Friday, June 24, 2011

Travel Freebies

As you plan your vacation this summer, be on the look-out for freebies that can help you keep costs low, without sacrificing the terrific vacation you deserve.  Here are some ideas:
  • If you are traveling with kids, look for places that welcome them with wonderful freebies.  For example, Loews Hotels allow kids to stay free, eat free, and see a movie for free; Holiday Inns lets kids stay and eat free.
  • Many hotels offer freebies for adults, too.  Look for free parking, free newspapers, free internet, free gym and pools, and best of all, free meals, like the cooked-to-order breakfasts offered by Embassy Suite Hotels.
Want more tips and tricks for keeping summer vacation travel costs down?  Check out these 25 Money-Saving Travel Tips from The Insider Travel Guides.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Free Online Activities for Kids

Now that summer is here, it's helpful to have an arsenal of kid-friendly activities at the ready.  Here's a list of online ideas that are fun, free, and (gasp!) even educational.  (Just don't tell your kids that they might learn something!)

Games
abc ya - free games and activities grades K-5 related to math, language arts, and basic computer skills
BuildYourWildSelf - design your human self-portrait with animal parts (from the Wildlife Conservation Society)
Switcheroo Zoo - visit a virtual zoo and make new animals

Math
Cool Math for Kids - an amusement park of math (with an emphasis on fun)
Math Slice- lots of interactive activities, for students from PreK on up
Smarty Games - math, money, and puzzles for young children (a favorite of librarians)

Science
exploratorium - online museum of science, art, and human perception.
Siemens Science Day - let your kids learning by doing - a database of science projects, organized by level
ZoomSci - from the makers of the PBS show

‍Writing
Little Bird Tales - write a story and record your voice to go with it!
Magnetic Poetry - an online way to play with words on a "magnetic" refrigerator
Storybird.com - collaborate with an illustrator to write and publish your own stories (choose from a database of artists)

Art/Crafts
Art Safari - an adventure in exploring art from MoMA's collection (for children and adults)
Color with Leo - young Leonardo da Vinci guides kids through games and activities (also a top librarian choice)
First Palette - a collection of kids' crafts, organized by level, K-8
Kerpoof - make drawings, cards, pictures, even movies
Picasso Head - make a Picasso-style portrait
Jackson Pollock - move your mouse to make drip paintings
Comics
Professor Garfield - Garfield the cat teaches cartooning
MakeBeliefsComix - create your own comic strip, using provided elements
Current Events

Time for Kids - keep up with what's happening via this "Time magazine for kids"
National Geographic for Kids - an interactive look at science and nature

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Free Stuff Times

There are a number of sites that provide information about freebies, contests, and the like.  One we like is FreeStuffTimes.com.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Free in NYC

New York City routinely comes in as one of the most expensive places in the world.  But it isn't true that only the air is free in NYC.  On any given day, there is a full list of events and things to do that don't cost a single dime.  From free admissions to top museums, to concerts, plays, and even just visiting the wonder that is Central Park, you can find plenty to amuse you and entertain you.  How to find these freebies?  NYCgo.com, the official guide to NYC, has a helpful online listing, or just search "free nyc."

Incidentally, one of our favorite free events is taking place next week.  If you'll be in town, don't miss the Museum Mile Festival on Tuesday evening, June 14. 

Not planning to be in town anytime soon?  Just search on the word "free" and the name of your own town or city to find out what's happening in your neck of the woods.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Free for Kids

There is no question that raising children can be expensive.  Every time you turn around, there seems to be something else to pay for, whether it is sports programs and required equipment, tutoring and music lessons, or even just keeping them in shoes and clothes that fit their ever-growing bodies.

Thankfully, there are lots of free programs for kids, too.  Here are some good ones:
  • Free BooksBarnes & Noble and Borders both have summer programs that reward kids with free books if they read a specified number of books during the summer.  The Pottery Barn Summer Reading Challenge gives kids a free book if they read all the books on their book list.  And many public libraries (another great source of free books) also have incentive programs to encourage summer reading.
  • Free WorkshopsLowes and Home Depot both offer carpentry workshops to help kids develop basic skills and build fun projects.  Apple offers classes that teach kids how to use their programs, especially the fun ones like garage band and i-movies.
  • Free Museum Admission and EventsBank of America and Target both sponsor free admission to museums and other fun sights and attractions.  Check out their web sites for details.  National Amusements Theatres gives free admission to kids on Wednesdays this summer when they turn in a book report form
  • Dinner and Hotels.  There are many of restaurants that offer free meals and free hotel stays for kids, so always ask if the place you are considering has programs that will save you money.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Substitutions

Saving money doesn't necessarily have to involve cutting all of the pleasures out of your life.  Sometimes it just requires finding a free or low-cost substitute for the things you enjoy.  Here are some examples:

  • Movies - instead of renting from NetFlix or Blockbuster, pick up a DVD at your local public library.  Note that many libraries have an inter-library loan system which allows you access to a broad selection of titles.
  • Work-outs - instead of running on the treadmill at a gym with costly membership fees, run outside.  Map out a variety of trails and routes so you don't get bored with the same thing every day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

You've Got To Be In It To Win It

There are free samples (see my last post) and then there are free deals via sweepstakes or giveaways. While both tend to be sponsored as marketing efforts by manufacturers or publishers, the latter tend to be more glitzy offerings. The hitch is, of course, that not everyone who fills out the form will receive the goods -- there is usually just one winner. Since it takes about the same effort to fill out a sweepstakes/giveaway form as it does to complete a free sample form, I tend to do both. And I've had some success through the years, winning a designer purse, a leather notebook, a $1500 Madewell gift card, free breakfast, a top of the line golf putter, a watch, a $50 certificate, tutoring for my kids, Babor skincare, a Starbucks giftcard, a collection of Colorscience makeup products, $1000 of Prima Studio performance wear, free Equinox membership, a Pati Dubroff lip balm crayon, a lunch at Tasting Table's test kitchen with Antonia Lofaso, a $50 gift card for Horchow (twice!), eight books from Turner Publishing (I really love them!),  a packet of Skyn Iceland Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels, a 1.State blouse from InStyle, and a weekend trip to New Orleans.  So why not give it a shot?   Here are some of the sites with which I've had the most luck:
Note that you don't need to make a purchase or sign up for a subscription, newsletter, or emails to win, so be sure to unclick those boxes if you aren't interested -- they don't increase your chances of winning.

Update: want to read more about entering sweepstakes? Here's an interesting piece about those who click for cash. And check out About.com, Contest Candy, and Sweeties Sweeps for more info about online contests and sweepstakes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Free For All

I am a big fan of free stuff.  And who isn't?  You can save lots of money by getting free samples of your favorite products instead of buying them yourself.  And the good news is that lots of good stuff is free for the asking.  Just click over to the sites below and sign up to receive free samples and coupons:


Important tips:
  • Free means free.  So don't expect to provide credit card or bank account details -- or even your social security number in order to get a free sample or coupon. 
  • Legitimate organizations don't require you to fill out reams of information to receive a product sample in the mail.  So if a form asks for more than your basic contact info., it is best to skip it, unless you were warned up front that you would be completing a survey in return for the free sample.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Plenty of companies give away product samples or service trials - we live in an era of free giveaways to create engagement, after all.  But free vacations, cars or expensive electronics (other than through a sweepstakes) are another thing entirely.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Beware of Debt Collection Scams

Now is a great time to refinance your home mortgage (if you haven't already) - rates are so low that even if you refinanced a few years ago, you may find that you will save money if you refinance again.

Of course with any loan situation, you'll want to review your credit scores with the three major credit reporting agencies first to make sure all is as it should be.  When I did so recently, I found a listing from a debt collection organization.  This fraudulent company had made up a charge and attached it to my name, demanding payment to have it removed.  They claimed it was a debt from 2005 for movies I had purchased through the mail.  I'm still fighting it -- and if you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend that you do, too.

For more information about the perils of debt collection agencies that try to intimidate you into giving money you don't (and never did) owe, read the article in Family Circle magazine at http://www.familycircle.com/family-fun/money/how-to-avoid-debt-collection-scams/?page=1.