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Subscriptions? In this economy? Free alternatives for watching, reading and listening

UPDATED: Mon., March 21, 2022

Verizon offers free access to streaming services Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus to new customers on its most expensive 5G plan, and limited trials of some on its cheaper plans.  (Associated Press)
Verizon offers free access to streaming services Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus to new customers on its most expensive 5G plan, and limited trials of some on its cheaper plans. (Associated Press)
By Heather Kelly Washington Post

On its own, $12.99 a month might sound like a perfectly reasonable amount of money to spend on staying fit.

That’s the monthly price for a Peloton app membership, which comes with unlimited videos of chipper fitness instructors and workout tracking.

But what if after a good sweat you like to relax with “Love is Blind” on Netflix ($15.49 a month), then pop on the latest Audible book ($14.95 a month) while you run errands, or stay at home and order things you don’t need on Amazon Prime ($14.99 a month) until it’s time to cook the groceries you had delivered via Instacart Express ($9.99 a month) while rocking out to new tunes on Spotify ($9.99).

You’ve had a lovely day, but, with recent inflation and rising gas prices, the total ($79.40) might be more money than you can afford right now.

To start saving, consider swapping out paid entertainment with some free options.

Watch videos free

If you’re paying for multiple video-streaming accounts, try rotating which subscriptions are active so you pay for only one at a time.

April could be dedicated to bingeing Star Trek on Paramount Plus, and May for catching up on K-dramas on Netflix.

Or you can stop all of them and try these free options.

If you have a television set and no cable, get an HDTV antenna and you can watch PBS, the big networks and some local channels.

NBC’s streaming service Peacock has a free version that requires sitting through some ads, but in exchange, you can watch b-list TV shows and movies, or re-binge on old sitcoms or dramas you haven’t thought about in years.

You can get a lot through your local library with apps like Kanopy, which is filled with high-quality movies you may have missed, and Hoopla, which has more-obscure titles.

All you need is your library card and possibly a pin number.

Other free options include a mix of live and streaming options often with ads, such as Pluto TV, IMDBtv, Fox’s Tubi TV, Roku’s own channel, Crackle and Vudu which is known more for paid rentals but also has free content.

And, of course, there’s always YouTube’s years worth of footage to dig through, including free movies.

There also are quite a few ways to get the big subscriptions through free offers, at least for a while.

For example, when you buy a new Apple device, it comes with three months of Apple TV Plus.

Verizon offers free access to Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus to new customers on its most expensive 5G plan, and limited trials of some on its cheaper plans.

Check with your cellular provider on any offers, and look for trials when you purchase any new hardware.

Check out other memberships you might have, such as Target Circle, which offers free Apple services including Arcade, Fitness Plus and iCloud for four months and longer.

Read at no charge

It’s a golden age for e-books and audiobooks, thanks to a number of apps you can access with your library card (are you sensing a theme?).

The best-known tool is an app called Libby, which libraries use for e-book checkouts.

It’s filled with text-based books, audiobooks, and even full-color graphic novels that look great on a tablet.

The app also works with e-readers such as the Kindle.

Hoopla is another app with library e-books. If you’re strictly mainstream, Marvel offers a selection of free comics to download on its site.

If you have the Apple Books app, Kindle app or Barnes and Noble’s Nook app, you should have easy access to a number of free titles from all of those.

If comics are more your speed, check out Graphite Comics, Tapas for community submitted comics, or head back to Hoopla again. If you’re into saucy fan fiction, try Wattpad.

Listen at no charge

Free music is something we all still know how to access, thanks to the radio. There are tons of vibrant, interesting radio stations out there, and not just the ones you can get on your car dial.

There are free apps for listening to radio stations around the world or online-only streams.Check out iHeartRadio, AccuRadio and Radio Garden Live, which lets you pick anyplace in the world and hear the local radio.

Remember Pandora? The streaming music site is still around, and you can listen to channels free, with a few ads thrown in.

YouTube Music has a free version with ads that is good at figuring out what you enjoy. Deezer is another simple streaming option with a free tier.

For free audiobooks, head right back to Libby or Hoopla and check out whatever is available (there’s usually a wait for popular new releases). LibriVox offers audiobooks that are in the public domain, read by volunteers.

Get free delivery

You don’t need Amazon Prime or Walmart Plus to get free delivery.

The secret on most apps – including Amazon, Walmart and Target – is to hit the $35 dollar minimum to get free shipping.

That might mean waiting until you have enough things in your basket instead of firing off every impulsive purchase. Grocery delivery is a little harder to get without big fees, but some apps, including Instacart, offer the first delivery free.

Workout free

There’s been a boom in workout subscriptions during the pandemic, helping people stay fit while gyms were closed.

Although the expensive apps, such as Peloton and Apple Fitness+, offer a regular supply of fresh workout videos and big names, there are many strength, HITT, yoga and other workouts free elsewhere.

The Nike Training Club app has experienced trainers and plenty of tips. Biking and running fans can download the Strava or AllTrails apps to head outside.

YouTube is chock-full of fitness creators and channels including Yoga With Adriene.

If you do pay for a streaming video service such as Netflix or Prime Video, you can find well-produced workout videos to watch without signing up for anything new.

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