Trick or treat? How to make the most of freebies without paying the price
We all love the idea of getting something for nothing, so at a time when shopping has become something of a financial horror show, freebies give us the opportunity to grab a moment of joy in among the nightmare of price hikes.
There are several ways to get your hands on freebies.
There are a websites where committed discount-hunters recommend deals to each other, including Freebies: Guide to getting stuff for free - Money Saving Expert and Freebies ➡️ Free samples & Giveaways for October 2022 | hotukdeals.
There are also dedicated freebie websites like Latest Free Stuff | Freebies UK, Free Stuff and Free Samples and you can sometimes get access to particular freebies through cashback websites like TopCashback Official Site: UK's Highest Paying Cashback Site or Quidco | The UK's Highest Cashback Guaranteed.
For specific supermarket discounts and freebies you can use apps like Shopmium | Exclusive supermarket offers and check the sites of the big supermarkets.
Read more: What are your rights when your bank branch closes?
If there are other stores you regularly shop at, like Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) or John Lewis, you can also access discounts and deals through their apps.
However, there are some golden rules you need to be aware of if you’re going to take advantage of the treats without falling foul of some of the nastier tricks lying in wait for the unwary.
You may come across freebies and giveaways on social media, but you need to be careful, because this is where you’ll find an awful lot of scams.
They may claim to have something valuable to give away if you click on the link, but in reality they may be after your personal data, or the link may contain malware which can infect your computer, and compromise your accounts.
Some may ask for your bank details for "verification", which in reality is just an excuse to access your account.
The best way to spot these scams is to ask yourself if it seems too good to be true. There’s no reason why a big name would give away cash or expensive products with nothing in it for them.
Getting you on a list
When you sign up for a freebie, you often have to hand over some personal information in return, whether that’s an email address, phone number, or an address to send it to.
This doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but once they have your email address, they may then bombard you with marketing emails, texts or letters.
Some people have an email address they use specifically for freebies, so they’re not inundated with junk mail, and aren’t tempted to respond to any marketing emails.
Free trial traps
One way companies hook you in is with a free trial.
From their perspective they want you to love the product so much that you decide to sign up for the long-term.
However, they will also take your payment details, and insist you cancel if you don’t want to sign up. If you forget, you’ll end up paying for at least one month.
Read more: What happens if you miss a bill?
This doesn’t have to be a problem if you make a note to cancel in plenty of time — and know you’ll get round to it. If there’s a strong likelihood you’ll forget, there’s a good chance you can’t risk signing up for this kind of freebie.
Getting you to trade up retailers
If there’s a freebie available from a specific supermarket that’s pricier than your usual discounter, you may be tempted to shop there for a change in order to pick up the deal.
By trading up you can end up spending more than you save.
If you’re going to check deals at all the supermarkets, you need to be prepared to make some extra trips to stock up on freebies without increasing your overall spend.
Getting you to trade up products
This tends to be more of an issue with discounts than full-on freebies, where you’re persuaded to buy the premium brand, so that even with the discount you end up spending more.
However, even with freebies there’s a risk you trade up, and then don’t want to trade down again.
Keeping you in store for longer
If you take a stack of coupons and freebie vouchers shopping with you, there’s every chance you’ll spend longer hunting down the products you’re getting a deal on.
The risk is that the longer you spend in store, the more you tend to spend, because while you’re looking for something specific, you end up spotting something else and putting it in your trolley.
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It’s worth being aware of this risk, taking a list and following it relentlessly, or you can easily see your overall shopping bill climb.
Wasting your loyalty points
It’s tempting to save them up and spend them on shopping, so you walk away with some freebies.
However, in some instances, these aren’t the most cost-effective way to spend your points, because you can often get several times the points with their retail partners.
If, for example, you have £10 of Tesco (TSCO.L) points, you can get £30 of value by spending it on a railcard — which in turn gives you a third off train travel for a year. So instead of £10 of groceries, you could save hundreds of pounds on rail journeys instead.
Watch: How to save money on a low income
Sarah Coles is a personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown and co-presents Switch Your Money On podcast.