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You’ll be surprised how technology can help you keep more money in your pocket

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With the rising cost of living putting a strain on many families (including (still) high interest rates affecting credit card and mortgage payments, and food inflation rising in May for the first time in nearly a year), Canadians are understandably looking for ways to save.

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The good news is that you can get a handful of things for free that you would otherwise have to pay for.

Granted, there may be a few limitations, like watching some ads while streaming a movie or renting (instead of owning) e-books, but you’d be surprised at how technology can help you keep more money in your pocket.

You probably know that music streaming services offer a free (ad-supported) package and that there are free games to download to your digital devices, but below are half a dozen suggestions you may not know about.

Editor’s recommendations

WHERE CAN I GET FREE AUDIOBOOKS?

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If you have a library card, you can borrow e-books and audiobooks – including current bestsellers – for free using the Libby app.

The free app connects book lovers with content in more than 22,000 public libraries and thousands of colleges, universities, corporate libraries and learning centers.

Like at your library, you can enjoy the book you are reading until the “return date,” but now you don’t have to drive the books back to the library or pay a late fee.

You can install Libby on multiple devices and all your loans, notes, bookmarks and reading progress will be synced across devices.

Enjoy free audio from the Golden Age of Radio with Relic Radio.
Enjoy free audio from the Golden Age of Radio with Relic Radio. Photo from Screenshot

FREE WAY TO CONVERT E-BOOKS INTO AUDIOBOOKS

Here’s a little-known trick for iPhone or iPad owners: turn your eBooks into free audiobooks.

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This is possible with a built-in accessibility tool called Screen Reader, which reads aloud any text on the screen. Now you can listen in the car, close your eyes on an airplane, or walk down the street.

To enable the feature (only needed once), go to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak Screen Content. Then, with an app open, such as an eBook reading app, swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers to hear the content read to you.

It also works with emails, messages, web articles, recipes, and notes. You can optimize the voice, including gender and language, speaking speed, and more.

Android has something similar, but it’s not quite as good. Go to Settings > Accessibility > TalkBack.

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Speaking of audio, you can listen to tens of thousands of free radio plays—“mind theater” programs popular in the 1940s through 1960s—on sites like Archive.org or by subscribing to various podcasts, including Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society, Relic Radio, and Radio Retropolis.

Tubi is an ad-supported entertainment streamer that offers thousands of TV episodes and movies for free.
Tubi is an ad-supported entertainment streamer that offers thousands of TV episodes and movies for free. Photo from Screenshot

FREE TV? THESE APPS DELIVER IT (WITH ADVERTS)

Often referred to as AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) or sometimes FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) services, these networks offer free videos to watch on a smart TV, smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Some of the most popular options include Tubi (my favorite), Roku Channel, Pluto TV, and of course YouTube – all of which offer thousands of TV episodes and movies for free. Some offer live programming, but most are on-demand.

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The catch? You have to watch a few commercials at the beginning and during the program. But at least they are much shorter than normal TV commercials.

And hey, free is free.

WHICH APP OFFERS A FREE PHONE NUMBER?

Having a second phone number on your smartphone is extremely handy for a variety of reasons. For example, you might not want to give out your real number when posting items on a classifieds website or meeting someone for the first time on a dating app (in case they turn out to be a stalker).

Instead, apps like TextNow (based in Kitchener-Waterloo) give you a free 10-digit North American number based on the city you enter (like Toronto or Los Angeles), and you can now give that number to those you want to reach. It also works on tablets, laptops and desktops.

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Like your main number, you can change the ringtone, access voicemail, initiate a three-way conference call, and more. It works for text messages too. All free.

One small caveat: If you use your device outside of areas where you have free Wi-Fi (such as at home), it will rely on a cellular connection, which may incur data charges from your carrier.

By installing an app like AlfredCamera on your device, you can set up an older, unused device as a free wireless security camera.
By installing an app like AlfredCamera on your device, you can set up an older, unused device as a free wireless security camera. Photo by Supplied

SURVEILLANCE CAMERA WITHOUT SUBSCRIPTION

Given how often we update our devices, you might have an extra iPhone, iPad, or Android device somewhere at home, in which case you can turn it into a free wireless security camera, use it as a baby monitor for playdates, as a “nanny” cam (with consent), or as a way to keep an eye on your pets while you’re at work.

The entire process is done via apps such as AlfredCamera or Presence.

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After you’ve installed (and logged in to) the same app on both your existing phone or tablet and your old one, simply place the old device somewhere in your home, make sure it’s plugged in, and point the device’s camera somewhere.

No matter where you are, open the same app on your existing phone or tablet to see what’s happening at home in real time, or set up sound and/or motion alarms.

COMPATIBLE OFFLINE PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS

Finally, while there are some free productivity programs, most require an Internet connection to use.

Instead, OpenOffice by Apache is a downloadable offline suite of productivity tools for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and more. OpenOffice is available in multiple languages, runs on many operating systems, and you can install it on as many computers as you want.

The software package supports numerous file types created by other programs (including Microsoft Office .doc, .xls and .ppt formats).

In this regard, it is worth mentioning that while there are many free photo editing tools available, Gimp is probably the most robust thanks to its powerful editing features, digital retouching, multiple file support, and customizable interface options.

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