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Surprising things you can get for free

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(Real Simple) -- Sometimes you get what you don't pay for. Here are nearly two dozen of the best freebies and -- most important -- how to score them

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Free education

• Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Get your geek on: MIT offers a far more comprehensive selection of free online courses than other universities -- nearly its entire undergraduate and graduate curriculum.

Downloading materials takes minutes. A newsletter highlights new offerings, from Quantum Physics to American Women Authors.

What's the Catch? Users can't enroll, take classes on campus, or earn degrees.

Find out more: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

• BBC, FrenchPodClass. The BBC offers top-notch online and MP3 lessons in languages familiar and obscure, including French, German, Portuguese, Mandarin, Greek, and Urdu. FrenchPodClass has easy-to-use, enjoyable podcasts that allow you to learn French while you do errands or go for a run.

What's the Catch? Classes are one size fits all, which fast learners may find sluggish (and slow learners may find difficult).

Find Out More: FrenchPodClass, BBC languages

Free Classes

• U.S. Small Business Administration. Learn how to write a business plan, register your company, and deal with the tax details of running a home business at your local Women's Business Center evening classes (men are welcome, too).

What's the Catch? Novices and more advanced learners share the same classroom.

Find Out More: Small Business Administration (click on "Local Resources" for a nearby center and for financial and marketing information).

• Apple Stores. Apple gives excellent classes on business and entertainment software, music programs, and computer basics, all remarkably free of sales pitches. There are also classes on how to use Apple hardware, like iPods. Most of the company's stores -- there are more than 170 -- offer several classes a day.

What's the Catch? All classes relate to (often pricey) Apple products.

Find Out More: Apple Stores (click on "Visit an Apple store").

Free Culture

• Museum visits. While some museums don't charge an admission fee, others can cost $20 and up (more than a movie!). Take advantage of free days, half days, and nights that take place weekly or monthly at various institutions throughout the United States.

What's the Catch? The free-admission times tend to attract large crowds; expect long lines and less of an opportunity to get up close and personal with a Cézanne.

Find Out More: Check out the Web sites of your local museums.

• Music Together, Music for Aardvarks, Gymboree. These three companies all offer a complimentary peek at exactly what baby music classes entail (hint: plenty of drumbeating, rattle shaking, and scarf throwing). It's a great way to introduce your little one to the experience before shelling out $135 to $255 for a full term (generally 10 to 12 weeks).

What's the Catch? Many parents have been taking classes together for a while, so they can be quite chummy. As an observer, you might feel left out and too shy to participate fully.

Find Out More: Music Together-class locator, Music for Aardvarks-class locator, Gymboree-class locator

• Kids' Night on Broadway. Once a year (this year it was in late January), children ages 6 to 18 can experience the Great White Way for free with a full-paying adult. There are also Kids' Nights for nationally touring shows throughout the year.

What's the Catch? Tickets go very fast, especially for the most popular shows.

Find Out More: Kids' Night on Broadway

Tip: To find out about free movies and concerts in your area, go to Yahoo or Google and type in the kind of entertainment, "free," and the name of your city.

Free Gyms

• Health-club trials. LA Fitness, Bally Total Fitness, the Sports Club/LA, and Gold's Gym have a range of free-trial offers, from one day to two weeks, for prospective members, as do many other gyms throughout the country. Rules vary.

What's the Catch? You often have to tour the health club with a sales representative, which sometimes takes as long as an hour. Some gym companies may require you to prove nearby residence with a driver's license.

Find Out More: Go to the gyms for details.

Free Photos

• Adorama, Dotphoto, Kodak, Snapfish. In addition to photo sharing and online albums, these popular services provide 15 to 50 free prints when you sign up.

What's the Catch? You have to pay for shipping, which usually isn't more than a few dollars.

Find Out More: Adorama, Dotphoto, Kodak, Snapfish E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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