 20 seconds) ad before you can ask your question, but really, that’s a small price to pay for a free service.
- Phone Calls If your long distance charges are getting you down, stop using your phone to make calls and start using your computer. Sign up for Skype or Gizmo Project and you can make computer-to-computer calls for free to anywhere in the world. Hook up your Webcam and you’ll have an instant videophone.
- Email Reminders Have a terrible memory? Never forget a birthday again by using a free email reminder system like Memo to Me. Simply give them the date you want to remember and your email address and the system will send you a note that will gently remind you to remember your anniversary. Of course, you do have to remember to check your email in order for this to work. If you want to take preemptive action, you can also pick out free eCards to be sent at a later date. Hallmark carries a great collection of free cards, but you can also try out Hipster Cards or CardCow.
- Ice Cream There is nothing that cures a craving for Chunky Monkey except some actual Chunky Monkey. One glorious day out of the year you can eat all the Ben & Jerry’s you want and not spend a dime. That’s right, Ben & Jerry’s worldwide has a free cone day. The best part is that there is no limit, so you can come back for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Used Books For some people (myself included), buying books is a ridiculous obsession. To find a way to somehow acquire more books for less money is a book lover’s dream. Try out PaperBackSwap or Title Trader. Both operate on
the principle where you list books you don’t want (that horrible Oprah book club one you’re ashamed to have sitting on the shelf) and then wait for someone to request it. Once someone’s laid claim to it, you simply mail it out and you’re given credit towards getting a book you really want. You will have to pay for shipping your old books out, but on paperbacks it isn’t much and you won’t have to hunt through dusty bins to find the book you want in return.
- Household Items Have some junk lying around the house thatyou don’t want anymore? List it on Freecycle, a nonprofit community group that encourages users to give away old items instead of throwing them away. You can clean out your old stuff and replace it with new stuff for free. If you see a listing you want, simply respond to it. Keep
in mind, however, that you are responsible for transporting, shipping, or picking up the items you want.
- Makeup Want to try out movie star makeup without having to pay movie star prices? Many beauty supply stores will give you free samples of their products to take home with you. Some stores, like Sephora, will offer a generous sample of almost anything in the store to try it out. This free supply might not last forever, but you can look good for at least a little while!
- Face Cream Want to prevent wrinkles without giving yourself new ones when you think about the cost of your face cream? Many department store brands will give away free samples if you ask nicely enough, but Oil of Olay has a sample program where you can try out their products for free. Any Oil of Olay fan knows that a little bit of this product goes a long way, so this is a great deal.
- Good Samples While it does require a bit of a time investment on your part, you have potential to get some decent free samples from product surveys. Programs like E-poll and American Consumer Opinion will send you samples of everything from spaghetti sauce to toilet paper to get your opinion on those products. Urban legends even tell of those lucky few who got free TVs to try out (don’t bank on this when you sign up).
- Comic Books For comic book geeks out there, I have something for you as well. At the beginning of May (the event was held on the 5th this year) you can head into your local comic book retailer and pick up some free comics. The titles range from Spiderman to Gumby, but with almost 30 different titles there should be at least something that you can enjoy for the summer.
- CPR Courses You may not think you’ll ever have a time in your life when you’ll need to know CPR, but it’s really better to be safe than sorry when it comes to first aid treatment. You can take free CPR classes through many local hospitals, fire departments, or even online. It might sound like a boring way to spend your evening, but your efforts could save a life.
- Legal Music Not all music available for download online is illegal, though you do have to be careful about what you choose. Many artists contribute songs intended for free download so that they can expand their audience. Check out this list of sites that offer free music. There is bound to be something that will pique your interest, and possibly open your eyes to new music you didn’t know about, without making you get out your MasterCard.
- Coffee Your morning pick-me-up can be a little cheaper at least a few days a year by taking advantage of free coffee. Starbucks sponsors the Starbucks Coffee Break on March 15th, when they offer free coffee between 10-12 am. If you’re lucky and Starbucks is generous, pastries may be available for sampling as well.
While not everything you want can always be free, there are a lot of free things out there for the taking if you know when to go and where. So take advantage of this list, and start getting all the free stuff you deserve (you’ve worked hard for it).