Ouch! That’s the pinch of the tightening economy that all of us, even zillionaires, are feeling. It seems like we’re spending more to get less, and that good deals have gone the way of the fully clothed celebrity — vanished into thin air. It’s tricky to find a decently priced cup of coffee, let alone anything for free that you actually want.
We became afraid of the word “free” over years of its being misappropriated: “free” vacations, only after you suffer through a two-hour sales pitch. “Free” makeup, as long as you spend $85 on other items first. A “free” trial of a gym, product, Web site or magazine is never, ever without a pushy follow-up to make you pay up.
Well, never question your mother’s advice: There probably never will be such a thing as a free lunch. But there are a surprising number of useful, fun and enriching products and services, available to anyone, with price tags of zero dollars and zero cents. You heard me right: for free. What a worthwhile distraction from, and even antidote to, our current economic troubles. You just have to know where to look. And what you’re looking for.
Here are some creative ways we’ve discovered to get something for nothing.
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A place to stay that’s bigger and better than a hotel room
You want to go to Seattle, but getting there is all you can afford. You have a perfectly lovely house in Tucson, and you might never have realized that someone, somewhere, wants to go to Tucson. See where this is going? Register for free for a house- or apartment-swapping Web site like Only In America (http://www.exchangehomesoia.com/), where you post your place and browse everyone else’s. When you see somewhere you’d like to visit, you arrange a trade with the owner, without any cash changing hands.
Samples of newly developed products of all sorts
Some smart and rather kind folks have built an entire site (http://www.thefreesite.com/Free_Samples/) where they aggregate free-sample-offers from across the Internet. While some of the links are to be avoided, as the sites they send you to ask you to participate in other offers before they’ll send the samples, there are a lot of legitimate, no-strings-attached offers direct from manufacturers, free of any shipping or handling charges, for such items as coffee, diapers, lotions and potions. We suggest creating an e-mail address separate from your primary or work address, just for use on sites like this, in case the manufacturers send you marketing e-mails.
Another man’s garbage is your treasure
The old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder gets new life via a grassroots, online community called The FreeCycle Network (http://www.freecycle.org/). The network exists to make people’s unwanted items, like furniture, musical instruments, really anything, available free of charge to other people. They want to keep perfectly good stuff out of landfills and get it into the hands of people who will make good use of it. There are groups across the country that post items they want you to take, and all items posted must be entirely, honestly free. From the main site you find your local group, and register to receive their updates. You also post your own castoffs, of course. After all, what goes around comes around.
Books of every description
If you feel guilty sending a great book to that shelf where it will never again be touched, you are not alone. Book-swapping sites like BookMooch (http://www.bookmooch.com/) connect readers around the world. You list titles you’re willing to share, and scan the site for books you’re dying to read. You can get into deep discussions, like in a virtual book club, or just mooch books. The giver pays to send the book.
Salvation from the blue screen of death
For the less tech-savvy among us, it might come as a shock that people are willing to give sound technical support and advice out of the goodness of their hearts. I know, I was amazed to discover Protonic (http://help.protonic.com/?page=frontpage), an online community where civilians (us) ask technical questions, and the community answers. You can register for free, ask questions, and scan the archive of already-answered queries.
Spend nothing to help the less fortunate (and learn while you’re at it)
A sad fact is that when we’re slashing our spending, we often forget those even worse off than we are. Now you don’t have to choose between paying your rent and lending a hand. And, odd as it may sound, you’ll get smarter as you give. FreeRice (http://www.freerice.com/index.php) houses a challenging vocabulary quiz that anyone can play for free. As you succeed in defining words, you’re asked tougher questions. For every word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice to the U.N.’s World Food Programme. Now that’s free love.
More fun and fabulous shopping tips can be found at DailyCandy.com.
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