Free at last, free at last. Thanks to the Internet, more and more stuff is free at last.
See also: Re-purpose to save money.
Nothing excites my Inner Miser more than the thought of getting something for free. More than once, I've nearly crashed the car when I've seen something along the road with a homemade "FREE!" sign next to it. It doesn't matter what it is, I automatically hit the brakes.
I've scored some terrific free stuff over the years, but my bragging rights pale in comparison to those of my friend and fellow cheapskate Kate Easlick of Benzonia, Mich. In the rolling countryside, Easlick lives in a delightful little home she has proudly decorated with an array of furniture and other housewares that she's nabbed for free (or pennies on the dollar) from friends, neighbors and Internet sites such as Freecycle and Craigslist.
But it's Easlick's house — not her furniture — that has my Inner Miser more than a little green with cheapskate envy. You see, when she was looking to build a house on the lot she owned, she posted an ad in the local newspaper asking if anyone had a house they planned to demolish. Her proposal: Give me your house — for free — and I'll move it to my lot. Sure enough, clever Kate now lives in a small but very comfortable house she got for absolutely free, having paid about only $6,000 for the cost of moving it a couple of miles to her piece of property.
OK, so maybe everybody can't score a free house, but the Internet has opened up a whole new world when it comes to free stuff. Here are some of my favorite sites:
Free Money: The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) is a nonprofit organization with a website (Unclaimed.org) that can help you find money that might be due you or your family members from sources like forgotten bank accounts, inheritances, utility-bill refunds, security deposits and so on. NAUPA says that about one out of every eight Americans is entitled to unclaimed assets (I was one of them!), with claims averaging about $1,000. Searching for and recovering funds through NAUPA is free; beware of any companies that try to charge you money to do the same thing. Also, check out TreasuryHunt.gov to search for unclaimed savings bonds.
Birthday Freebies: Birthdays sting a little less when you discover all of the freebies you're entitled to on your special day. From free meals and free ice cream to free gifts and entertainment — check out this list and you'll wish you had more than one birthday in a year.
Free Software: Many websites, including Tucows.com and Download.com, offer free software downloads. For example, OpenOffice.org provides a free alternative to expensive Microsoft Office software. Does Bill Gates know about this?
Free Audio Books: Download free audio books on the nonprofit website LibriVox.org. These are recordings of books that are found in the public domain (i.e., no longer covered by copyright) and they're read by volunteers, but the quality is generally quite good.
Free Kiddie Meals: MyKidsEatFree.com includes a nationwide directory of thousands of restaurants where kids can eat for free when accompanied by an adult. It's a great way to treat the grandchildren to a nice meal out.
Free Samples: The Internet is of course loaded with sites offering free product samples and other free stuff, but beware of rip-offs and cons. Some of my personal favorites for free samples are: TheFreeSite.com, StartSampling.com, Freechannel.net, Freenology.com and Volition.com.
Free Foreign Languages: "Habla cheapskate?" Learn a wide range of foreign languages with the help of the free online audio and visual teaching tools provided by the BBC.
Free Lodging for Travelers: And last but not least, CouchSurfing.org is a nonprofit network of more than a half-million people around the world who will let you sleep on their couch (or, often, in a spare bedroom) while you're traveling. Couch Surfing may not suit everyone's travel tastes, but I've used the Couch Surfing network extensively in my travels — as do more and more 50+ folks like me. I've found it to be a great way to meet local people and see the world on a shoestring budget. Check out its website and you might just get hooked like I did.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.