Beyond those teeny-tiny toothpastes
These days, you're likely to get a fair number of full-size products along with things like little shampoos. Deal bloggers say that these freebies are often accompanied by high-value coupons.
Companies often require an exchange of fandom for freebies. For example, I once got a full breakfast by clicking "like" on IHOP's "Pancake Revolution" offer on Facebook. The next year, I used the "happy anniversary" coupon that IHOP sent and got another free meal.
Other promotions are actually contests. Some are simple to enter: Click "like" or re-tweet an offer. Some require a little work: Answer a trivia question, write a short essay, maybe even make a video. As noted previously, the prizes can be worth it: You can win vacation packages, electronics, gift cards worth hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.
Then again, plenty of people think that even a free ice cream treat or video rental is worth it: Dairy Queen has more than 4.2 million Facebook fans, and Redbox has more than 4 million.
Incidentally, free stuff can also be found on nonfreebie pages. Shopping sites such as CouponMom.com and Hot Coupon World, and the forums at deal-seeking sites like FatWallet.com, Sunshine Rewards and SlickDeals, all have sections devoted to cost-free goodies.
When a freebie is not free
Be wary of any offer that touts a "free" trial but requires you to pay for shipping. Handing over credit card information means you'll probably get ripped off, either by receiving products or services you didn't order or by getting billed even if you cancel the free trial.
"There are always strings attached" to such offers, says Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs.com.
Consumers need to use common sense: If something is free, why are they being asked to pay anything at all?
You're safest when:
- You get a sample product directly through a manufacturer's home page (which is where most reputable freebie sites will redirect you).
- The offer is found at an established retailer's site, such as the In Stores Now link at Walmart.com or The Sample Spot at Target.com.
- The offer is shared by fellow consumers in community forums at reputable deal or freebie sites.
Another common scam is the gift card or the game system that's yours -- absolutely free! -- when you sign up for trials of magazine subscriptions, book clubs, nutritional supplements and the like. One ad I saw offered a $250 grocery card, stating that most of the offers could be canceled if you're not satisfied.
However, the fine-print disclaimer noted that you had to complete at least six offers -- and that if you canceled more than two within 30 days, you wouldn't get the grocery card.
And in the meantime? "I will guarantee that your email will be shared with many other marketers," says Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com.
Beware when a "free" offer:
- Requires you to sign up for or buy something, even on a "trial" basis.
- Is not affiliated with the company associated with the prize (check the fine print).
- Asks for credit card, bank account or PayPal information.
Freebies -- for real
Search online for "freebie sites" and you'll be astounded at how many pop up.
Look for ones that are easy to navigate. Some separate offers into categories, so child-free consumers can ignore "family/baby," and folks with three dogs can head straight for "pets."
Find a site that suits your personality. Some are almost like clubs, with forums in which readers share advice, trade coupons and even post baby pictures. FatWallet.com is edgy, whereas For the Mommas has a friendly, down-to-earth vibe. AbsurdlyCool Freebie Finder, an automated "free stuff aggregator," delivers the goods without the hassle of an imagined community.
Once you've found a deal blogger you love, follow him or her on Facebook. The hottest freebies are snapped up quickly, and savvy "dealistas" will let their Facebook fans know when a great giveaway is about to go live.
Incidentally, you'll need to forget brand loyalty, at least for a while. This stuff is free, remember? Besides, you just might discover a new favorite.
"It's fun to see what's out there and how it works," says Paul Ivanovsky of I Heart the Mart.
Tips from the pros
National companies give away a lot of stuff -- but so do local ones. Frankly, you're more likely to win a trivia contest at Harley's Old Thyme Café in Anchorage, Alaska, than the one at a restaurant chain that gets tens of thousands of entries. Remember, too, that a franchisee may have its own Facebook page, separate from the mother ship's, with special deals for local fans.
You can try hashtag searches on Twitter, such as "#giveaway" or "#freebie," but you'll wade through a lot of results. Check the Facebook application "Wildfire" for a list of all current promotions; you can separate them by category, but it still means a lot of scrolling.
The following suggestions will make your experience more, well, rewarding:
- Create a separate email account. You will hear from companies you follow. It's not spam per se, but even monthly newsletters and occasional hot-deal alerts will plump up your inbox.
- Check early, check often. Freebies go fast. Don't wait until 11 p.m. to check your favorite deal blogger.
- Pick your spots. If your time is limited, sign up for stuff you use every day -- laundry soap and toothpaste versus nonessentials such as stickers or scented candles.
- Shop strategically. When high-value coupons come with your samples, keep them until there's a sale. You'll pay little to nothing that way.
- Treat your friends. Some freebies -- makeup, lotion, fancy pens -- are nice just-because gifts. Melissa Jennings of Stockpiling Moms likes to surprise houseguests with baskets of shampoo, body wash, lotion and other small luxuries.
- Don't spam. Some of the people you know might not want you to re-tweet deals or forward Facebook finds. Don't overload them, or they may retaliate with email chain letters.
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Thank you very much for all of this info. I wrote alot of it down. Need to put it to good use,especially when we're living paycheck to paycheck and still some things don't get paid. Right now I can use all the help I can get. Keep up the good work and look for me on Facebook to leave me anymore info.
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