The Internet has broadened our world considerably, bringing people together and putting reams upon reams of information at our fingertips.
One of the biggest benefits the Internet has conferred upon us is the ability to spend less. Though we all know about free email (Gmail), free reference librarians (Quora, Google), and free videos (YouTube), there are countless other valuable things the Internet can provide at no charge.
You may already be familiar with some of the items on this list, which is based on a seminal Reddit thread. But many of these free services are still hidden in the margins, not quite in the mainstream. So if you don't regularly patrol the Internet looking for interesting free things, you might be in for some pleasant surprises.
You can always borrow physical books at the library, but if you have a phone—or better yet, an e-reader—you have access to thousands of books at no charge, without exposing yourself to a piracy lawsuit. Project Gutenberg has an entire library of public domain books that can be downloaded in a variety of formats. While public domain rules limit the offerings to anything prior to 1920, there's a whole lot of classics to choose from. For that matter, your local library probably lends e-books as well as traditional books, so check out its website to find out what's available to borrow in digital format.
You probably know that podcasts are free, but there are tons of free audiobooks at your fingertips as well. LibreVox is essentially the Project Gutenberg of audiobooks (although Gutenberg has some of its own on the site too). LibreVox relies on volunteers to narrate, which can be a mixed bag, but generally the quality of the audio and the readers is solid.
If you miss college (the classroom part of it anyway), you can fill your brain with plenty of college-level knowledge online. Top-notch schools like MIT, Harvard, and Yale offer an abundance of free course materials. If you're an autodidact with the discipline to adhere to something as rigorous as a college course, you can pull a Will Hunting without leaving your bed—and without having to worry about library card or overdue fees. Economics, physics, math, literature—take your pick. Some courses even offer credit toward a degree. Besides the individual websites, Coursera and Academic Earth are good resources for finding free college courses and partner with tons of universities around the country—for your benefit.
Quick Tutorials on Almost Any Subject
If you don't have the time or inclination to dive deep into a college course, the Internet is still a fertile ground for those who want to learn on their own time. Khan Academy offers countless lessons for free, instructing viewers how to do calculus problems or explain economic or political concepts. Creator Salman Khan is very thorough and clear, without dumbing the material down too much. He shows his work in his videos, and the ability to pause them and rewind is extremely helpful.
Many people will tell you that the most useful language today is some sort of code. The ability to code is a marketable skill for your resume, can be very useful to solve problems, and gives you an added understanding of how computers function. There are many different ways to begin. For someone who just wants a taste, you might try Hour of Code. For a more in-depth curriculum, Code Academy is the standard. Learn to Code the Hard Way is also a good option for a variety of programming languages.
Before you buy anything on the Internet, a quick Google search could save you significantly. Searching "coupon" or "discount code" may yield a 10% discount, free shipping, or something even better when you hit the checkout button. It could be a Tweet or a Blog that helps you out, or sites like RetailMeNot or CouponSherpa. If you really want to take this to the next level, you can try price trackers like PriceZombie. We go more into depth with these tricks here.
An Electronic Butler
There's a lot of ways the Internet can become a free butler. If This Then That (IFTTT) is a free timesaving tool that can be incorporated in many ways—the limit is up to you. Connected to your email, social media, and productivity tools, you can create scripts, or "recipes" as IFTTT refers to them, to do things for you, saving you time. For example, if you want your pictures you to be automatically uploaded to Google Drive, you can employ this IFTTT recipe. If you're a big Twitter user and want every tweet you make to go into a spreadsheet, you can do it automatically. It's a cool, free solution that handles tasks and gives you more free time. Quora is another platform that's become the Ask Jeeves of the 2010s, and if you ask it something—even if it's bizarre or niche question—you're likely to get an in-depth, thoughtful answer. Or three.
There is no substitute for learning a language by speaking it with other people. If that's not possible or practical, give free services on the Internet a try. Duolingo, for example, is a free online service (and phone app) that will help you get started learning a new foreign language or brushing up on one you lost after high school. Once you get a solid foundation, you can browse foreign-language news sites and watch videos and movies to sharpen your skills.
Spotify still offers an enormous library of music, for free—though you must suffer through the occasional ad. But besides free streaming services, there are plenty more options available. Archive.org hosts a ton of free music in the public domain, from a ridiculously extensive Grateful Dead live archive to Library of Congress recordings of old blues musicians like Jelly Roll Morton. The Free Music Archive also has a wide variety of music—including a catalogued classical music library.
Besides music, Archive.org is also a great resource for public domain movies, and many classic films are available, such as Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and many Charlie Chaplain masterpieces. Other classic movies are available on YouTube as well. If you're more into documentaries, you can find many for free on sites like Documentary Heaven.
Some software, like the Adobe Creative Suite, can be prohibitively expensive. But there are often free, competent alternatives. You can filter on the Apple App Store for free software, but OpenSource for Mac and Windows are good places to start. If you can't pony up $19.99/mo for Adobe Photoshop, Gimp's open source editor gets the job done. No matter the job, there's usually an free, open source application to use if you can't afford the premium versions. Don't want to buy Microsoft Office but don't want to rely on Google Docs? LibreOffice or OpenOffice are popular and free alternatives.
You're not obligated to take your tax business to the biggest advertiser and pay for filing your taxes. In fact, the IRS has a handy site that has a bunch of different free tax software options to choose from. If your income is under $62,000, you may be eligible to use the Free File Software, and even if you don't qualify you can still use the Free File Fillable Forms. These don't hold your hand quite as much, but they do have built-in calculators.
Free Cloud Storage
Cloud storage services have been providing Internet backups and access to your files at any time for a while now, but today there are a plethora of options to choose from--many of them free. Dropbox, the classic example, offers 2 GB for free, Microsoft's OneDrive offers 5 GB, Google Drive offers 15 GB, Box offers 10 GB, and Copy offers 15 GB. CNet has a great comparison grid that offers useful comparisons of various cloud storage services. Some of these, like Dropbox, offer more storage for no additional cost, if you complete certain steps, such as linking your iPhone or downloading its app.