You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get free money ideas from these eight sources!
Articles about finding free money are popular on the web but a lot revolve almost exclusively around unclaimed money. I’ve claimed a forgotten savings account and it’s a good idea to check for unclaimed property but it is only one way of going to the money tree.
Unlike living frugal where you have to develop the mindset of being happy with spending less, the eight free money ideas below can be unbelievably easy. A few will take a little effort but most are as simple as planning your spending or checking a box.
Update! I've updated this post with new ways to get free money including how to get more money at work and some great free websites that won't cost a dime!
Don’t miss out on these eight unbelievably easy free money ideas and please share your own tricks in the comments below.
Free Money Ideas on Spending and Investing
1) Credit card companies make their money by ‘nickel and diming’ people that forget to pay off their cards each month. That $30 monthly interest charge may not seem like much but it adds up over the years. It’s time to turn the tables on the credit card companies and make them pay those nickels and dimes with a cash back program!
My wife and I use the UPromise program on our Discover card which deposits up to 5% of our purchases into a college savings fund for our son. On top of the rewards from spending on the card, we can also get cash back by using the Upromise site to go to other sites like Walmart, Best Buy and Home Depot.
Of course, you’ll end up paying more in interest if you forget to pay the balance on your credit card. Set your payments to pay off the balance automatically each month and set an email reminder each month to make sure you pay it off.
2) Most online investing platforms offer a free money cash back program when you sign up. Many require you to fund your account with tens of thousands to get the full amount of cash back. E*Trade’s $600 cash back program requires a transfer of more than $25,000 just to get the minimum $200 cash back.
Motif Investing only requires a minimum of $2,000 in your account and gives you up to $150 back depending on how many purchases you make within your first 30 days. The cash back program is tied to the site’s motif investing portfolios which are baskets of 30 individual stocks based on a financial goal, industry trend or strategy. The concept is a valuable one because it helps you diversify your investments with one trade, reducing your risk around any individual stock. You buy the motif that best matches your investment needs and pay just $9.95 to purchase all 30 stocks. Invest in one motif for $50 cash back, three motifs for $100 cash back or five motifs for $150 cash back.
3) Rewards programs can be a pain sometimes, especially if you don’t make it a point to shop at the same store and build up points. It can lead to some big time savings though and free money for one of your biggest expenses – groceries. Most grocery stores have a rewards program. Walmart has its Savings Catcher program that allows you to redeem points at the store or online. You don’t have to spend much time hunting down programs for every place you shop.
- Go through your budget and check out your top monthly expenses.
- For the biggest expenses, find a store with a rewards program and build points whenever you can
- For local stores where you spend a significant amount of money, try negotiating a 5% discount or some kind of rewards with the management
Free Money Ideas at Work
4) As an investment analyst, this one is a pet peeve of mine. Boston College research shows that one-in-five people do not participate in their company’s 401k match program and only 10% of workers contribute the maximum amount. It is hard enough to ‘beat’ the market and rates on bond investments have fallen to the floor, why would you pass up a guaranteed double-digit return?
The average 401k program matches 50% of a worker’s contribution up to 4% of their salary. The usual response I get when I ask why people are not maxing out their contribution is because their employer only matches 50% of the amount. So! It’s still free money! If you make $50,000 a year, you only need to save $4,000 to get the full $2,000 in employer-matched free money.
Over 30 years, and assuming a 6% annual return, you’re missing out on more than $158,000 in free money by not taking full advantage of your employer’s 401k match program!
If you’re self-employed, don’t pass up the chance to open a Solo 401k or a SEP IRA and shield your business profits from taxes as well as get free money by saving on income taxes.
5) Grants aren’t just for non-profit organizations and scientists! You can get all kinds of grants for housing, personal financial assistance, small business and a range of other reasons. This is like scholarship money and doesn’t have to be paid back so it’s some of the best free money available.
The federal government offers grants for first-time homebuyers, low-income rent and for homebuyers with bad credit through the HUD.gov website. Besides different grant programs, the government also offers low-down payment loans for home purchase.
Personal assistance grants and other benefits are available through govbenefits.gov where you’ll find an easy Benefit Finder app that helps you find the free money available to your family. Don’t be embarrassed to take advantage of these government benefits programs. You pay your taxes and have the right to everything the government offers.
The Small Business Administration provides an easy tool to find federal, state, and local government grants for business owners. These grants are funded with your tax dollars so you might as well use them if you can. Grants are available for all stages of small business development.
The general search tool for federal grants is at grants.gov though the application process can be extensive. Like all grants, you’ll have to spend a little time searching and filling out paperwork but it’s all free money.
Free Money Ideas at School and from the Government
6) The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) reports that one out of eight Americans have unclaimed assets they don’t even know about and an average of $1,000 in free money. These are old savings accounts, payroll checks, utility deposits and all kinds of forgotten assets usually held by the Treasurer’s Office in your state. One-in-eight means you’ve got a better than 10% chance at having some free money without knowing it. Click through to the NAUPA website to start a search or write directly to your state’s Treasurer’s Office.
7) File your taxes but haven’t seen that refund yet? You can check your refund on the IRS Where’s My Refund site within 24 hours after your e-filed taxes have been accepted or four weeks after your paper return was mailed. You’ll need your social security number, filing status and the exact refund amount to prove your identity.
8) With the super-fast increase in tuition costs, this last free money idea is a favorite. More than $46 billion in college scholarships are handed out every year. I went to military college for two years on a scholarship from the Marine Corps and it saved me a ton of money.
Finding and applying for scholarships can be a long process but it can be one of the most important things you teach your child. Not only will they get the opportunity to get their degree without a massive student loan burden, but the effort involved to apply and get the money will help teach them the value of work. Fastweb has a free search for available scholarships but do some leg-work and reach out to local community groups. It helps to build a strong ‘resume’ of high school accomplishments so get your son or daughter started early in extra-curricular activities and studying to keep that GPA up.
Get Free Money at Work by Knowing What You're Worth
Start thinking about asking for what you want and you’ll be surprised at how many opportunities come up to ask for a better deal. Of course, the most obvious is still going to be asking for a raise at work so I thought I would cover a little more detail here.
Be specific when you ask for a raise or more money at work. Simply asking for a raise is going to get you into a back and forth on why there’s no more money in the budget. Again, knowing what other people in your position are making is your first step. Even if you already make more money than most, it isn’t a dead-end but you need to support why you deserve even more. Ask for a specific dollar amount or a percent above what you’re currently earning.
Be strategic about when you ask for a raise. If you’ve got a busy time of year or a particularly important project coming up, really rock the project and then plan on asking afterwards. Don’t hold the project up as a hostage to your request. Your employer isn’t going to appreciate the ultimatum and any negotiating power you have will be weak. Waiting until after the project means your success will still be fresh in your supervisor’s mind and you’ll have a better argument for why you deserve more money.
Beyond being able to show measurable proof of your success and your worth, put together a few ideas on how you can be even more valuable. You may be tapped out on the salary for your current position but what if you added a few responsibilities. Don’t step on your coworkers by suggesting you could take over their work but try to think of pet projects your boss has wanted to put together.
Benefits are another negotiating point you shouldn’t neglect. Some benefits must legally be consistent across all employees but you might be able to negotiate on others. Find out if there is a different benefits package offered to different levels of employees or management.
Go to your immediate supervisor when asking for a raise. Don’t skip over your boss even if there’s bad blood between you. Have a strong case for why you deserve a raise. If your argument is ignored then you can either talk to HR or go to the next higher up.
Free websites for everyday life
My favorite free website is the family calendar from Famundo.com, which helps you organize with a family calendar, message board and address book. Each family member can access this from any computer with their personal code. No more miscommunication and missed meetings. I’ve got six brothers and sisters, countless nieces and nephews and one adorable grandson. Everyone is spread across the country and there’s no way we could manage without a free website like Famundo.
Cooking for visitors is a favorite past-time of mine, but I cannot always find a recipe in my cookbooks. There are hundreds of recipe sites online, so many that I lose track of them all. You can usually type in the name of the dish you want to prepare or just go straight to my favorite free website for cooking, AllRecipe.com which even lets you leave reviews of your favorite recipes.
Before computers we actually used cameras, took a picture and had to take it somewhere to be developed. Then we put these hard-copy pictures in books call albums. Now I keep my pictures on my computer but the computer and I have a love/hate relationship. It loves to put my pictures where I can’t find them and I hate it! That’s why I started using Picasa.google.com which lets me edit, add effects and share photos with others on the web.
Free websites for listening and learning
I love listening to 50’s and 60’s music but have a difficult time finding good radio stations that play what I like. I just type in an artist on Pandora.com and the free website for music plays songs by that artist and others with a similar style. I can’t download music, but I can listen to my own style of music.
I have been trying to learn Spanish on my own off and on for years. I can get the basics but then I usually end up quitting before I get very far. I’ve just recently found bbc.co.uk/languages and love their approach to learning a language. I signed up for the free 12 week class in Spanish and get weekly e-mails from a teacher with lessons and learning tips. After Spanish I can tackle French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Greek and more!!
Your turn! I would love to hear your free money ideas. Use the comment section below or email me to share with the community.