Fabulous Freebies 2012

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We're back with Kiplinger.com's sixth annual list of freebies -- 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 free investing and financial services to free technology and entertainment, there's something here for everyone.

Go ahead. Put away your wallet. We insist!

TECH FREEBIES

Free Wi-Fi
In an effort to lure you inside, more restaurants and retailers are offering free Wi-Fi, including Starbucks, McDonald's and Barnes & Noble. Some public libraries, campgrounds and hotels offer this freebie too. Go to WiFiFreeSpot.com to find places to surf when you're away from home. Or download the Free Wi-Fi Finder app at iTunes.

Free Computer Security
You don't have to pay $70 a year for security software. Avast Antivirus and Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows get good reviews from tech experts and offer basic defenses, including malware protection.

Free Digital Storage Space
With free online backup storage, you can share files and protect them from computer crashes, theft and natural disaster. Windows Live 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).

Free Unlimited Texting
Save money on your cell phone plan by using a free texting service such as textPlus . It assigns you a free phone number through which you can send and receive texts as much as you want on your Android devices, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. For more information, see Smart Ways to Save on Smart-Phone Plans .

Free Software
For many basic computing needs, you can get free software rather than shelling out for the Microsoft Office Home & Student suite ($120), Quicken Deluxe for budgeting ($59.99), Adobe Photoshop Elements for photo editing ($99.99) 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.

Free Tech Support
If you have a problem with your computer, head to TechGuy.org or 5starsupport.com for free help. You can search the forums for your machine's particular ailment or post a question to receive a timely response from the sites' squad of geek volunteers.

And if these sites can't help you, visit your device's manufacturer's own site for more free resources. Many post user manuals and FAQs to help you solve your dilemma.

Free Computer Classes
Brush up on your computer skills at your public library, which may offer a variety of free computer and technology classes . Some common courses include Internet and email basics, spreadsheet and word processing, digital photography and image editing, and family history research. For instance, New Yorkers looking for even more free tech guidance for their personal computers can attend the hands-on PC Maintenance workshop at The New York Public Library -- one of more than 25,000 free programs offered at the Library's branches across the city.

TRAVEL FREEBIES

Free Flight Perks
Domestic airlines are stingy with giveaways. But some airlines still offer a few freebies for fliers. One of our favorites: Southwest lets you check two bags for free -- which can save you up to $120 on a round-trip flight. JetBlue lets you check one bag free , plus gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks.

Free Flights
If you have to fly, you may as well earn extra credit for it. Sign up for the airline's frequent flier program to accumulate points toward free flights and other goodies. See the "Program Guide" at WebFlyer.com for the lowdown on each airline's rules.

Free Passport Photos
You'll pay about $15 at the post office to get your picture taken for your passport. Instead, take your photo with your own digital camera, then upload it to ePassportPhoto.com , which will help you size it properly before printing on your home printer. The best part: You can redo your picture as many times as you like. After all, who wants to get stuck with a bad photo for the next ten years?

Free Language Lessons
Prepare for your international getaway with the free foreign language lessons online at FSI-language-courses.org . Or go to Openculture.com= for a list of lessons around the Web that you can download to your MP3 player. Your public library may also offer courses or software to help you prepare for your travels.

Free Stuff on the Road
Traveling is expensive enough. Don't get nickel-and-dimed at every step of the way. Stay at hotels that offer free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, free fitness facilities, free parking, and other perks. Priceline.com maintains a searchable database of hotel freebies .

Traveling with kids? You deserve even more freebies. Children under age 2 can fly any airline or ride Amtrak free of charge when they sit on a paying adult's lap. Also, watch for kids-cruise-free and kids-ski-free promotions, and ask the cruise or resort in advance about free supervised kid programs so you can have some much-needed grown-up time.

Free Price Watcher
Don't you hate it when you pay for a flight, and then the price drops? Enlist the help of Yapta.com , which tracks your flight's price after you buy your ticket. If the fare drops, it will notify you and help you collect a refund or travel vouchers from the airline. (Note: Yapta only kicks in if the price drop exceeds the ticket-change fee you'd be obligated to pay.) Yapta does the same for hotels too. For rental cars, try AutoSlash.com .

Free Tour Guides
To get a real feel for a city when you're traveling, team up with a local. The Global Greeter Network organizes volunteers in several cities worldwide to show you around, give you the inside scoop and answer your questions. Tours can last a couple hours, and there's a strict no-tipping policy.

Prefer to explore at your own pace? Browse the free audio walking tours available for download at iTunes.com , Audisseyguides.com and iAudioguide.com . You can also search the Web for walking tours of your destination. In our simple search, we found free audio tour downloads from Boston and Chicago to Dublin and Jerusalem.

Free Credit-Card Perks
By simply carrying a credit card, you may be entitled to some cool travel freebies. For example, most credit cards come with free rental-car insurance , and some cards will cover the cost of your vacation if you have to cancel your trip . Call your card issuer to find out what perks you qualify for.

International travelers can get slammed with a 3% currency conversion fee every time they charge their credit cards, or withdraw money from an ATM overseas. Bypass the fee with a Capital One or Discover credit card. For more information, see 7 Little-Known Credit Card Perks .

HEALTH FREEBIES

Free Healthful Recipes
Not sure what's for dinner? The Web is your oyster. Allrecipes.com and Epicurious.com , which offer thousands of free recipes, are perennial cook favorites. Both sites have sections dedicated to healthy meals, or you can search by occasion, ingredients, ethnicity or user ratings. You can even watch cooking demonstrations and save your favorite meals in virtual recipe boxes. Why spend money on cookbooks?

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.

Free Diet and Fitness Help
Need help sticking to a diet and exercise plan? At Fatsecret.com , MyFitnessPal.com and SparkPeople.com , you can craft meal plans and count calories, put together a fitness plan and track your progress, and get support and advice from other users.

Some employers offer free diet and fitness help to their employees. These programs may include free gym access, weight-loss support groups and smoking cessation programs. Some will even pay you for your progress. Ask if your workplace has a wellness plan.

Free Health Care
Under the new health care law, many insurance plans now provide preventative-care screenings without charging deductibles or co-pays . This rule may apply to blood-pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests, mammograms and colonoscopies, flu shots, routine vaccines, well-baby and well-child visits and other services . Medicare also covers certain cancer screenings and preventative care tests. Get more info at Medicare.gov .

Free Rx Drugs
Bring in your prescription, and you can get free antibiotics at some pharmacies, including those at Giant Eagle, Meijer, Publix, Schnucks, ShopRite and Wegmans . You can also get free prenatal vitamins at Meijer and Schnucks. Publix, Price Chopper and ShopRite stores give out free diabetes medications and supplies.

Free Brain Games
Keep your mind active and healthy with free brain games here at Kiplinger.com . The New York Times and USA Today also offer an impressive array of free games, crossword and Sudoku puzzles on their Web sites.

INVESTING FREEBIES

Free Investing Apps
Stay up-to-date on the financial markets with free apps on your iPhone, Blackberry or Android. Some of our favorites: Bloomberg for up-to-the-minute stock quotes and breaking news, Morningstar for mutual fund research at your fingertips, and Yahoo Finance for the latest financial headlines, stock news and videos.For more information, see 7 Best Free Investing Apps .

Free Capital Gains
Who wouldn't love to let their investments grow 100% tax-free? Take a pass on paying capital-gains taxes by investing in a Roth IRA . Any money you put into your Roth grows tax-free, and you won't owe Uncle Sam a dime when you cash out in retirement. It's all yours. Learn more .

Free ETF Trades
Here's a great commission rate on exchange-traded funds: $0. Several big brokerages, including Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard have free commissions on ETFs, meaning you don't have to pay anything extra when you buy or sell. Learn more .

Free Savings Bonds
Before you make any purchase online, consider making BondRewards.com your starting line. You click on an affiliated e-tailer (there are hundreds) to do your shopping as usual, and a percentage of your purchase is given back to you in your BondRewards account. You then redeem your rewards for U.S. savings bonds or cash.

Free Portfolio Checkup
Are your investments as diversified as you think they are? You needn't pay a financial planner to evaluate your holdings. Simply use Morningstar.com's Instant X-Ray tool to check for balance among stock sectors, investment styles, geographic regions and more.

Then, check out Kiplinger's 25 favorite funds , our model portfolios or our Mutual Fund Finder to establish the mix of investments that's right for you.

Free Financial Guidance
Prosper from the actionable, straightforward guidance found across Kiplinger.com and our related social-media platforms. Learn how to cut your tax bill, maximize returns on your investments, save more for retirement, plug insurance leaks, get the best banking and credit deals, and so much more.

Get answers to your toughest personal-finance challenges in our free weekly live chats with financial planners and Kiplinger editors .

free email alerts Kiplinger columnists .

And follow Kiplinger on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook to keep up with us on social media.

SHOPPING FREEBIES

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 .

Free Car-Buying Help
Hate to haggle? Let someone else take the wheel. If you're already a member or customer of AAA, Costco, Consumer Reports or Geico Insurance , you may get auto-buying assistance for free. Simply tell them the make, model and extras you want, and they'll negotiate a price from local dealerships on your behalf. Some credit unions and alumni associations offer this freebie, too.

If you'll be handling the negotiations yourself, go to Truecar.com to see what others in your area are paying for the same car. Plus, the free site will show you the best local no-haggle price and info on dealer incentives and fees.

Free Kids Meals
Don't you hate buying a $12 entr�e for a picky 6-year-old? Visit KidsMealDeals.com to find restaurants where kids eat free. Better yet, call your local eateries or connect with them on Facebook to find out if they offer kids' deals. Some do but don't advertise them, so it's worth asking.

Free Sales Tax
Back to school season brings tax-free shopping days in several states . That means residents may be able to avoid paying sales tax on clothing, shoes and other school and office supplies.

Some states have tax-free shopping days at other times of the year. For example, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have sales tax holidays for energy-efficient appliances. Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia have tax-free days set aside for buying generators and other storm-preparedness supplies. And on the first weekend of September, Louisiana residents won't pay sales tax on firearms, ammunition and hunting supplies. Get more information .

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 Red Laser , which scans any barcode in the store and instantly compares prices for the same item online. For in-store coupons, try


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Insurance

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