When you need to be careful with your money, taking advantage of what's available for free is key.
February 16, 2023 – By Erica Sandberg
Whether cash is tight or not, it always makes sense to avoid overpaying for the things you want or need. When you do need to be careful with your money, however, taking advantage of what’s available for free is important. Free things can expand or refine your budget and help you get the most out of life.
Reducing expenses this way can also help alleviate common financial stress brought on by higher prices. According to KeyBank’s 2023 Financial Mobility Survey, 55% of U.S. consumers faced financial challenges over the last year, and most said their biggest worry is sticking to a budget in the midst of rising inflation.
Here are nine free things you can get online or in person:
1. Credit Card Benefits
Most credit cards come with plenty of free perks, so log in to your account and review your list of benefits. Odds are there are at least a few that will replace the things you normally pay for.
For example, you can save yourself the checked bag fee (often up to $40 per piece) if your travel card includes it for free. Your card may also provide you with annual passes to expensive airport lounges, so check and see if you’ve earned them yet.
Buying travel insurance may be a waste if your account includes it. If it does, you may be covered in case of delayed, lost or damaged luggage; trip delays and cancellations; and medical treatment, all without without having to pay for a separate policy.
Other cards come with valuable extras, such as Bank of America’s Museums on Us program, which grants credit and debit card holders free general admission at participating museums on the first full weekend of the month.
2. Programs at Your Public Library
You can borrow books at the public library instead of buying them, which can save you money on its own, but you may be surprised to learn what else is available.
Most libraries offer an array of freebies, such as passes to local attractions, family events, classes, lectures and summer and after-school programs for the kids. Ask the librarian or visit your branch’s website.
“Your library is a haven of free entertainment,” Andrea Woroch, writer, speaker, media consultant and money saving expert from Bakersfield, California, says.
“You can access media right from home through your mobile device or computer, as many libraries give members the ability to rent video content and e-books through their digital platforms – all for free. Essentially, this means you could cancel your various streaming services and save big on entertainment by using your library,” Woroch says.
3. Money-Management Apps
To help you better manage your money, financial technology can come to your rescue. The majority of budgeting applications are free (or have a free version) for users, and they’re aimed at helping you keep track of your expenses and increase your net worth.
“Apps like Mint can help you get your finances in order, set a budget that helps you reach your various financial goals like saving for a big purchase or paying down debt. After linking all your financial accounts in one place, the app suggests a budget based on spending categories it pulls up and financial goals you input,” Woroch says.
Many of these apps will send alerts when you’re about to meet your budget cap for each spending category, a prompt that can help you avoid wasteful spending.
4. Travel Advisor
You can make all of your travel arrangements on your own, but why not save yourself a major headache? Contact a travel advisor who will do it all for you – for free.
Many are paid by commission when they do the booking for you but some do charge fees, so ask upfront. If you have an AAA membership, its travel agents are included in the price, so considering taking advantage of that next time you want to book a trip.
To ensure you’re working with a professional, ask the person if they’re a member of the American Society of Travel Agents and certified by The Travel Institute.
The advisor you work with can help you figure out where you want to go based on your style and budget, as well as book a rental car, flight, accommodations and tours.
If you get into trouble while you’re on the trip, the advisor can even step in and assist from afar.
Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group, host agency for more than 5,000 travel advisors, says travel advisors also have access to special promotions and discounts – and some will even help make your trip special with upgrades to a premium flight cabin or a welcome basket in your hotel room.
5. Hotel Concierge
After arriving at your hotel or resort, scout out the concierge desk. The people who work there can be particularly helpful when you’re new to the area and don’t want to overspend on tourist traps.
Concierges can give you shopping advice, local travel guidance and maps. They can also arrange for taxis and other types of transportation, and make reservations at restaurants, shows, tours and attractions. Some will even go the extra mile and create a custom itinerary tailored for your budget.
Be aware that while concierges don’t charge hotel guests fees for their services, they gladly accept gratuities for any help they give beyond answering basic questions.
6. Small Business Advice
When you want to launch your own business and are looking for support, you don’t need to spend a dime to get the best advice from people who have years of experience.
SCORE is a nonprofit organization and resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration – and it provides its services for free to any U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
After enrolling in the program, you’re partnered with a SCORE mentor in the industry you’re interested in. That person will provide you with individualized support, guidance, best practices consulting and education regarding the small business world.
7. Fitness Training
Joining a gym is great, but you may need some additional assistance to achieve your goals.
According to Lessons.com, the national average for a 60-minute session with a personal trainer is from $40 to $70.
But before you purchase sessions, find out if you’re entitled to free personal training with the club you’re joining, Trae Bodge, journalist and shopping expert in Montclair, New Jersey, says. If you don’t remember it being included in the contract, head to the front desk and find out if it’s complimentary for members.
“No matter how experienced you are, this is always something to take advantage of,” Bodge says. “The trainer will know the gym inside and out and will hopefully teach you something new based on your fitness needs.”
“The number of sessions you can get for free varies by health club but if you get only one, ask the trainer to design a routine that you can follow on your own,” she says.
8. Budget and Debt Counseling
If you wind up in financial trouble, don’t despair. You can get free access to a credit counselor who’s ready to help.
“Credit counseling may involve analysis of a consumer’s financial situation, evaluation of debt reduction strategies for paying off or managing debt and education about money management,” Madison Block, product marketing manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling Inc., says.
“This service is free, offered by nonprofit credit counseling agencies,” she says.
You meet with a trained professional who will review your entire financial picture – without judgment. You’ll receive advice on budgeting and planning and get resources specific to your situation.
To ensure you connect with an agency that doesn’t charge for this service, visit The United States Department of Justice website for a list of approved credit counseling agencies.
9. Tax Preparation Assistance
To make it easier to prepare and file tax returns, the IRS has two programs available to qualified individuals: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly. Both are free to use and are operated by people trained and certified by the IRS.
The general eligibility requirement for VITA includes an income of no more than $60,000. You may also qualify if you have a disability or English-language limitations. TCE is for people who are 60 and older and is particularly good for senior citizens who have questions about pensions and retirement plans.
To locate a nearby VITA or TCE site use the IRS’s VITA locator tool or call 800-906-9887.
The Bottom Line on Freebies
Getting something for nothing is a gratifying feeling. And when you get what you need without having to draw from your checking account or charge the expense to your credit card, it can help you spend less and save more – all while enjoying the things you want and need.