With the rising cost of living putting a strain on many families — not to mention interest rate hikes that will likely affect your credit card and mortgage payments — Americans are looking for ways to save.
So it’s no surprise that Google Search told USA TODAY that there’s been a huge spike in 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 comes to things you would otherwise pay for now.
You’re probably familiar with the thousands of free games you can download from your favorite app stores, but there’s so much more.
And so, here are seven of those suggestions for how tech can give freebies, to help ease some strain in your wallet.
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Free TV Shows and Movies
Called AVOD (“ad-supported video on demand”) or sometimes FAST (“free ad-supported streaming TV”) services, there are several options that offer 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 old shows and movies. Other platforms that offer free content include Facebook Watch, Peacock (free version), Dailymotion and of course, YouTube.
You will have to watch commercials, but they are usually shorter and less frequent than those shown on regular television.
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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, for example, you’re selling something online (which might require a phone number) or going on a blind date ( in case it doesn’t work).
Choose a city in the United States or Canada and you will 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 advertisements in the app.
You can call or text for free over Wi-Fi with this new number or use it away from home by picking up a TextNow SIM card for just 0.99 cents, then unlimited calling and texting over cellular connectivity is $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’ve installed 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 bring the books back to the library or pay late fees!
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 on your smartphone later.
Free audio books
Here’s a little-known tip 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 in the car, closing your eyes to an airplane or walking down the street.
To turn it on (needed only once), go to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak Screen. Then, in any app you have open, like an ebook reader app, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to have the book read to you.
It also works with emails, web articles, recipes or notes.
You can change the voice (which doesn’t sound synthesized like many apps do) including gender and language, speaking speed and more.
Free radio stations
Speaking of audio, you’re missing out if you’re not listening to ‘old fashioned radio’ (‘OTR’) broadcasts.
Popularized in the 1930s, 40s and 50s – before television became the dominant home entertainment medium – you can find virtually every major radio series for free on websites like Archive.org or by subscribing to various podcasts (one of my favorites is the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society and anything from 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 since 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.
You do not know where to start ? Stream or download Sorry, Wrong Number (Suspense), starting with 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.
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 security camera, baby monitor, “nanny cam” or a way to keep an eye on your pets while you’re away.
Everything is managed through an app called Presence.
After installing (and connecting) the same app on your existing phone or tablet and the one that will become the camera, simply place that old device somewhere in your house, make sure it’s plugged in, and point the device photo of the 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
Although there are free productivity programs, most require an internet connection to use.
Instead, Apache OpenOffice is a downloadable, offline suite of productivity tools for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and more. OpenOffice is available in several languages and runs on many operating systems and you can install it on as many computers as you want.
The software suite supports a wide range of file types created by other programs (including Microsoft Office .doc, .xls, and .ppt files).
Along the same lines, there are plenty of good free photo editing tools, but Gimp is perhaps the most robust, thanks to its powerful editing features, digital retouching, support for multiple files, and its customizable interface options.