Explainer: The free lunch lives! Our guide to fab freebies
In some instances you'll have to show your ID to prove that it's your birthday. In other instances you'll have to share some personal information to get the freebies mentioned here. Think hard about how much information you want to give away to companies over the Internet, and keep these tips in mind:
--Don't share your phone number;
--Create a separate, free e-mail account to share with companies so you don't get overwhelmed with spam at your primary personal account;
--Never share your credit-card number, Social Security number or other highly sensitive information with a business to score anything free. If a company is asking for that kind of information from you, it's probably a scam!
Without further ado, here are some places across the United States where you really can enjoy a free lunch. Just click on the "next" button at left, or click on "Show more items" and keep scrolling.
So many places — from public libraries to coffee houses to airports — offer free high-speed wireless Internet access these days that you shouldn't have to pay for it. If you'll be visiting an unfamiliar area and you want to do a little bit of planning ahead about where to stay connected free of charge, visit this Wi-Fi-FreeSpot Directory website. Here you can find regularly updated lists of free wi-fi spots all over North America and around the world.
To meet customer demand, more and more big-name businesses are jumping on the free wi-fi bandwagon. McDonald's recently announced that it would offer free wi-fi at more than 11,500 restaurants. Not to be outdone, Starbucks just began offering goodies above and beyond free wi-fi. While sipping coffee and kicking back at a Starbucks, customers will be given free access to movies, e-books, music and websites such as The Wall Street Journal that normally cost money. Slllluuuuurrrrpppp! Free tastes good.
Free college education
OK, to be clear, you won't get college credit for this, but learning for learning's sake can be pretty darn fun — especially when it's completely gratis. More and more universities — from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Tufts University to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health — are making lectures and course materials available free of charge online. The offerings are rather staggering — and they're all free!
Another fun place to check out is Apple's iTunes U. Here you'll find more than 350,000 free lectures, videos and other resources from more than 600 participating universities all over the world. Again, brace yourself for impressive offerings: Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Oxford are among the universities involved.
Free credit report and credit score
It's important to know what's happening with your credit report and your credit score because they have such an impact on the interest rates you get whenever you borrow money. They also can affect your life — positively or negatively — when you attempt to qualify for credit, insurance, employment or rental housing.
Plenty of businesses advertise — loudly — on television with offers of allegedly "free" credit reports. Most of them aren't free at all, however! The best place for consumers to go for truly free credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com. Through this one site, you can order free reports from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once a year without any strings attached.
Free tax filing and tax-prep software
Depending on your income, you may be eligible for the Internal Revenue Service's Free File program, which makes it possible for you to file your tax return online completely free of charge with the help of free tax-preparation software. The limit for 2009 returns was an adjusted gross income of $57,000. Considering that the median household income in the United States was $49,777 in 2009, that means most families don't need to be forking over precious dollars to tax preparers and software companies when tax time rolls around. To learn more about the IRS Free File program, click here.
Free kids' meals, year-round
If you play your cards right, you could eat out almost every day of the week and not spend a dime on your kids' food.
To name just a few examples: Kids can eat free at many Denny's restaurants on Tuesday and Saturday nights and at many Perkins and IHOP restaurants on multiple nights of the week. (Just call your local restaurant ahead of time to learn what's available and when.)
Local family restaurants in your area also may offer similar deals, so be sure to ask.
To peruse an eye-popping list of restaurants around the country where children eat free, check out CouponDivas.com. (Click on "hide sidebar" to see all the information on the page clearly. The list truly is impressive. Just be sure to double-check with those restaurants in your area before you go to make sure the specials will be offered on those days where you live.)
Free grub on your birthday
Free birthday burgers at Red Robin for Red Robin eClub members.
Free birthday spaghetti entrees and desserts at Spaghetti Warehouse for Spaghetti Warehouse club members. Click here
Free birthday desserts at Applebee's and Romano's Macaroni Grill.
To see a list of birthday freebies that will blow your mind, check out this 'Be Centsible And Save' blog post. Again, be sure to call these businesses in your area to make sure the birthday deals are available where you live.
Free ice cream
Friendly’s Free Ice Cream Day usually happens each year on a sunny day in June, and on that day you can enjoy a free single-scoop cone or dish of ice cream. (The last Friendly's Free Ice Cream day was June 5, 2010. Check this link closer to June 2011 for the next one.)
Ben & Jerry's offers Free Cone Day each spring. The last Free Cone Day happened on March 23, 2010; to keep tabs on the next one, check this link as spring 2011 approaches.
Carvel offers free ice-cream treats twice a year in the April/May time frame and again in September. Check the company's website closer to those months to find out the exact dates for the promotions. Also, you can buy one sundae and get one sundae free every Wednesday at Carvel.
Get a free ice-cream creation on your birthday at Cold Stone Creamery if you're a birthday club member.
Enjoy a free 2.5-ounce scoop of ice cream on your birthday at Baskin-Robbins if you're a birthday club member.
Free pancakes on Fat Tuesday
The deal has no strings attached, but the restaurant will invite you to make a donation to the Children's Miracle Network or to another local charity. If you've got a hankering to mark your calendar, the next Fat Tuesday will fall on March 8, 2011.
For more information about this promotion, click here.
Free Italian ice in spring
The last free-Italian-ice fest happened on March 20, 2010. For details about the next one, click here as spring 2011 approaches.
Sugar rush! National Doughnut Day typically arrives in June. (The last one happened on June 4, 2010.)
It's a happy day because you can usually score a free doughnut (no purchase necessary) at your nearest Krispy Kreme store, or a free doughnut with any beverage purchase at Dunkin' Donuts.
Free Slurpee on July 11
For planning purposes, your Slurpee will be 7.11 ounces in size.
Free goodies for travelers
You can score oodles of free samples and fun stuff at visitors' centers, including snacks, toothpaste, shampoo and other gems.
You also can nab all sorts of great coupons and buy-one-get-one-free deals.
Also, don't forget the power of the Internet. A quick online search for the name of your city along with the words "free activities" or "free kids' activities" can do wonders.
Some Web sites are dedicated to highlighting free or dirt-cheap activities for parents in certain cities; Red Tricycle, for instance, provides lists of such options in the Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego areas.
Free car washes
Jax Kar Washesin Michigan offer free car washes on customers' birthdays, as long as they show their IDs to an attendant.
Local car washes in your area may offer similar deals, so be sure to ask. Rub-a-dub-dub!
Free toys, clothes, furniture
When using such resources, though, always have an eye toward giving, not just receiving. For your first posting, consider offering to give something away rather than announcing what you want. It's the polite thing to do!
Trader Joe's and other specialty grocery stores also offer exceptionally yummy free samples. Eat up!
Free bath and beauty samples
In many cases you may have to sacrifice some of your personal information online to get the samples, but if you don't mind doing that, you can have all sorts of free stuff show up at your home.
Here are sites where the getting's good:
Also remember that you're likely to be given a stash of free samples to try at home if you get a free makeover at a department store. Even if you don't get a makeover, you can often reap big rewards by politely asking for free product samples at department stores, cosmetology schools, beauty-supply stores and even drug stores. And you don't have to give away any of your personal information to do this!
Free prescription drugs
—Ask your doctor for help. Many people never ask their doctors about how they could save on medicines. Your doctor may have plenty of ideas — and he or she also may have access to free samples.
—Ask your pharmacist for help. A frank discussion with your local pharmacist also could work wonders for you. Inquire about free samples or less expensive alternatives that will be effective for your situation.
—Investigate helpful programs. To determine your eligibility for reduced-cost or cost-free drug programs, visit the website of Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
Another site that can point you to drug manufacturers’ assistance programs is NeedyMeds.org. Pfizer also offers assistance programs for people who need help paying for prescription drugs. For details, click here.
Free books, movies, music, Internet
If you haven't been to the library in a while, just go. You'll get hooked!
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Al Roker, who joined the national broadcast in 1996, is celebrating the big 6-0 and hes sharing six lessons he learned along the way.
video Some famous faces send along happy birthday messages for TODAY’s Al Roker. “You make 60 look hot,” said Heidi Klum.
For the last year, Al has been begging the vice president to join TODAY’s Take and it finally happened! That was just one of the many surprises for Roker on his big day.
- Peter Kramer / NBC