When Free Means Free

Who doesn’t like getting things for free? And I’m not talking about stupid things you’ll never use, like the neon 1980s style sunglasses they were giving out at a Chicago Slaughter arena football game.
No joke.

I’m talking about things like a free appetizer from Chili’s, a free one year subscription to Martha Stewart magazine, or a free $25 gift certificate from Macy’s. Free stuff you actually want and can use.

Have I piqued your interest yet?

Of course, I started with the super awesome stuff I’ve received. More often, I get freebies mailed to me like extra coupons and samples for everything from mayonnaise to face moisturizer to Kashi cereal. Nothing that would be considered really exciting, but small amounts of everyday goods. I do enjoy the sample sized toiletries which pack up nicely when we go on vacation though.

The good free stuff usually requires a bit more time spent getting the item (rather than just entering a name and address for the free samples). Here’s how to do it:

1. Sign up for birthday clubs.
Go online and enter your email address to enter yourself for birthday clubs at different restaurants. Most will give you a free appetizer or dessert for signing up, and then you get something bigger, like a free meal, around your birthday.

Free birthday stuff is actually what gave me the idea to write this post. My birthday is on August 20, so I’ve been getting my birthday free stuff for a couple weeks. 

I’ve gotten:
$10 gift card from Kohl’s
$10 gift card from World Market
$10 off the bill at Maggiano’s
Free Philosophy Vanilla Cake Shower Gel from Sephora
Free entree from Houlihan’s
Free dish at Noodles
Free brownie sundae from Chili’s
Free dessert from Buffalo Wild Wings
Free meal from b.d.’s Mongolian Grill
Free chocolate fondue from Melting Pot

Free drink from Caribou coffee

Pretty good haul for only a few minutes of time spent entering my email address.

Sometimes, nail or hair salons offer birthday clubs too. Every year, I receive a $10 gift certificate to my hair place. Just used it to get my hair cut last night.

Be advised, most birthday gift certificates can only be used in your birthday month, or you lose it.

2. Sign yourself up to receive communications from your favorite stores.

You know right before you finish a payment at a store when you’re asked for your home phone or email address? If you give it to them, you could be saving big.

For example, every few months, I get a mailer from Victoria’s Secret offering me a free panty. I stop in to get a pair when I’m nearby, like I was on Monday night.The ones available now are pretty fancy for being free.
I’ve also gotten coupons for free items from Bath & Body Works, without having to make a purchase.

Just recently, I got my hands on a $10 off a $10 purchase from Pier 1. Many of their items are priced at exactly $10, which made them absolutely free – not even tax to pay. I was especially excited about that one, since Pier 1 coupons are few and far between. I showed my family and friends how to get it (liking Pier 1 on facebook) and we for some pretty nice stuff. Here’s a look at all of my free swag, which includes two chalkboard glass jars, a cow creamer, a kitchen timer, and three different candles.

The best place to get free stuff for signing up for emails is Kohl’s. I got a $5 gift card for signing up, and now, every 4-6 weeks or so, I get a random email giving me a $10 gift card that I have to redeem within a week. A free $10! And I can still use any coupons I have for the store as well. With my $10 gift cards I’ve bought a dog bed, jewelry, a rug, a dress, table linens, and a large quantity of candles – all for free or very close to it.

Signing up saves money on restaurants too. Every once in a while, I’ll get emails for free food items like free salads, free appetizers, and free desserts both from big chains like Chili’s and smaller, more local restaurants and pubs.

3. Join rewards programs.

You already do it on your credit card, so why not at local restaurants and stores?

Many places have loyalty programs where after you buy a certain amount of items (like cups of coffee), you get one free. Ask if your local store had any kind of program like this.
Ulta is a good place to join their rewards club too. I don’t ever usually spend enough to get a really good item during their rewards time (like a straightener), but you do get free samples when you make a purchase. Last time I went to Ulta, I bought a Stila eve shadow/bronzer/blush combo and I got great goodies for free: Almay eye make up remover pads, blackberry moisturizing lotion, lip gloss, and hair spray.

4. Take surveys.
Stores love it when you take their surveys, and they usually give you an incentive to take them. I tend to skip the ones where you’re entered into a drawing to win something (they aren’t worth it), but I do take the time to answer questionnaires for coupons.

A couple years back, a friend and I had our once a week out to lunch discount down to a science. We’d head over to Baja Fresh, where they would ask you to fill out a survey on the receipt. We’d fill it out and get something like $5 off our next meal there. Since we went weekly, we were regularly paying only about $2 for lunch each time we went. On top of that, they had a loyalty program (see #3 above) and after ordering ten meals, you got one free. Pretty good deal there.

Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and Best Buy print out an survey opportunities right on the receipt. Take the survey, get a discount code, and you’ll get some money off your next purchase there. 

Don’t forget to pair your discounts with sales! Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret have huge sales twice a year – once in June, once in December/January after Christmas. I’ll go and make a small purchase at the beginning of their sale, do the survey which usually gives you $10 off a $30 purchase, and then go back to get more items I saw and wanted on my first trip.

Surveys are also what gets me those $25 Macy’s gift cards. I belong to e-rewards, which is an online survey company. They email me surveys a few times a week, and I get e-rewards money based on how many surveys I complete. I then take that e-rewards money, and “buy” things with it. For example, a Macy’s $25 gift card costs $45 in e-rewards money. There are also other things you can get like free pizzas from Pizza Hut, airline miles, or rewards points at various hotels.

When stacking the gift cards, coupons, and sales, you can really make out like a bandit. I bought a BCBG dress from Macy’s. It was $118 at the store, but was cheaper online (about $80). Using an online discount code and the 25% off promotion Macy’s website was running over the weekend, I ended up scoring the dress for $52 and free shipping! I used two of the free $25 Macy’s gift cards I’ve gotten and spent $2 out of my pocket for the dress.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fit. I heard the world’s smallest violin playing when I tried it on. Oh well. Luckily, when I returned the dress, I scored two Martha Stewart cake stands and a cast iron skillet for using store credit, and even had some money left over on the gift card.

5. Subscribe to couponing blogs.
As I mentioned this in my (Not) Extreme Couponing post, I subscribe to both the Krazy Coupon Lady and Raining Hot Coupons blogs. They let you know the coupon match-ups at each store every week, and sometimes they’ll show you how to get something for free with the coupons that are out there. I have gotten Sharpies and Scotch tape for free this way.

They also let you know of small give aways here and there, like the samples I often get in the mail, but sometimes they tell you about some pretty great free stuff, like free note cards from Pear Tree Greetings, a free year of Martha Stewart magazine, a free year of Women’s Day magazine, or free downloaded songs from Amazon. Those deals run out really quickly, so you have to sign up pretty much as soon as you get the email.

What’s the best thing you’ve gotten for free? Can you think of any freebies you know of that I’ve missed?



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