Things you shouldn’t pay for.

J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy shared a frugal tip from a reader who needed $1 to get something notarized. The place accepted only cash and the reader had zero money,  “not even change in my cupholders.” Paying a $3 ATM fee for a $1 errand was just too irritating to contemplate.

The solution: Hit the drugstore for an 89-cent soda and a $20 cashback.

This is how I get all my walking-around money. I don’t like waiting in bank lines. I like ATMs even less, because I’m paranoid about muggers or card skimmers.

Since a real frugalist hates to pay for anything unnecessary, I always buy for something I’ll eventually use. My fallback purchases are a $1 box of dried fruit from Walgreens or a pound of carrots at the Asian market.

In the blog’s comments section I pointed out that the reader might not have needed to go to all that trouble. Many banks and credit unions will notarize a customer’s documents for free.

And that got me thinking: What other services can you get for nothing?

Stamps and tires

I started a thread on the Smart Spending message board and a few ideas floated in.

Financial planning: One woman’s credit union provides help from a certified financial planner, free of charge.

Mailing: What with online bill pay, e-mail and e-greeting cards, it’s possible to do without snail-mail postage altogether. “I haven’t bought a book of stamps in almost two years,” one contributor noted.

Coin counting: Companies like Coinstar charge a fee. Some banks and credit unions have free counting machines. Or they may be willing to pour a mayonnaise jar full of specie into the behind-the-counter counter. (Note: Coinstar et al. may not charge you if you take the total in certain gift cards.)

Jewelry cleaning: A reader and her husband take their wedding rings to the shop where they bought them for a little re-sparkling. I don’t know if this would work for non-customers – although, come to think of it, I have sometimes heard jewelers offer free cleanings to browsers.

Auto check: Back when the Earth was still cooling, service stations would check your car’s fluids. These days you may luck into a garage that will do this. One reader noticed a low tire so she went to a local tire dealership that advertises free pressure checks (and brake checks, too). A slow leak was discovered and the $7 she paid beat the heck out of discovering a flat the next morning. Free popcorn in the waiting room, too.

Ask and ye shall receive (maybe)

Sometimes free service finds you. Once while vacationing I lost a screw from my glasses. I walked into an optical shop and explained my dilemma. The woman behind the counter fixed my specs and declined my offer to pay.

Sometimes you just have to ask. A friend needed to cushion a small souvenir for the trip home. She went into a Fed Ex/Kinko’s and asked if there was any stray bubble wrap to be had. An employee gave her a handful of pieces and lent her a tape dispenser to secure the wrap.

How about it, readers: What services do you never have to pay for?

Please don’t answer “sex.” I’ve already thought of that one. Besides, in the long run it can sometimes be cheaper just to buy it.

Related reading:

468 ad


  1. Ha! I don’t think I’ve ever paid an ATM fee. I almost always get cash back when I buy my groceries and use my Discover card (no cash advance fees, either!). I also wouldn’t pay for a notary as BoA has free notary services for customers. I know a lot of people pay for moving boxes, but often grocery and retail stores will have scads to give away for free–or if you work in an office, those boxes containing reams of paper work nicely.

    I never pay for soy sauce. I have a major stash built up from sushi runs over the years. Oh, and chopsticks, too!

  2. Donna Freedman

    @Stella: I thought “moving boxes” but then forgot to write it down. I blame mentalpause.
    Mailing boxes, too, can be repurposed from supermarket box finds (although certain kinds can’t legally be used).

  3. Hi Donna,

    I don’t pay for:

    a) upgrades from standard to express post — Canada Post offers expedited domestic services for small businesses at the same cost as standard, as long as you register. (I just put down my name as the business name.)

    b) pharmacy fees on birth control pills — my health clinic will dispense them without a fee

    c) insurance on my credit card balances (unnecessary for nearly everyone – also, I don’t have credit card balances)

    d) likewise, I don’t pay for credit reports, since you can get them via snailmail for free

    e) shipping costs on online purchases, thanks to freeshipping.org and retailmenot.com

    f) anything a family member has a specialty in. My extended family includes a minister, a doctor, several nurses, a physical trainer, a lobbyist, a carpenter, a scuba-diving instructor, a chemist and an interior decorator. I trade them my own abilities in kind. Family resources are the best resources!

  4. I don’t pay for my house! (j/k…but one of these days!)

  5. Get the tires rotated for free at Costco. Sometimes it takes them an hour or so, unless you can show up at a time when business is slow.

    Discount Tire will rotate your tires for free, too…or at least, they used to. Haven’t asked in quite a while, as they closed their outlets that were on my beaten path.

  6. sharon

    Call around to nearby libraries for a notary. Some of them will do it at no charge.

    Don’t pay Netflix for a DVD until you’ve checked with your library. Ditto for audiobooks, either on CD or downloadable.

  7. Courtney

    Oil Changes. There are a ton of mystery shopping companies that cover oil change places. The questionnaires tend to be very easy (less than 15 minutes of work). It’s not exactly a freebie, since you’re doing something in exchange for reimbursement, but I consider it one because it’s minimal effort.

  8. Oh, I’m laughing at your last point! Great sense of humor.

    On the notary, ask around your workplace to see if there is someone with those credentials and what their office hours are.

    As far as prescriptions go, get the lists from your local pharmacies as to which medications will be issued for free or very cheap. This is a favorite trick among parents in my area. Those lists keep expanding and you may be surprised what’s covered now.

    And do you want free coupons without a newspaper subscription? Find out if your library, church, community center or day care hosts a coupon swap box or suggest one. Library coupon boxes are common in my area so I’m surprised they aren’t seen elsewhere.

  9. I love that tip about the bank notarizing for free! I never knew that and had to pay to get something notarized with Sonny boy started school last September. What a waste of money.

    The Coin counting comment about coinstar is correct: they don’t charge a fee if you turn the change into gift cards. I always turn ours into amazon gift certificates to use for amazon deals online or into startbucks gift cards to give out as gifts during the holiday season.

  10. AutoZone will do a diagnostic on your car for free if your check engine light is on.


  1. Festival of frugality #240 Magazine Edition | Financial freedom through information - [...] Freedman presents Things you shouldn’t pay for.294 posted at Surviving and [...]
  2. The Pickup Truck Theory of Life Can Save You Thousands | Money Talks News - [...] trucks does one building need, anyway?More stories on DonnaFreedman.comIn praise of the rag bag Things you shouldn’t pay for…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *