What's better than finding a coupon to save on shampoo or diapers? How about getting that shampoo or diapers for free?
Ryan Eubanks started looking for freebies as a hobby after college, but the pastime grew into a blog called "Hey, It's Free!" "Most people are hooked when they see what they can get and stuff shows up in the mail that isn't bills or restaurant flyers," he says. "I haven't paid for toiletries in forever. It's really nice to eliminate that from your budget."
In addition to free shampoo and toothpaste, Eubanks has received freebies including coffee K-cups, subscriptions to major newsstand magazines and pet food. The freebies often come with coupons to entice consumers to buy the products if they enjoyed them.
U.S. News talked to Eubanks and freebie-finders Linda Condrillo, founder of the blog Frugalinda.com, and Bryan Chavez, national deals editor of Living on the Cheap, to get their secrets on scoring freebies.
1. Keep your eyes and ears open. While many people find freebies online, Chavez says he gets his best freebies from signs and flyers in stores. "I'm one of those people who read everything I see in stores," he says.
Reading in-store signs led him to a free hardcover copy of a new Dr. Oz book through an in-store promotion for Tylenol. The freebie had no purchase requirement, so all Chavez had to do was write his name and address on a card. "I probably sent 20 copies to friends and family," he says. "I couldn't believe it."
Condrillo heard about L'Oreal's Product Evaluation Center in Clark, N.J., where she's gotten beauty products and beauty appointments for free. Consumers outside the area can sign up to have products mailed to them for testing and evaluation. Condrillo has also discovered freebies through Facebook when companies post free products on their pages and friends share those links. "I pay attention, and I'm always on the lookout for something," she says.
2. Choose wisely. Before signing up for a freebie, read the fine print to find out if there are limitations. Also apply a healthy dose of skepticism. "If it's too good to be true, it probably is," Eubanks says. "Don't think you're going to get a new car or TV for free." He draws the line at any so-called freebies that ask for a credit card number or require the recipient to pay a shipping and handling fee.
For marketing purposes, some companies request detailed demographic information such as income, medical conditions or household size. But don't give out any information that you wouldn't want sold to a third party. "The ones that ask you a ton of questions tend to be more trouble than they're worth," Condrillo says.
Some consumers get so caught up in the excitement of a freebie that they don't care what it is. However, as Condrillo points out, "sometimes things aren't really a bargain if you don't need them. If they're giving away free cheese, and it's really awful cheese, do you really need it?" Maybe not.
3. Create a secondary email address. Many stores and restaurants give away birthday freebies to consumers who sign up for their email list or "like" them on Facebook. Before signing up for a freebie online, consider creating a separate email account so you don't have to share your personal email address. "It's nice to have a separate account," Chavez says. "Otherwise your regular email gets clogged." He estimates that he's signed up with more than 100 different companies and checks that email once or twice a day so that "when they run promotions like free doughnut day, I'm aware of those."
4. Act quickly. Many freebies are in limited supply and word can spread quickly through social media, so be ready to snatch up freebie offers as soon as you see them. "I can recall an offer for a free salad coupon from Noodles & Co. online last year that was sold out instantly," Chavez says. If you miss your chance, better luck next time.