9 Things You’re Paying for that You Can Get for Free (Legally)


Last week I wrote about why I don’t (illegally) download music. One great reason that didn’t even make my list, is that there is already a lot of free stuff. There are enough legal ways to get free stuff, that pirating the latest software or CD isn’t necessary.

Here are just a few of the free alternatives to some of the things you might already be paying for:

1) Use the Library Instead of Bookstores

I recently made the switch from buying most of my books to reading them for free. Two years ago I lived in a small town, where the public library didn’t have a wide selection. As a result I got used to buying my books instead of renting. Books might not be a big expense, but if you end up reading 50-70 books each year, the cost can quickly add up.

2) Free & Legal Music Instead of CD’s and iTunes

As I wrote earlier, I’m not a fan of downloading music for free without the artist’s consent. I’ve tried to do my best with this, but it was only in the last several months I became proactive in doing this. In the past I had occasionally come across free samples over the net from questionable sources, but never took a firm stance to keep it off my hard drive.

One of the things that helped me stay committed to keeping my library legitimate, was the discovery of all the different sources of free & legal music on the net. Here are a few ways you can explore a large amount of music for free without becoming a pirate:

  1. Pandora – This internet radio has a near infinite music variety that can be tuned to your individual preferences. This was my method of choice until they stopped offering access to Canadians. (ouch!)
  2. Download.com – Both streams and downloads of free music.
  3. Internet Radio – There are many free internet radio stations. And if you’re away from your PC, good ol’ AM and FM work as well.
  4. Tracked Music – An entire genre of free music. You can get a free player here and download music here. I have nearly 500 tracks on my playlist.

3) Blogs Instead of Magazines/Newspapers

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this one. Blogs can offer you access to tips, ideas and news on a daily basis without costing you a penny. Many offline publications are now starting to head into cyberspace, so I don’t think it will be long until almost all publications are free.

4) Open Source Instead of Microsoft

I use mostly open source and freeware software for my computing needs. Open source benefits by being cheaper and often more flexible than traditional software. Here are a few alternatives you might want to try:

  1. OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office – Powerpoint, Excel, Word and Access all have OpenOffice equivalents. A great program that doesn’t cost you a cent.
  2. Firefox instead of Internet Explorer
  3. Thunderbird instead of Outlook
  4. Linux instead of Windows
  5. GIMP instead of Photoshop
  6. WordPress instead of Typepad

5) OpenCourseWare Instead of Paying Tuition

OpenCourseWare is an initiative where major universities are starting to release their classes online for free. MIT has one of the biggest catalogs of courses at the moment. I’ve already gone through a few of the courses online. The perfect resource for the person who wants an education without student debt.

6) TED Talks Instead of Seminars.

TED has hundreds of 10-20 minute speeches posted online for free. Great speakers include Bill Clinton, Will Wright, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Gilbert and Ray Kurzweil. The topics range from the issues of global warming to discovering what makes us happy.

7) Home Exercise Instead of Gym Memberships

Running is free. So are push ups, sit ups and stretches. You don’t need to go broke on fancy sports club memberships and exercise equipment to stay healthy. Keeping your exercise plan simple can actually make it easier to stick with.

8 ) Tap Water Instead of Bottles

When you buy bottled water, you’re paying for the picture of a rainforest on the bottle. There is virtually no difference between water from your faucet and one in a 2$ bottle. If you think there is a difference in taste, I suggest putting it to the test:

  1. Buy your favorite bottled water and get some tap water.
  2. Pour three cups of each and get a friend to mark the cups, so they will know which is bottled, but you won’t.
  3. Drink from each of them and write down the ones you like best.

I’m skeptical that most people could even tell the difference. Save creating more garbage and save yourself some money and drink from the tap.

9) Skype Instead of Telephones

With Skype you can get free (or nearly free) telephone capabilities with your computer. Save on those long-distance bills by going digital.

  • kaley

    I like your ideas except tap water, which is unhealthy. Large increases in cancers and other diseases related to poor drinking water quality point unabashedly to a large problem in the current quality of our tap water. What follows is a brief listing of contaminants that could very likely be in your tap water as well as a discussion of how these contaminants may affect your health.

    Chlorine: Chlorine is perhaps one of the most dangerous and insidious poisons in our drinking water supply. Surprisingly, it is a municipal additive to drinking water. Water treatment facilities use chlorine as a powerful disinfectant to kill or inactivate biological water contaminants, but that same chlorine that is so toxic to biological contaminants is also poisonous to our bodies. Chlorine in drinking water is currently a leading cause of bladder and rectal cancer and asthma. Health officials are now linking chlorine ingestion to breast cancer, as well.

    Lead: Lead makes its way into tap water through corrosion of the pipes in a home’s plumbing system. Because lead contamination occurs after municipal treatment, there is no way that municipal facilities can control for it. Lead in drinking water is especially harmful for young children and pregnant mothers. Ingestion of lead can result in severe developmental delays and/or learning disorders in children.

    Giardia and Cryptosporidium: Giardia and Cryptosporidium have been the plague of the water treatment industry for several decades. Resistant to chlorine, these protozoa can lead to severe and widespread outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease if released into a municipal water system. They often make their way into tap water via sanitation breakdowns, and municipal water treatment facilities have no way to control for them.

    This brief list of water contaminants that could very likely be present in your tap water is representative but hardly exhaustive of the full range of drinking water contaminants. According to one recent research study, there are now more than 2100 known toxins that can be present in tap water.

    Clearly, tap water is unsafe and unsuitable for drinking, and bottled water is not the panacea we would like it to be. In many cases, bottled water is nothing more than reconstituted, rebottled tap water. The only viable solution to the problems of tap water lies in home water filtration. Water filters, with their use of both chemical and physical processes to block contaminant passage, are the only type of water treatment that can effectively and efficiently remove chlorine and reduce other dangerous contaminants from drinking water. The dangerous nature of tap water clearly warrants the use of a drinking water filter.

  • Hutch

    While tap water may have some of those things in it, all tap water has to pass through safety inspections and tests. Tap water is regulated for quality and must pass through tests in order to get to the public.

    Bottled water is unregulated, it may or may not be tested, it may or may not be pure tap water. You don’t really know for sure. Plus, water is always better than pop, and actual fruit juice tends to get expensive.

    But, I really just wanted to mention that instead of listening to music, I listen to podcasts. They keep me up to date on all of the news that I’m interested in and they are free.

  • Jay Andrew Allen

    Re: music – you can also use last.fm for more indie-oriented tunes. I use last.fm to preview music to see what I want to buy. When I find a track I love, I cough up the 89 cents it costs to get a DRM-free MP3 from Amazon.com.

  • Michael Tyas

    Agreed on most except the tap water. Winnipeg water makes me gag. I use a Brita to filter everything, so it ends up costing much less than buying all bottled, in the long run.

  • georgec

    Kaley beat me to the punch about the water. Something to consider is that tap water quality is not constant throughout the US, let alone the world. Although all tap water in the US is supposed to be held to certain water quality standards that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. I go to school in an agricultural town, and the tap water here is infamous among students from more developed areas. I’m not certain, but I believe that the tap water contains some substances suited more for agricultural use, rather than human consumption. The taste difference vs bottled is very noticeable, and even showering in it is to a certain extent (it’s very hard).

    Let me expand on chlorine, however. Chlorine is used in water treatment to destroy bacteria or other microbes. That’s all fine and dandy, but our digestive systems are designed (or, have come) to host beneficial microbes in our bodies. These microbes are provided nourishment from our bodies and in return they aid us in digestive processes. So, drinking chlorine can kill these beneficial bacteria, decreasing your digestive capability or health.

    Also see the above website for information on fluoride. A lot of tap water has fluoride added to benefit dental health.

    Probiotics are supplements containing those beneficial digestive microbes, and prebiotics are composed of substances that stimulate the activity or growth of these beneficial microbes. The major yogurt companies have all started product lines containing probiotics and/or prebiotics. I’ve been buying and eating these. You can also get the supplements by themselves in pill form.

    I don’t know if there are any studies out there verifying the benefits of taking probiotics and prebiotics, and I don’t think it’s something that you can necessarily determine on a personal basis. I haven’t noticed any major changes since I started eating the yogurt containing them. But the idea seems legitimate, so I’m willing to spend the money and hope that my insides appreciate it.

    Wikipedia has a good page on probiotics.

    Bottled water may not be a panacea, but it is treated using different methods than your ordinary tap water. “Ozonation. Bottlers of all types of waters typically use ozone gas, an antimicrobial agent, to disinfect the water instead of chlorine, since chlorine can leave residual taste and odor to the water. “

  • georgec

    sorry, there’s a mistake in my comment. 🙂
    “Also see the above website for information on fluoride. A lot of tap water has fluoride added to benefit dental health.” should be at the end of the comment. I was referring to the fda link.

  • Al at 7P

    Just to add to the free music – iTunes features a new artist every week by allowing its download for free. Some are not to my liking, but some of my favorite songs were from the free downloads.

  • Chris

    I listen to a lot of free music on bands’ MySpace pages.

    This option is more limited than most, but a lot of the groups I like have four or five good songs playing on their MySpace page’s music players.

    It’s a good way to get the flavor of new bands that you hear about too.

  • Graham

    Free (to read) magazines and daily newspapers can be found waiting rooms, public transportation, and some cafes.

    Personally, I don’t tend to read the articles (more up-to-date and thorough information can be unearthed by Google) – I scan the pages as a way of absorbing culture, taking note of what markets the particular magazine is attempting to appeal to, especially if its completely foreign to my demographic (i.e. Wedding and Women’s fashion mags). If I see something of interest, I make a note to look it up later when I get home.

  • Ludwik C. Siadlak

    We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S.

    So my choice is last.fm for now.

    Anyway – great post Scott!


  • pHysiX

    WOOT mate for Opensource software. I totally agree. But the thing is, if u do modify these opensource programs (you are legally entitled to), remember to give credit to the source. Never take anything for granted. =]

  • Scott Young

    Great additions everyone.


    You obviously know a lot about tap water, so I can’t boast similar expertise. A lot of bottled water is nothing more than repackaged tap water, so I don’t see how there would be much difference. Good suggestion on the home filtration front.


    Mmmmm Winnipeg tap-water. I just enjoyed a bottle of it an hour ago. Cheers as a fellow Manitoban!

  • Bruce

    Scott said:
    “There is virtually no difference between water from your faucet and one in a 2$ bottle.”

    That’s quite the blanket statement. If you’re talking about water in the US, then sure, perhaps you’re right. Even if you said that, though, I’d still be doubtful.

    I live in Australia, and I’m one of the people who can taste the difference between water (and I can clearly describe the differences in taste). Just because you can’t perceive a difference, doesn’t mean it’s not there (well, you could argue, that, heh, but lets leave subjective reality and the like out of this).

    I’m not saying that bottled water isn’t filtered/processed tap water, but different types of water definitely have different tastes. The “purest” water I’ve ever tasted is reported to have come from Fiji. Sylvester Stallone has also mentioned that he primarily drinks glacial water. Take from that what you will.

    – Bruce

  • Dave

    Good insights Scott. While I do agree that you can get good workouts without a gym membership, I enjoy working out at the gym. I really enjoy being surrounded by like minded individuals who enjoy taking care of their bodies. I also enjoy being surrounded by the “energy” of a gym. And you can’t forget the benefits of a suana or steam room.

    ~ Dave

    PS Thanks again for this site. You are a source of inspiration for many individuals.

  • Andrea

    Tap water is VERY UNHEALTHY!! I don’t think it is a good idea to save few dollars on your health. please, if you really drink tap water do some research on this topic.

    take care!

  • jd

    Well, if it’s free it’s for me! …

    … then again, I’ve found a lot of truth to “you get what you pay for.”

    At the end of the day, I don’t mind paying for value.
    I really like when something matches its label of promises.
    It’s when I buy something that doesn’t live up to its promises that bugs me.

  • Scott Young


    I also work out at a gym. But I think you’re kidding yourself if cost is the reason you claim for being unable to exercise.


    Of course I’m making some assumptions with that claim. The major one being that you live in a place where the public water system is safe. I’m not an expert on fluoride, but there are some arguments that it isn’t entirely safe either.

    My point is that the taste difference is mostly in your head. You imagine that one water tastes different, when really it is just the marketing. If you can’t pass a blind taste test it means you’re wasting your money.

    As for safety, I’m sure there are arguments on both sides. Most of the research I’ve done has shown there is little or no difference between bottled or tap. But most of the reasons for drinking bottled I’ve seen have to do with taste, not safety.


  • Ilham Hafizovic

    Question, isn’t IE free and comes packaged with Microsoft Windows.
    In other word the only reason Firefox is up there is because it is better and not free, correct. Oh and yes I do agree that Firefox is better, safer, and just a better experience with the net.

  • g

    tap water has flouride, flouride causes osteoperosis, please remove tap water

  • colin syme

    I have a few more:
    1. Grow your own vegetables, 80sq. ft. is enough, use unused part of garden.
    2. Still have a VHS? tape films, watch later. tapes are really cheap now!
    3.catch your own fish, fishing is really fun when you get into it!
    4. Most short journeys can be done on a bike, you get fit at the same time!
    5.Forget E-Bay, look for deals in your local newspaper in the “smalls! adverts, also fun knocking down the price from a desperate seller!
    6.Try bartering, ” I will cut your grass if you repair my car/computer”.

    All of these can be done easily, you do not have to be a nerd/expert.

  • getaclue

    tap water is the only regulated water available in the US. God knows wat kind of crap is in that junk they sell in expensive bottles.

    But of course, that’s how they “privatized” water…by launching the myth that bottled water is better than tap water. Looks like a bunch of folks here bought that bullshit, lock stock and barrel.

  • David Morning

    I agree with all but the water. I’m lucky enough to be living in Scotland, where we do actually have pleasant tasting tap water, but visiting England or France I’ve found I can’t stand the taste of the tap water. In fact, I was surprised to find I could taste a difference between tap water on the west coast and on the east coast of Scotland, since I moved across recently. However, I am equally picky about bottled water, to the point where I think tap water tastes better than a lot of it.

    You are quite correct though in saying that a lot of bottled water is just filtered tap water. The Coca Cola company made the mistake of bottling London tap water and trying to sell it in the UK. As soon as the actual source got out the water was pulled by pretty much every shop that had been stocking it, and Coke took quite a hit in their profits for it. Oh, and it tasted pretty vile too :p

  • Faith

    Great list – thank you! – especially number 1. The library is a terrific resource for more than just books. I’ve cancelled my subscriptions to Netflix and all magazines. Now I get free DVDs (up to 6 per week) and a wealth of magazines from my library. Plus, they even subscribed to a couple new magazines I recently requested. All I had to do was ask, and wahlah!

  • immrlizard

    Colin, I couldn’t agree more about the bartering. I have heated my home for 3 years with firewood that I got for doing repair work on computers. One less way for uncle same to take from you. I don’t mind paying my share when they are being at least a little responsible spending it. It has been a while for that, so I don’t feel bad about them losing tax revenue on me.

  • Hugh

    Water in plastic bottles tends to be contaminated by plasticizers used during polymerization of the plastic. Water from the tap in the west tends to be much purer than most bottled waters. It can be contaminated, but then so can bottled waters but the difference is that water tends to be very closely monitored. Municipal water systems have moved away from lead a long time ago and only very few houses have lead piping.

  • Evelyn

    I agree to Hugh’s comment.

    Sorry, but it’s not as much about the taste than about what additional stuff is in the water. Tap water is a lot more regulated than any bottled water, so it’s safer, even though it *might* taste worse (although I don’t think so – the “normal” bottled water available tastes indifferent to tap water and some of the expensive French waters make me gag). I think it’s also very important what you’re used to-

    The plastic contaminating the water in the bottle is a good (or rather, bad) point, especially if the bottle got hot.
    Plus, the water filtering systems can make the tap water more contaminated than it would be just normally out of the tap.

    Anyway, I guess it’s a matter of personal choice.

  • Larissa

    Other music sites that I enjoy (for free!) are: playlist.com, cafecody.com, somafm.com, and live365.com. (If you don’t mind the ads on that last one, and are okay with clicking to continue the stream once in awhile, you don’t have to pay for preminum membership)

  • fadumpt

    I can definately taste a difference between New York and South Carolina tap water (this comment thread appears to have taken that turn) but SC water still seems drinkable as long as it isn’t reeking of Chlorine when I turn on the faucet…Personally, if you aren’t in a section of the world (including the parts of the US) that the tap water is blatanly undrinkable…tap water *will not* kill you…You body is designed to be a tad be stronger then the feeble image that people make us out to be. Turns out germs and bacteria just make you stronger and more able to cope with real dangers that might enter your system.

  • fadumpt

    meh…typos… “your body” “tad bit”

  • Sylwia

    I was just looking for a good whole house water filtration and after hours of searching i only get headache. It s so much of that crap over there its just overwhelming. Guys any suggestions what is good up there . If you do please HELP….

  • Charles

    Tap water unfortunately contains large amounts of aluminum to make it clearer and less yellow, but aluminum leads to Alzheimer disease. Tap water also contains residues of synthetic molecules that come from hormonal treatments rejected by urine, especially anti-conceptional pills. This leads to gender troubles for the fetus. Today, there’s no way to get rid of it, not even with a filtering device.

  • anonymous

    If you’re exalting the benefits of bottled water over tap water, you know that most brands of bottled water come from the tap right?

    Putting tap water in a plastic bottle doesn’t magically make all the pollutants disappear. The most popular and widely available bottled waters in the US come from the tap and only a few of them are even filtered before being bottled. A recent study found fluoride, chlorine, bacteria, cancer-causing plastic contaminants, and even acetaminophen in several generic bottled water products.

    Tap water is regulated, bottled water is not. A water purifier/filter is probably the best option. Two brands of bottled water “exceeded the industry trade association’s voluntary safety standards for samples purchased in Washington DC and 5 states (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and California)”. Depending on where you live, your tap water might be safer than your bottled water.

  • Jasmin

    When it comes to tap water I can almost always tell a difference, even with the water you at restaurants and fast food place so what I do is at Safeway they have 1-3 gallon water jugs and each gallon costs 41 cents so it saves money and the environment because I also bring my own water bottle with me everywhere, 5 cheers for clean inexpensive water!!! Horrayy

  • Brad

    I do agree with you on the music; I love Pandora, and I have over 30 stations!

    Also, I would like to add that one thing: You don’t have to have alot of money to have a good time. All you need are a group of friends and a game, or a walk in the forest with a magnifying glass and camera, or a bike-ride down to the nearest body of water, or the nearest mountain, &c.

  • Lindsay

    I am quite surprised to be reading comments stating how “unhealthy” tap or bottled water is. Let us all just be grateful that we have access to clean drinking water when a very large percentage of the world does not. First world problems.

    In regards to the blog, some pretty interesting ideas.

  • SEPCO-Solar Lighting

    Bottled water is one of the most wasteful and costly things people do when tap is free. I’m glad to see that on the list. And I love to watch / listen to TED talks and the MIT course catalog is wonderful. There are many other colleges coming out with the same and it is a great way to research what you want to do while also providing a great education.

  • J. Anthony Carter

    I saw Skype listed in your article but even after 5 years of downloading and trying to get it to work with my different PCs, nothing has come of it! I just gave up since there’re no instructions on how to make calls with Skype. I mean, what is supposed to happen here? I sign up but I don’t get a phone number so people can call me. I don’t know nayone else’s phone number to call them on skype! Even if it’s only PC to PC that’s free, how do you call someone’s PC without a number?

  • Matt

    While tap water may have those carcinogens and contaminants in it, I do not think it is beneficial to go posting about how bad tap water is and at the end of your article adding “a filter would be best”. Obviously, a water filter would be best to use! But what you have done was bored everyone out with your talks about how tap water is bad for you before getting to the most important point. My point is, use tap water with a water filter! I assure you that bottled water leaks more carcinogens into it through the plastic bottles during the transportation process than most tap waters throughout the US. As has been said before it varies greatly on your area you live and in in a lot of countries bottles water is your best or only option. Please exercise responsible online posting guys, people take posts as facts these days.