With the rising costs of living putting a strain on many families – not to mention high interest rates affecting your credit card and mortgage payments, mass layoffs, and a looming recession – Americans, understandably, are looking for ways to save.
The good news is you can get a handful of things for free you otherwise might pay for.
Granted, there may be a few limitations, such as sitting through a few ads during a streaming movie or borrowing (rather than owning) ebooks, but you might be surprised how tech can help you keep more money in your pocket.
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You probably know about the thousands of free games you can download from your favorite app store, but there is so much more.
The following are a half-dozen suggestions.
Where can I get full audiobooks for free?
So long as you have a library card, you can borrow ebooks and audiobooks for free – even today’s bestsellers – through the Libby app.
On Jan. 25, its parent company OverDrive announced a milestone: one billion digital books borrowed through Libby, to date.
The app connects book lovers with content in more than 22,000 public libraries and thousands of colleges, universities, corporate libraries, and learning centers.
Like your library, you can enjoy the book you’re reading until the “due date,” but now you don’t need to drive the books back to the library or face a late fee.
You can install Libby on multiple devices, and all your loans, notes, bookmarks, and reading progress are synchronized across your devices.
Free way to turn ebooks into audiobooks
Here’s a little-known trick iPhone or iPad owners: turn your ebooks into free audiobooks, using a built-in accessibility tool called Speak Screen that will read aloud any text on the screen.
Now you can listen while in the car, while closing your eyes on an airplane, or when walking down the street.
To activate it (only required once), go to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak Screen. Then, in any app you have open, such as an ebook reading app, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen for the content to be read to you. It also works with emails, messages, web articles, recipes, and notes. You can tweak the voice, including gender and language, speaking speed, and more.
Speaking of audio, take advantage of tens of thousands of free radio plays – popularized in the ’40s and ’50s — at websites like Archive.org or by subscribing to various podcasts, such as Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society and Relic Radio.
Free TV? These apps deliver (with commercials)
Often referred to as AVOD services (“ad-supported video on demand”) or sometimes FAST (“free ad-supported streaming TV”), these networks provide free videos to watch on a Smart TV, smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Some of the more popular options include Vudu, Tubi, Roku Channel, Crackle, Pluto TV, Popcornflix, and of course, YouTube – each of them offering thousands of TV show episodes and movies for free. Some have live programming, but most are on-demand.
The catch? You need to sit through some commercials at the start and during the programming.
But hey, free is free.
What app offers a free phone number?
A secondary phone number on your smartphone is super handy for a variety of reasons, but you do not need to pay for a service.
Instead, apps like Google Voice and TextNow can give you a number in your general area, providing your desired area code is available (or choose another city). Both services work on mobile devices and computers.
Google Voice will forward calls to any device, block spam calls, and if a call goes to voicemail, the service will provide a text transcription of the message for you.
TextNow is also free over Wi-Fi, and if you want a mobile phone service that’s virtually free (for outside of your home), it will cost you $0.99 cents for an activation kit (which includes a SIM card) and then unlimited nationwide talk and text service is free (but ad-supported). Data rates are inexpensive, with rates listed at the company’s website.
Like your main number, you can change the ringtone, access voicemail, engage in a three-way call, and more.
Surveillance camera without subscription
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 surveillance camera, to turn it into a baby monitor on date night, a “nanny” cam (with consent), or a way to keep an eye on your pets while at work.
It’s all handled through an app called Presence (for iOS and Android).
After you install (and sign into) the same app on your existing phone or tablet, and your aging one, simply place the old device somewhere in your home, ensure it’s plugged in, and point the device’s 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.
Compatible offline productivity tools
Finally, while there are some free productivity programs, most require an internet connection to use.
Instead, Apache’s OpenOffice is a downloadable, offline suite of productivity tools for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and more. OpenOffice is available in multiple languages and runs on many operating systems, and you can install it on as many computers as you like.
The software suite supports a wide range of file types created by other programs (including Microsoft Office’s .doc, .xls and .ppt).
On a related note, there are many free photo-editing tools, but Gimp might be the most robust, thanks to its powerful editing features, digital retouching, multiple file support, and customizable interface options.
Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
Story Credit: usatoday.com