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If it's free, it's for me: Gratis goodies online

Freebies abound if you have time and know where to look.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 1:24AM

Something for nothing? Sign me up!


Sign up a whole bunch of us, apparently. Readers of the Smart Spending message board recently revealed the best ways to troll the Internet for freebies. Seems their mailboxes spill like busted piñatas with toys, gift cards, sample toiletries, OTC meds, T-shirts, magazines – and even cold, hard cash.

And then there are those freebie endorphins.


"I just like the idea of getting stuff for free," said Karen, a Pacific Northwest reader, who got "a nice Adidas tote bag" from My Coke Rewards. 


Trash picking for fun and profit
Apparently rewards pile up faster if you don’t mind filching other people’s discards. Karen gets most of her bottle caps (worth three points apiece) from sodas that her co-workers drink. "Marlboro Miles" from other people’s empty cigarette packs scored her a free CD player, jacket, cap and some T-shirts.


Elizabeth, a Southern reader, gleans bottle caps at sports events and from parking lots. So far she's redeemed more than 7,200 points for T-shirts, caps, key chains, earbuds, basketballs and a set of travel-sized board games.


Why? "Because my mother grew up very poor and taught me how to be frugal."


Define 'free'
Online freebies often take a little work – or a lot. Both MyPoints and InboxDollars reward you for reading e-mails, but that means, well, reading e-mails. (Or at least clicking on the links.)


A number of survey sites pay cash, but if the surveys are lengthy you’re probably not making very much per hour.


But at least you’re making something, says college senior Ashley Wadsworth, who supplements her part-time job with surveys at sites like esearch.com, your2cents.com and lightspeedpanel.com.


"It's $200 I wouldn’t have had otherwise," Wadsworth said.


Teeny little toothpastes
Some freebies really are free, and just a click away at sites like Walmart.com (look under "In Stores Now") and MySavings.com.


I've scored a mixed bag of items from these sites: sample toiletries (those little toothpastes are great for travel), protein bars, Hamburger Helper Microwave Singles, fish-oil capsules, diapers, a coloring book promoting dental hygiene and a temporary tattoo of a cowboy potato. (Those last two went to my great-nephew.)


Stockpiling these freebies is a survival strategy for divorced mom Laura DeLucia. "I can’t tell you how many times samples saved me," she said. "I have three girls -- I’m always running out of shampoo or conditioner."


Now she's got relatives saving their Coke caps so she can buy Christmas gifts, but DeLucia is also not above peeking into recycle bins. (I'm glad I'm not the only one doing this.)


It's a jungle out there
Be careful where you sign up, warns a Smart Spending reader posting as "HelenT70." Some sites are "nothing but scams which get you to buy items and fill your computer with spyware."


Yet HelenT70 has gotten cash, magazine subscriptions, and full-sized products (not samples) from sites like harrispollonline.com and startsampling.com.


Another potential hassle: Sign up for freebies and you’ll get slammed by spam. It's best to create a separate e-mail account to use when registering for surveys, rewards programs or freebies.


You’ll need to examine your tolerance for wearing corporate logos. Some rewards offered are free of ad influence: movie tickets, gift cards, even airline miles. But others turn you into a walking billboard for cigarettes, soft drinks, running shoes, college sports and the like.


Some people might think freebies are eco-unfriendly: All those small containers the samples come in plus the envelopes in which they’re mailed will end up in the trash. Others don’t like to patronize big-box stores, even online.


Despite these cautions, I still say go for it. If you’re out of work, if you’re elderly and living on a fixed income, if your ex is a deadbeat about child support -- well, those little toothpastes and sample soaps could help you scrape by until times are better.


And admit it: Wouldn’t you enjoy getting something in the mail besides bills? Just make sure you recycle the envelopes.


Published Sept. 18, 2007


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