You know the old line: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is." But occasionally, you can find legitimate low-cost or even free services. The catch? Getting something for next-to-nothing generally means that you have no leverage to complain.
If you're an easygoing person who is looking to economize, however, then you may be just the one to take advantage of any number of opportunities in your area to save. Here are just some of the ways you may be able to get something for very little in return:
Create an internship opportunity. Need some help with your small business? 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. (But give your intern productive, educational tasks -- don’t just task him or her with photocopies or grunt work. This will help you develop a positive working relationship with the placement office, should you want future interns.)
Get your personal information shredded. Check your local paper or online to see who may be sponsoring a paper-shredding event in your area. Often, the local government or businesses like banks will allow local residents to bring a certain number of bags or boxes of personal papers at no charge.
Head to beauty school (or a dental school, vocational tech program, or computer training program). By allowing students to practice their budding skills on you (not as big of a risk as you might imagine, since seasoned instructors supervise), you can save.
Consult your local reference librarian. Have a burning question, but don't have the time to research it on your own? Your friendly neighborhood reference librarian should be able to point you in the direction of the right resources with adequate lead time.
Get Fido fixed. There are several low-cost spay or neuter initiatives that will fix your cat or dog for a minimal charge. Check your local animal shelters to find out about these services.
Call your waste disposal facility. Your local waste disposal facility may sponsor drop-off or pick-up events for specialty household items like refrigerators, Christmas trees, large brush, or other items not covered by their regular trash pick-up service.
Get your health checked. Your hospital, health department, or pharmacy may offer health screening programs or immunizations at low cost to area residents.
Head back to the dorms. If you're traveling this summer, consider staying in a dorm at a local university (especially around Europe -- far fewer colleges in the U.S. seem to rent out their dorms) rather than reserving a hotel room. Not only will you save, but you'll likely be located near easy access to public transportation with the advantage of other campus amenities close at hand.
Find a starving artist. 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.
Get it appraised. An auction house or jeweler nearby may sponsor a free appraisal day -- call and ask!
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This article was originally published in September 2007. It has been updated.
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. The Fool has a disclosure policy.