As a smart shopper, you probably spend a lot of time searching for the best deals. However, some of those great finds aren’t really all that terrific.
In fact, a lot of so-called “good deals” can actually be found for free. We mentioned a lot of these no-cost items in our article “How to Find Thousands of Freebies.” As we pointed out in that story:
Want something for nothing? Go online. All you have to do is look to find free beauty products, children’s items, restaurant meals, furniture, electronics or even cellphone service.
Sometimes this means a one-time sign-up, but ongoing sources of goodies also exist, letting you browse whenever you have a minute.
However, “free” is not the only way to save money. In this story, we look at some free things, but also highlight lower-cost options you might be overlooking when purchasing items you need on an ongoing basis.
Following are our top 10 things for which people overpay.
1. Book downloads
Unless your tastes run to the esoteric, there is no excuse for paying to download e-books. You can probably download just about any best-seller your heart desires from your local library.
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you get free downloads there as well.
Amazon also maintains links to databases with free public domain books. Finally, plenty of e-books get marked down to free on Amazon as promotions.
2. Movie rentals
In addition to e-books, your local library likely has at least a couple of shelves of DVDs and Blu-rays just waiting to be picked up for family movie night. If your library doesn’t have the title you want on the shelf, it may be able to request the movie from another library system.
Another free movie rental option is the Redbox Text Club. Send the word SIGNUP to 727272 to receive promotional messages from the company. At least once a month, I receive a code for a free rental.
3. Magazine subscriptions
While we’re discussing the great things you can get at the library, let’s not forget magazines.
How many times do you spend 15 minutes flipping through a magazine and then toss it into the recycling bin?
Sure, you might use a cooking or woodworking magazine again and again, but are you really going to look at the wedding photos from Kim Kardashian and Kanye West more than once? Get those kind of quick reads from the library.
4. Bottled water
There is a secret behind bottled water. Companies promote it as crisp, pure spring water, but it’s typically just water that comes out of the ground — much like the water that pours from your faucet.
Practically all groundwater can be considered spring water. Unless you live in an area with known contamination, there’s no guarantee the bottled water you pay for at the store is any better than the water coming out of your own tap.
If you’re really concerned about the quality or taste of your tap water, buy a faucet filter or filtered pitcher.
5. Brand-name medications
Brand-name drugs are big business, and pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money trying to convince you to buy items with their name on the label.
Instead of jumping on the brand-name bandwagon, consider buying a generic instead. Generics are held to the same standard as the brand names and can save you a bundle. Many health insurance plans now also have higher co-pays for brand names.
You can read more in our article about whether generic drugs are safe.
6. Brand-name everything else
Brand-name medicines aren’t the only deal you should be rethinking. Practically any brand-name product might be a bad deal when lower-priced generics are literally inches away.
I realize that some people bristle at the thought of generics, envisioning watered-down shampoo or cardboard crackers. Certainly, there are some low-quality off-brands.
However, your grocer’s store brand is often just as good as the national brand when it comes to quality and taste.
We have an article with advice on how to decide when to go generic.
7. Credit cards
We often neglect to check out things like interest rates because we’re blinded by credit card rewards or their convenience.
It’s an even worse deal when we have money sitting in savings, earning practically nothing, while we pay through the nose for credit card interest. The better deal might be to pull money from savings, pay off the card and file the plastic away.
8. Annual credit reports
Most free credit report offers are truly among the worst deals out there.
Unscrupulous companies offer to send you a “free” report in exchange for your personal information, which might then be shared with identity thieves. Or there might be a small processing fee and teeny tiny print that says you’ll be signed up for some identity theft/credit monitoring service you certainly don’t need.
The fact is, you’re entitled to a free credit report, no strings attached. However, the only place to get it is at AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you’ve looked over your report, get your credit score for free at Credit Sesame.
9. Anti-virus software
Like an annual credit report, anti-virus software is something you need. It’s just not something that requires you to open your wallet.
I’m not an IT pro, so I won’t even try to go into this topic in-depth. Instead, read the reviews at PCMag andTechRadar for advice from the experts on the best free anti-virus programs you can download straight from the web.
10. Smartphone apps
It’s so easy to push the buy button for that 99-cent app. But more often than not, we’ve spent money on something we either won’t use or could have gotten free.
Do some research before you buy an app. There are plenty of great free iPhone apps and free Android apps. PCMag has an annual list of the 100 best free apps, and you can check out our partner site DealNews, which tracks free and discounted apps.
What do you think of our tips? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.