By Brad Beckstrom
I should have made this list sooner, but I don’t like recommending something unless I’ve used it for a while, especially if it’s free, or it’s often too good to be true cousin (freemium). Since I started this blog in 2013, I’ve written about all kinds of free things on the inter-webs so I thought it would be a good idea to consolidate these into an ongoing list that I can update when I discover new free things, or get pissed and take one off the list. You can be sure that if it’s on this list I’ve been using it for at least a year.
Some of the items on this list are what we call “freemium”, meaning the initial version of the app is free, with more full-featured versions available for a fee. I won’t include them on the list if I don’t feel the basic version will fulfill most people’s needs, and I’ll be sure to mention if it’s ad-supported or freemium. These are not in any particular order, but in the future, I’ll add my latest discoveries to the top of the list.
- Craigslist, the granddaddy of useful free things on the web. Craigslist has been one of my favorite tools for getting rid of stuff, whether it means posting a curb alert to have your old stuff hauled away for free, unloading old computer equipment for cold hard cash, or selling some sports tickets without some service adding 20% to the price. It’s free, it’s useful, it works. The more you use it, the better you get. Always remember to use photos to get your items noticed. My favorite craigslist story was when our local UPS guy came and hauled away an old sofa that The Salvation Army would not accept.
- Google Apps for Work. Including Drive, Calendar, Docs, Gmail. I’ve been using Google’s online suite of apps for years. It always amazes me that I can create or find something much faster online in my browser than I can waiting for slow apps from Microsoft and Apple to grind through their bloated routines. After 6 years, I am currently using about eight gigs of the 15 free gigs of storage Google includes with my suite of apps. If you’re worried about security, you can even add two factor authentication. You’ll get a code sent to your mobile device if you try to login to your documents from another browser. You can also sync and backup your docs to your computer using Google Drive for your desktop.
- Feedly. The best way to follow blogs and other publications you enjoy is by using an RSS feed reader. Feedly is free and allows you to quickly search by topic or URL and quickly add content to your own custom feed. It will keep track of what you’ve read all in one place and you can access it in your browser on your phone or tablet.
- Evernote. I can’t say enough about Evernote. Imagine instantly saving anything that’s important to you including blog posts, photos, scans, presentations, PDFs all types of invoices and statements outlines and to do lists. Then imagine having it all in one place linked to your own fast search engine. That’s Evernote. It is one product that has truly changed the way I work. When I put together presentations I can tag related information and have it all at my fingertips when I’m ready to start laying things out. The basic version should last you a few years until you’re ready to upgrade to a few features in the premium version. I’ve been using it since 2011.
- Filethis. Automatically scans and directly deposits copies of statements directly in an app like Evernote from up to six connections. I’ve been using their forever free plan now for several years. I get copies of all of credit card statements, mobile phone bills, cable bills, insurance documents, Amazon receipts and others delivered directly into Evernote via Filethis. You can also choose local or cloud storage. By saving my bills into Evernote I can instantly search nearly any charge that shows up from a provider like Amazon or Verizon. So, imagine you want to twist your cable company’s arm about a recent price increase. You have every cable bill instantly searchable at your fingertips. It’s also very helpful for researching something you may have purchased on Amazon or with PayPal. They’ll even remind you when bills are due once you setup your connected vendors.
- Unrollme. I don’t have to ask most people if their email boxes fill up with crap. But there some things that are not necessarily spam but that you occasionally would like to look at. You just don’t want them filling up your inbox when you’re trying to get something done. Unrollme is a fantastic free product that lets you manage all of your subscribes and unsubscribes in one place. Once you set it up, you can quickly unsubscribe from anyone you’re no longer interested in hearing from. For the others, you can also choose to keep them in your inbox or roll them up into a concise daily summary that allows you to quickly scan all the others. Since I’ve started using it, I’ve unsubscribed from over 900 email lists, most of which I never signed up for. I go into a bit more detail here on the best ways to use unroll me, you can thank me later.
- Personal Capital. You probably have more than one bank account, credit card account, 401(k) or investment account. Personal Capital is hands-down the best free tool I’ve come across to track all of these in one place, with one very slick interface. They have some excellent tools for evaluating fees in mutual funds and retirement accounts as well as asset allocation tools. Personal Capital also offers asset management services but they are not required for you to set up and use the account. I’ve used other online tools like Mint, but because Mint is ad supported the interface can get a bit cluttered.
I’ll be keeping this list up-to-date as I discover new things and try to break them. Sign up for my email list for updates on this and one great post per week.