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The Motley Fool's Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp is in session! Every weekday this month, we'll walk you through a fresh money-saving/money-making tip as we work toward finding $2,000 in savings you didn't know you had.
Need some help around the office? A haircut? A new filling?
Services like these are among the first things to go when the belt starts tightening around our budgets. But you can still get your bangs trimmed, go for a massage, even get some help organizing your filing cabinet for free (or at least at a deep, deep discount).
Yeah, I know -- by now everyone's hip to the fact that the ubiquitous "free lunch" hardly ever comes completely gratis. Still, there are ways to get otherwise costly services for a fraction of the price if you know where to look.
First, two things to consider:
- Location matters. Big cities, college towns (or places with other formal training schools), and areas with active Chambers of Commerce tend to offer the most opportunities to get or swap free services.
- Set realistic expectations. If you're a perfectionist or have really, really high standards, tread carefully. This economizing strategy is best for those who are truly easygoing. After all, when you get something for practically nothing, you give up your right to complain or demand cash back.
With that out of the way, let's find our free lunch! I asked a buddy -- a savvy free-service shopper -- to share her top tips on getting stuff and services for very little in return. Here are her recommendations:
Create an internship opportunity. If you're a small business owner and could use some help, contact your local college's placement office to see how to sponsor a college intern. The student earns college credit; you get the extra help you need. Have your intern work out a marketing plan, update copies of your brochures or improve some area of your operations. Don't just saddle them with grunt work. You want them to report positively back to the placement office so you can attract future interns.
Get your stuff shredded for free. Banks and credit unions often sponsor free paper-shredding events. You can bring a certain amount of bags or boxes of stuff to be destroyed at no charge to you. Check the local paper or online to find out when one is scheduled.
Head to beauty school (or a dental school, vocational tech program, or computer training program). Everyone's gotta start somewhere -- why not let a student practice by highlighting your hair or perfect deep tissue massage on your aching neck? Just be sure to inquire about the level of supervision that your student will receive during your treatment. Typically, seasoned instructors are standing by.
Get Fido or Fifi fixed. Look up low-cost spay or neuter programs through your local animal shelters. Most offer these services for a minimal cost -- even if you didn't adopt your pet from their facility.
Get your big stuff hauled away for free. Local waste disposal facilities often sponsor drop-off or pick-up events for stuff that's not covered by their regular trash pick-up service. So you can finally get rid of that old refrigerator, pile of brush, and last year's Christmas tree for free.
Get your health checked. Hospitals, health departments, and pharmacies frequently sponsor health screening programs or low-cost immunization programs for residents.
Find out what your valuable stuff is worth. Jewelers and auction houses often sponsor free appraisal days. Call and inquire. Many schedule this service regularly to drum up re-sale business.
Make a starving artist's day. If you're interested in art for your home or need a mural painted, go to the local art school. Art schools often have student galleries where you can find beautiful works of art for discount prices and bulletin boards where you can post jobs.
Swap your skills for stuff: Don't have cash, but have time or some other skill to offer in return? Bartering's becoming de rigueur. So go ahead and post what you want and what you have to offer (keep it clean, folks!) on craigslist.org or whatever free listing service is available in your area.
Have you scored free services? Do tell! Share your strategies for cutting costs on unusual items or services below.
Tune in throughout the month for the latest installment of our Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp, as we stay on course to produce at least $2,000 of savings for you.