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13 Fabulous Freebies

Before reaching for your wallet, see what things you can get or do without spending a dime

8. For generations, many manufacturers have mailed consumers free samples of their products to attract new customers and build brand loyalty. Now, with the Internet, free samples are more abundant and easier to score than ever before. Some of the most popular websites to help consumers find free samples are freesamples.org, mrfreestuff.com, sweetfreestuff.com, startsampling.com and getitfree.us.

9. Most people know that America's national parks are among this country's crown jewels. But did you know that 265 of our 398 national parks never charge an entrance fee? And every year there are special "free entrance days" at the parks that normally charge. In 2013, those free days are Jan. 21, April 22-26, Aug. 25, Sept. 28 and Nov. 9-11.

10. So-called free stores and free markets are cropping up across the United States. The idea is to provide a gathering spot where people can drop off and "shop" for items that would otherwise likely be thrown away. The thing is, the "shopping" — and everything in the store/market — is free, sometimes including free repairs and other services provided by skilled volunteers. Check out an online directory of free markets and stores around the country.

11. You've heard the old saying, "Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes." Well, if you're a smart consumer, you can at least sometimes avoid sales tax by taking advantage of occasional "tax-free shopping days" offered in some states. The tax holidays are usually centered on back-to-school shopping periods and disaster preparedness or relief events, or to encourage people to buy specific items, such as Energy Star products. Find a list of participating states and the details of their tax-free shopping days online.

12. Beware of companies offering you a "free" copy of your credit report, only to hit you later with some hidden fee or processing charge. The fact is, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months if you request a copy. For instructions on how to order your truly free copies of your credit report from these three companies, check the website of the Federal Trade Commission.

13. Last but not least, subscribe to my new weekly Web show, The Cheap Life. Produced by AARP, The Cheap Life is a series of short (three to five minutes) weekly webisodes crammed full of money-saving tips, lots of laughs, and chances to win cash gift cards and other great cheapskate swag. It's free and easy to subscribe to (just click on the "Subscribe" icon on the Cheap Life Channel page on YouTube so you'll be eligible to win prizes and be notified as soon as a new episode is released.

Jeff Yeager is the author of four books including How to Retire the Cheapskate Way and The Cheapskate Next Door. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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