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We all love free stuff -- here's how to get it

We all love free stuff, whether it’s cheese on a toothpick at the grocery store or a bag of makeup samples with a purchase. The Internet is bursting with giveaways and coupons that let you nab all kinds of cool things without spending a penny.

Insider tips

Part of the fun of freebies is getting to try out new products. Here’s how to find the greatest giveaways and avoid letdowns.

1. Act fast.

The best stuff runs out quickly. Several times we clicked through freebie offers excitedly and found that the supply had already been exhausted. (The goodies for pets went especially quickly.)

2. Remember: Some freebies aren’t really free.

But they could still be a good deal. Be sure to read any fine print in giveaway offers. For example, Vistaprint offers 250 free business cards, but you have to pay $7.09 for standard 14-day shipping.

3. Share deals — with others or with yourself.

Some freebie offers come with a friend component. But some offers even allow you to enter your own mailing address for the person receiving the gift, and you could score two samples for yourself.

4. Know when to quit.

Some giveaways just aren’t worth jumping through the hoops for; Lifescript promised freebies, but we gave up after filling out multiple pages of registration forms. And some sites will try to collect your info with no payoff. That happened when we attempted to order Life Choice energy bars via Walmart’s free sample page. We completed the entire form, then we were told that the offer wasn’t valid in our area. We could have saved ourselves the trouble by reading the comments on the referring site, at moneysavingmom.com, where others had complained about the problem.

5. Strategize for full-sized freebies.

They’re rare, but they do exist. In general, we saw manufacturers offering a set number of them at a specific time daily. If you really want something, check the product’s Facebook page or follow the product (or the manufacturer) on Twitter for giveaway announcements. Missed it? You’ll often get a coupon instead; when we were too late for the full-sized Nivea lotion, we got a $1 coupon.

6. Check women’s magazines’ Web sites.

 They often have monthly giveaways. For example, Allure gives away hundreds of full-sized beauty products and accessories each month, some to subscribers, some to anybody who asks.

Watch out for the gotchas

Let’s be real. Manufacturers and retailers aren’t giving their stuff away just to be nice. They want something in return — usually your contact info, which they’ll use to try to persuade you to buy from them in the future. So that’s the big trade-off. Here are some smart ways to minimize the aftershocks:

1. Create a new email address.

Use it specifically for freebies because all offers require one. When you request freebies via Facebook, you can enter an email address different from the one associated with your account. We received a few newsletters we didn’t sign up for but no hard-core spam.

2. Opt out of mailings.

Usually it’s presented as an option. Only two companies forced us to agree to mailings before we could order their freebies. (That’s you, Nine West and Beech-Nut!)

3. Read comments.

They’re on sites like Heyitsfree.net and Moneysavingmom.com and are the equivalent of user reviews. People are very vocal about how well (or not) the links, forms, and mailings worked. Scan them first!

4. Fudge your personal info.

Many offers requested names and birth dates. Make up something so that your identity remains private.

More from ShopSmart.com:

Five websites to score free stuff

Pick up the latest issue of ShopSmart magazine for more tips and tricks on finding freebies.

Coupon savings 

For more great deals, check out Hip2Save.com 

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