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7 Things You Can Get for Free and Save Money

The economy has shown signs of recovery recently, and the unemployment rate has started to taper off - but, honestly, statistics don't much matter if you're still struggling with your personal finances. Throughout this rough patch you've probably managed to uncover some decent consumer discounts to take advantage of, but even better than discounts is finding ways to get your products and services for free. Yes, it turns out there is such thing as a free lunch - you just have to know where to find it. Here are seven things you can get without spending a dime.
1. Household Energy Audits
Do heating or cooling bills get you down? Dial up your energy provider. Many of them offer free in-home audit programs where a rep inspects your residence inside and out and provides you with a complete list of ways you can save. Many of these improvements require little upfront expense - upgrading weather-stripping, caulking, and light bulbs are all cheap - and you can reduce your home energy bills significantly as a result.
2. Batteries
If you're a parent, you know that children's toys require a whole lot of batteries, and those don't come cheap. Sign up for the rewards program at your preferred office supply retailer, and several times per year you can be notified when batteries are available for free. Simply pay the full purchase price up front (you're usually limited to two packs of either AA or AAA batteries), and the next quarter you receive that amount back, less sales tax, in the form of a rewards certificate. The program also features general office supplies, as well.
3. Your Personal Credit Report
It's a good idea to review your personal credit report several times per year for errors, but you should never pay for it. Go to the website AnnualCreditReport and you can get one free copy per year from each of the three main reporting agencies - Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Watch out for imitation sites though, there are plenty of pretenders out there.
4. Computer Software
Companies like Avast and AVG offer solid antivirus software free of charge. Concerned it's not safe enough? I've used both in the past, I'm on the Internet a lot, and I've never had a problem. Just be sure to choose the free version - these websites do have paid offerings, but they're generally not necessary.
5. Cleaning Supplies
Instead of restocking your cabinet every few months with household cleaners for your toilet, glassware, wood floors, and so on, start making them from home with products you already have. This may not be 100% free, but it can save you a bundle. Plenty of recipes are available on the Internet (generally containing white vinegar, baking soda, and other household staples) that result in effective cleaning products for pennies on the dollar.
6. Large Furniture and Appliances
Need a new couch? How about a fridge? Instead of shelling out cash for your new appliances, check the "free" tab on Craigslist or join the website Freecycle. You can find just about anything under the sun, and as long as you're able to drive to pick it up you can get it without spending a dime.
7. Food on Your Birthday
Check the websites of your preferred restaurants and look for any that offer a birthday club. Sign up and receive coupons via email which you can use in either the month or week of your birthday. Often these are good for free sandwiches, desserts, and more. A few restaurants with birthday clubs are Subway, Benihana, and Captain D's.
To take this strategy to the next level, start a journal, noting every time you get something for free, and how much money you saved. Each time your total reaches $100, make a deposit or payment to whatever area of your finances needs the most help. Tackle credit card debt first, then look to your emergency fund balance or your kids' college savings program. Getting stuff for free is great, but using that extra money to its best benefit is even better.
What products or services do you know of that you can get for free?

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