SMART BUYING


Fabulous Freebies 2010

It’s been said that the best things in life are free. And we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’re back with our fourth annual list of our favorite freebies.

We looked for primo goods and services -- no useless junk allowed. And, boy, we found them, from financial tools to entertainment to cold, hard cash.

We’ve laid out our list in text format below for easy printing and e-mailing. Or, you can view it in our SLIDE SHOW. And be sure to tell us about your favorite freebies in the reader-comment box below.


1. FREE CAR-REPAIR HELP
It won't fix your car free (darn), but RepairPal.com will help you find out whether your mechanic is quoting a fair price.

Enter your car's make, model and year, plus your zip code. Then choose among dozens of fixes to get a price range for the job at dealerships and independent shops in your area.

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2. FREE TECH SUPPORT
If you're a member of Sam's Club or Costco, you can get free tech support -- even if you didn't buy the device at their store.

Or, for PC problems, anyone can head to TechGuy.org or 5starsupport.com for free help. You can search the forums for your computer's particular ailment or post a question to receive a timely response from the sites' groups of geek volunteers. And don't forget to try the manufacturer's Web site. Many post user manuals and FAQs to help you solve your dilemma.


3. FREE TREATS
Your favorite snack shop or fast-food restaurant may have an annual freebie day. Mark your calendar for free IHOP pancakes in February; free Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Rita's Italian ice, and a Starbucks pastry in March; free Pretzel Time pretzels and a Cinnabon treat in April; free Haagen Daas ice cream in May; a free Krispy Kreme doughnut, Sonic root-beer float and TCBY frozen yogurt in June; and a free Chick-Fil-A meal in July -- to name a few.

You can also sign up to score free food on your birthday from Famous Dave’s BBQ, Cold Stone Creamery, Denny’s and other eateries. Search the Web for "birthday freebies," or call your local restaurants to ask whether they offer such a deal.


4. FREE FINANCIAL APPS
There's a slew of free apps for your mobile phone that can simplify your financial tasks.

Among our favorites are apps from Mint.com to track your spending and investments, Allpoint and Moneypass to find surcharge-free ATMs nearby, Yowza for coupons on the go and CheckPlease Lite to easily calculate a tip or divide a restaurant check.


5. FREE BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES AND MORE
You'll find the mother lode of freebies at your public library. All the books, magazines, audio books, video games and CDs you can carry won't cost a cent. Many libraries also have free Wi-Fi, DVDs and e-books. You may be able to go online to place your order for materials and a librarian will have them waiting for you when you arrive.

And that's not all. Your library may host free book clubs, lectures, film screenings, children's story times, craft activities and other community events.


6. FREE DIAMOND-RING INSPECTION
One loose prong can weaken the setting on your diamond ring, risking the loss of your sparkler -- and thousands of dollars with it. Most jewelers will inspect your ring free of charge, especially if you purchased your jewelry from their shop. Many will even throw in a free cleaning.

It's a good idea to take advantage of this freebie at least once a year.


7. FREE COMPUTER PROTECTION
Is your computer vulnerable? You can download malware-protection services available free online.

We recommend PC Magazine's Editor's Choice: Panda Cloud Antivirus. Or try Microsoft's Security Essentials, which PCWorld.com says renders subscription antivirus services unnecessary.


8. FREE WORKOUTS
Forget the costly gym membership. It doesn't cost a penny to put on a pair of sneakers and go for a walk or jog in your neighborhood. Or check out a workout DVD from your local library.

You may also find free instructional workouts in your area. For instance, Lululemon Athletica stores offer free yoga classes weekly. We also searched the Web and found free tai chi sessions from a variety of organizations in several cities, including San Francisco, Omaha and New York.


9. FREE PORTFOLIO CHECKUP
Is your portfolio as diversified as you think it is? 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 our 25 favorite funds, our 22 model portfolios or our Mutual Fund Finder to establish the mix of investments that's right for you.


10. FREE RX DRUGS
Bring in your prescription, and you can get free antibiotics at some pharmacies, including those at Giant, Meijer, Publix, Stop & Shop and Wegmans. You can also get free prenatal vitamins at Meijer and Schnucks.


11. FREE REWARDS
You've got to buy gas and groceries anyway, so why not charge them on your rewards credit card to get free money, airline miles or more? (See our picks for the best rewards cards.)

And if you have to make a purchase online, start at BondRewards.com to earn another cool freebie: You click on an affiliated online retailer (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.


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