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 Some are strictly regional, though, and some contain information that's outdated or just plain wrong.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.

Grownup giveaways

They say that age 10 is the time to quit expecting everybody to make a big deal over your birthday. Admit it, though: You really do want somebody to notice. (What you don't want are those singing waiters.)

  • Bamboo tank top: The women's clothing site Spirit for Living offers a gift to account holders who have spent at least $30 per calendar year. In 2011 the freebie is the eco-friendly signature tank top.
  • Benihana: Sign up for "The Chef's Table" email list and get a $30 gift certificate during your birthday month. The offer is good for those 13 and up.
  • eBookFling e-book credits: This swapping service for Nook and Kindle e-books gives three free borrowing credits on your birthday (the books can also be read on computers or mobile devices if you download free apps). Sign up here.
  • Catalina Island trip: Geniesse and a dozen of his friends will get a free ride to Catalina Island, and you can, too, through April 2012. The return half of the round-trip ticket can be up to 30 days later. You must pre-register and follow the rules found here.
  • Cost Plus World Market: Members of the World Market Explorers program get a surprise birthday gift, among other perks; you will also get a 10% off coupon upon enrollment.
  • DSW Rewards:This program includes a "$5 off any purchase" certificate on your birthday. Note: You must shop at DSW either in-store or online within the year to receive the birthday certificate.
  • Free lingerie:Jada Michaels offers one free item plus a 40% discount during your birthday month; the site offers all sizes but focuses on plus-size lingerie. Send your full name, email address, month and year of birth, and favorite item from the site to mybirthday@jadamichaels.com.
  • Houlihan's Email Club: Free entrée; coupon expires two weeks after issue. You'll also get a free appetizer for enrolling. Online registration only.
  • Mike the Gardener Enterprises: Get two packages of vegetable seeds free on your birthday.
  • Moe's Southwest Grill: Free burrito on your birthday.
  • Qdoba Rewards: Free entree when you buy a second entree; arrives about one week before birthday and is good for two weeks after. Online registration only.
  • Schlotzsky's Bun & Fun E-club: Free small sandwich. (Not every restaurant participates; call to make sure yours does.) Online registration only.
  • Sephora's Beauty Insider: Get a "pretty surprise" on your special day. Creating an account with the store's Beauty Insider program automatically registers you.

For all ages

Free ice cream! But don't stop there.

  • AMC Theatres: Members of the AMC Community program get an email coupon for a free fountain drink, good for up to one month.
  • Baskin-Robbins: Free 2.5-ounce scoop; good for one week before and one week after birthday.
  • Cold Stone Creamery Birthday Club: A buy-one-get-one-free "Creations" confection for your birthday; you'll also get a BOGO when you join. Online registration only.
  • Dairy Queen Blizzard Fan Club: Join and you'll receive a buy-one-get-one-free coupon on your birthday; you'll also get a BOGO just for registering.
  • Famous Dave's P.I.G. Club: As an adult "Pretty Important Guest" you receive a buy-one-get-one-free entree (up to $15); upon registering, you'll get a free sandwich or burger.
  • Red Robin E-club: Free burger of your choice; some restaurants also include free small sundae. Good for one week before and one week after birthday.
  • Wingstop Email Club: Get a large order of fries when you join.

Tips from the pros

There's an art to grabbing gratis goodies. Keep these strategies in mind:

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  • Set up a dedicated email account for birthday swag. Even if a business promises not to sell your info to marketers, it will likely send regular messages about sales and promotions.
  • Sign up for multiple offers, then s-t-r-e-t-c-h that celebration by dining or going out for dessert out as many times as you can in your birthday month. It helps to have friends who don't mind being the buy-one half of the BOGO offers.
  • Call to make sure the local store accepts an offer (some franchisees opt out of national promotions).
  • Bring your ID and a printout of the offer, and tell the server ahead of time, not after the check has arrived.
  • When dining out, base your tip on what you would have paid, not what you actually paid.
  • Once your child ages out of the kiddie offers, sign him or her up for the appropriate grownup ones.
  • If it's a "no purchase required" offer, such as a free bath product, don't feel obligated to buy something. Just say "thank you" and go.

Have fun applying for these freebies. And here's one more idea: Tell your server that you tip directly in proportion to how many birthday songs you don't hear.

Donna Freedman is a freelance writer in Seattle. You can find more of her writing on MSN Money's Frugal Cool blog and at Surviving and Thriving (motto: "Life is short. But it's also wide.").