Image: Birthday © Simon Jarratt, Corbis

Matthew Geniesse is the king of birthday freebies. Last year the Southern California resident redeemed about $300 worth of goods and services on his natal day including golf, bowling, ice cream, lip gloss (he gave it to his girlfriend), tanning, a car wash, Guitar Hero play, chili, a movie, appetizers and desserts.

Oh, and free drinks. Lots of free drinks. (He was with friends, so he didn't have to drive.)

"A day without paying one dollar," says Geniesse, 35. "I just didn't want (it) to end."

How can you get some of that? Sign up.

Locally and nationally, birthday freebies are there for the taking. Hamburgers, pizza, burritos, deli sandwiches, lingerie, e-book credits, garden seeds for your urban homestead -- these and other gifts are handed out by national chains through birthday club programs designed to reward loyal customers.

Not a customer? Not a problem! The word "free" will get you in there at least once, companies figure. Maybe even more than once: When I signed up at Qdoba Mexican Grill, they e-mailed me a coupon for a free order of chips and salsa.

Image: Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

Give your name, get some goodies

Do a search for "birthday freebies," and you'll get plenty of hits. Some are strictly regional, though, and some contain information that's outdated or just plain wrong.

Case in point: Please stop asking for a free AutoZone oil change on your birthday. That company doesn't do oil changes. But somehow the rumor got started online and it refuses to die.

That's why I personally verified all the offers in this article. Since I couldn't list every freebie out there, I chose a handful of well-known companies with giveaways that don't require a huge purchase on your part. Free dessert at a steakhouse -- well, that's nice, but if I can afford a steakhouse, I'm not sweating bullets over the cost of a brownie with ice cream.

But for some folks, a free hamburger meal at Burger King followed by a free Baskin-Robbins cone could be the only celebration their kids get.

Not that freebies are limited to children. "People who come to our site typically are looking for something for themselves," says Jeff Spry, founder of the BirthdayFreebies.com site. And a blogger named Heather, who runs Freebies4Mom, says that many giveaways are "really about spoiling yourself."

"For people who don't have any money, or who have no room in their budget for these things, it's such a gift," says Heather, whose site has a birthday freebies section.

"You do pay for freebies with your time. But with (most) you sign up once, and . . . you will get something over multiple years."

Here's how to get gratis goodies for you and yours:

Kid stuff

Sign up your children as soon as they're born in order to get maximum use of giveaways. You're likely to find these on your own by visiting fast-food and family-friendly restaurants, children's museums, theme parks and kids' specialty stores. Look on parenting blogs as well.

  • Burger King Club BK: Free hamburger meal for ages 13 and under. Online registration only; parent must set up account.
  • California Pizza Kitchen CPKids Birthday Club: Free child's meal for ages 10 and under, can be used any time during the birthday month. Online registration only; parent must set up account.
  • Denny's Birthday Club: Free kid's entree and sundae for ages 10 and under, on the actual birthday only. Sign up in your local restaurant.
  • Best Friends of Friendly's: Upon signing up you'll get a coupon for a three-scoop sundae with purchase of adult entrée. Kids 12 and under will get a free meal with the purchase of an adult meal. Register online.
  • Toys R Us Geoffrey's Birthday Club: Kids get a Toys R Us gift card and a birthday card until they turn 10; a child can visit a store to collect a crown, balloon and loudspeaker birthday wishes. A child can also opt to get a birthday phone call from store mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe. Register online.