With the rising costs of living putting a strain on many families – not to mention the interest rate hikes that will likely affect your credit card and mortgage payments – Americans are looking for ways to save.
No surprise then that Google Search told USA TODAY there was a huge spike for words like “cheap” and “affordable” over the past few months.
What’s the only thing better than “cheap” and “affordable”? Free, of course.
This is especially true when it’s for things you otherwise pay for now.
You probably know about the many thousands of free games you can download from your favorite app stores, but there is so much more.
And so, the following are seven such suggestions on how tech can dish up freebies, to help ease some tension in your wallet.
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Free TV shows and movies
Called AVOD services (“ad-supported video on demand”) or sometimes FAST (“free ad-supported streaming TV”), there are several options that provide free videos to watch on-demand, via your Smart TV, smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Popular examples include Tubi, PlutoTV, Crackle and Roku Channel, all of which have a huge collection of new and older shows and movies. Other platforms that offer free content include Facebook Watch, Peacock (free version), Dailymotion and of course, YouTube.
You’ll need to sit through commercials, mind you, but they’re typically shorter and less frequent than those on regular TV.
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Free phone numbers
A handy app, TextNow (iOS Android) gives you a secondary – and completely free – phone number to use on your existing smartphone.
After all, you might not want to reveal your real phone number, if, say, selling something online (which may require a phone number) or for those going on a blind date (in case it doesn’t work out).
Choose a city in the US or Canada and you’ll receive a number with an available area code and number. Like your main number, you can change the ringtone, access voicemail and more (at no cost). Note: There are ads in the app.
You can call or text for free over Wi-Fi with this new number or use it outside the home by picking up a TextNow SIM card for just 0.99 cents and then unlimited calls and texts over cellular connectivity are $0/month. If you want data, plans start at $8.99/month for one gigabyte.
As long as you have a library card, you can borrow ebooks – today’s bestsellers and classics, too – through the Libby by OverDrive app.
Once you install Libby on your tablet or smartphone, create a free account and then search for something to read.
Like your library, you can enjoy the book until the “due date,” but this time you don’t need to drive the books back to the library or face a late fee!
You can install Libby on multiple devices and all your loans, notes, bookmarks and reading progress sync across your devices. For example, start on your iPad and finish off on your smartphone later on.
Free audio books
Here’s a little-known trick for iPhone or iPad owners: Turn your ebooks into free audiobooks, using a built-in accessibility tool called Speak Screen.
It will read aloud any text on the screen. Now you can listen while in the car, while closing your eyes on an airplane or when walking down the street.
To activate it (only required once), go to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak Screen. Then, in any app you have open, such as an ebook reading app, swipe down with two fingers from the very top of the screen for the book to be read to you.
It also works with emails, web articles, recipes or notes.
You can tweak the voice (which does not sound synthesized, like many apps do), including gender and language, speaking speed and more.
Free radio plays
Speaking of audio, you’re missing out if you’re not listening to “old time radio” (“OTR”) shows.
Popularized in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s – before television became the dominant entertainment medium in the home – you can find virtually all major radio series for free at websites like Archive.org or by subscribing to various podcasts (one of my favorites is the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society and anything by Relic Radio).
Just like TV, there are different genres to choose from, but be sure to check out these series: Suspense!, Escape, The Jack Benny Show, The Shadow, Lux Radio Theatre, X Minus One, Inner Sanctum, Fibber McGee & Molly and highly recommended from the ’70s and early ’80s, is CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which is considered part of an OTR revival.
The BBC also has some great shows.
Not sure where to start? Stream or download Sorry, Wrong Number (Suspense), starting Agnes Moorehead and of course, the infamous War of the Worlds (Mercury Theatre).
Keep in mind these aren’t audiobooks – they’re radio plays, featuring a cast of characters, sound effects and music and more.
Free video surveillance
Given how often we update our devices, you might have a spare iPhone, iPad or Android somewhere at home.
If so, you can turn it into a free wireless surveillance camera, to turn it into a baby monitor, a “nanny cam,” or a way to keep an eye on your pets while away.
It’s all handled through an app called Presence.
After you install (and sign into) the same app on your existing phone or tablet and your aging one that will become the camera, simply place that old device somewhere in your home, ensure it’s plugged in and point the device’s camera somewhere.
Now, wherever life takes you, open the same app on your existing phone or tablet to see what’s happening in real-time at home.
Free productivity software
While there are some free productivity programs, most require an internet connection to use.
Instead, Apache’s OpenOffice is a downloadable, offline suite of productivity tools for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations and more. OpenOffice is available in multiple languages and runs on many operating systems and you can install it on as many computers as you like.
The software suite supports a wide range of file types created by other programs (including Microsoft Office’s .doc, .xls and .ppt).
On a related note, there are many good, free photo-editing tools, but Gimp might be the most robust, thanks to its powerful editing features, digital retouching, multiple file support and customizable interface options.