(RealSimple.com) -- Sometimes you get what you don't pay for. Here are nearly two dozen of the best freebies and -- most important -- how to score them.
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Get your geek on: MIT offers a far more comprehensive selection of free online courses than other universities -- nearly its entire undergraduate and graduate curriculum. Downloading materials takes minutes. A newsletter highlights new offerings, from Quantum Physics to American Women Authors.
What's the Catch? Users can't enroll, take classes on campus, or earn degrees.
Find Out More: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html
• BBC, FrenchPodClass. The BBC offers top-notch online and MP3 lessons in languages familiar and obscure, including French, German, Portuguese, Mandarin, Greek, and Urdu. FrenchPodClass has easy-to-use, enjoyable podcasts that allow you to learn French while you do errands or go for a run.
What's the Catch? Classes are one size fits all, which fast learners may find sluggish (and slow learners may find difficult).
Find Out More: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html, http://www.frenchpodclass.com/
• U.S. Small Business Administration. Learn how to write a business plan, register your company, and deal with the tax details of running a home business at your local Women's Business Center evening classes (men are welcome, too).
What's the Catch? Novices and more advanced learners share the same classroom.
Find Out More: http://www.sba.gov/localresources/index.html (click on "Local Resources" for a nearby center and for financial and marketing information).
• Apple Stores. Apple gives excellent classes on business and entertainment software, music programs, and computer basics, all remarkably free of sales pitches. There are also classes on how to use Apple hardware, like iPods. Most of the company's stores -- there are more than 170 -- offer several classes a day.
What's the Catch? All classes relate to (often pricey) Apple products.
Find Out More: http://www.apple.com/retail/ (click on "Visit an Apple store").
• Museum visits. While some museums don't charge an admission fee, others can cost $20 and up (more than a movie!). Take advantage of free days, half days, and nights that take place weekly or monthly at various institutions throughout the United States.
What's the Catch? The free-admission times tend to attract large crowds; expect long lines and less of an opportunity to get up close and personal with a CÚzanne.
Find Out More: Check out the Web sites of your local museums.
• Music Together, Music for Aardvarks, Gymboree. These three companies all offer a complimentary peek at exactly what baby music classes entail (hint: plenty of drumbeating, rattle shaking, and scarf throwing). It's a great way to introduce your little one to the experience before shelling out $135 to $255 for a full term (generally 10 to 12 weeks).
What's the Catch? Many parents have been taking classes together for a while, so they can be quite chummy. As an observer, you might feel left out and too shy to participate fully.
• Kids' Night on Broadway. Once a year (this year it was in late January), children ages 6 to 18 can experience the Great White Way for free with a full-paying adult. There are also Kids' Nights for nationally touring shows throughout the year.
What's the Catch? Tickets go very fast, especially for the most popular shows.
Find Out More: http://www.kidsnightonbroadway.com/kids.php.
Tip: To find out about free movies and concerts in your area, go to Yahoo or Google and type in the kind of entertainment, "free," and the name of your city.
• Health-club trials. LA Fitness, Bally Total Fitness, the Sports Club/LA, and Gold's Gym have a range of free-trial offers, from one day to two weeks, for prospective members, as do many other gyms throughout the country. Rules vary.
What's the Catch? You often have to tour the health club with a sales representative, which sometimes takes as long as an hour. Some gym companies may require you to prove nearby residence with a driver's license.
Find Out More: Go to the gyms for details.
• Adorama, Dotphoto, Kodak, Snapfish. In addition to photo sharing and online albums, these popular services provide 15 to 50 free prints when you sign up.
What's the Catch? You have to pay for shipping, which usually isn't more than a few dollars.
Find Out More: https://www.dotphoto.com/join.asp http://www.snapfish.com/registration
• Craigslist Community Pet Listings, Petfinder.com. Unlike shelters, most of which charge a small adoption fee, these sites feature numerous free-pet notices posted by owners, usually as a result of an impending move or an allergic family member.
What's the Catch? Not all the owners who post notices are as honest as you'd wish. Out-of-control animals can be listed as "friendly and calm."
Find Out More: www.craigslist.org (click on your city, then on "Pets"), www.craigslist.org (click on "Classified Ads").
Free phone services
• The Popularity Dialer. Want to flee that meeting? Get out of lunch after an hour? The Web-based Popularity Dialer can place one of five fake calls: the boss call, the cousin-in-need call, the male-friend call, the female-friend call, or the affirmation call (reminding you that you're wonderful). Each recording includes convenient pauses for your side of the conversation.
What's the Catch? You need to know beforehand that you'll want rescuing and you have to be willing to break social graces by taking a phone call in the middle of a meeting or lunch.
Find Out More: www.popularitydialer.com.
• 800-FREE-411. Instead of dialing 411 and being charged 50 cents to $1.50, call this service, from a cell or a landline, for free nationwide directory assistance.
What's the Catch? You have to listen to a 20- second ad before receiving your number.
Find Out More: 800-373-3411 (800-FREE-411).
• Skype. Download and install free Skype software and call other Skype users, computer to computer, at no charge, anywhere in the world. If you have a webcam, you can see whom you're chatting with, too.
What's the Catch? If you don't have DSL or a cable modem, it may be more cost-effective (money- and sanity-wise) to dial up the old-fashioned way.
Find Out More: www.skype.com.
Free e-mail reminders
• Memo to Me. Avoid visits to the "belated birthday" or "so sorry I missed our anniversary" section of your local card store. Memo to Me reminds you before the event. Just plug in your e-mail, choose a password, and program the events you need to be reminded of and when you need the reminders. Whether it's Grandma's 80th or your own anniversary, no one wants to be the one who forgets.
What's the Catch? There's some innocuous advertising on the Web site.
Find Out More: www.memotome.com.
Tip: E-cards have gotten less corny. You can find witty and well-designed cards at www.hipstercards.com, vintage ones at www.cardcow.com, and photographic ones at ecard.digiart.ee.
Free ice cream
• Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day. On one day every year (this year, April 17), all of the more than 600 Ben & Jerry's stores worldwide offer free cones, with no limit -- eat all the Cherry Garcia you'd like.
What's the Catch? There are often long lines, and popular flavors, like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, run out early.
Find Out More: www.benandjerrys.com for stores.
Free used books
• PaperBackSwap.com, TitleTrader. List the books that you'd like to get rid of, then wait for someone to request one, which can take as little as eight minutes. Mail your book to the person and you'll receive a credit to choose your own book. PaperBackSwap.com involves only paperbacks, which keeps shipping cheap, usually about $1.60 per book. TitleTrader also lists DVDs, CDs, and VHS cassettes and can rack up higher costs with heavy hardbacks, though shipping rarely tops $4 at the book rate.
What's the Catch? Popular fiction moves fast, while classic and esoteric titles may stay put for months.
Find Out More: www.paperbackswap.com, www.titletrader.com.
Free household items
• The Freecycle Network. This nonprofit community group with an environmental mission lets users "recycle" unwanted items by posting ads on local online bulletin boards. If you see a chair or a computer that you'd like, respond to the ad. The site is a great way to acquire a perfectly good coffeemaker or piano while doing your part to reduce waste.
What's the Catch? You're responsible for getting the stuff home.
Find Out More: www.freecycle.org to find a group.
Free (and worth it) samples
Many free-product programs come with hidden costs. The ones below are legit. Sign up for one and your in-box may be inundated, but there's also an outside chance you'll end up with a flat-screen TV.
• Start Sampling (www.startsampling.com) connects manufacturers with consumers who test products. Type in your demographic information and you'll see a screen listing your free-sample options -- everything from cleaning products to Harlequin romance novels to toiletries.
• Kiehl's (800-543-4572) hands out samples of every product it sells approximately 10 million giveaways a year. Request samples at a Kiehl's store (where the selection is usually larger) or a Kiehl's counter in a department store. Or call Kiehl's and tell the operator what you'd like to try and the company will send you up to three samples.
• Programs from American Consumer Opinion and E-Poll (www.acop.com, www.epoll.com) allow users to take product surveys to get cash ($4 to $25 per survey), samples (ranging from pizza sauce to even the rare flat-screen TV), or points (which can be redeemed for gift cards from retailers such as Amazon.com and Target).
• Oil of Olay's sample program (www.olay.com; click on "Samples & Offers") gives away small sizes of its newest products.
• Sephora stores (www.sephora.com for locations) offer generous samples from the more than 150 cosmetics lines they carry. Just ask and a salesperson will hand you a packaged sample or fill jars with requested products for free.
• Procter & Gamble's Home Made Simple and Tide e-newsletters (www.homemadesimple.com, www.tide.com) entitle you to discount coupons and new-product samples. E-mail to a friend
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