beachfront in Cape May, NJ shot in April 2024
Life Saving Money

Free alternatives to popular paid services

At the beginning of the year, I decided to attempt a year-long no-buy challenge! My goals with this are to eliminate my habit of shopping when I’m bored, to stop shopping for the dopamine hits, to use (and use up!) what I already own, and to save as much as I can while bank interest rates are still high. I’m allowing myself to buy a few songs a month, and I can buy fun snacks at Aldi. If something breaks, I can replace it, and obviously I’m still buying everyday necessities like food, dog food, medications, cleaning supplies, etc. But I’m no longer shopping just to shop.

This experiment is also in part to see if I can stop my addiction to paid streaming services, especially Spotify. Turns out, a week was all it took to stop missing it! (And I can still use the free tier.)

In this post, I’m documenting the free services I’ve found and tried, and I’ll keep updating this list as I discover more. I cannot stress this enough: If you are eligible for one, get a library card. Where I live, mine offers so much content similar to what I once paid for.

Free alternatives to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max

If you use a program like uBlockOrigin, it might skip over the ads in certain services.

Tubi – Tubi is my go-to streaming app for movies and TV series, though sometimes it lags on my Chromecast. The ad load isn’t too bad, lighter than what I remember cable being like! Downside: Tubi is only available in the US.

Plex – The people who make Plex Media Server also have free series, movies, and live TV that you can stream. The ad breaks are a little sudden.

Freevee via Amazon Prime Video – Good selection of movies and TV shows, but the ad load is heavy. A lot of casino ads where I live. The free movies are easier to filter in the app; just look for the words “free with ads.”

Free section in YouTube Movies & TV – At the top of the page, select “Free with ads” to see what’s streaming right now. Great selection of free movies and the ad load isn’t too heavy. Plus it has some of the friendliest comments sections you’ll find on YouTube.

Hoopla – Check if this service is available through your library! Mine only allows me 8 borrows per month, but those borrows can go toward Hoopla’s Binge Passes, which give you a week of access to sites like Curiosity Stream and The Great Courses. Unfortunately, because the Binge Passes launch from within Hoopla Library in a browser, I don’t think it’s possible to use Curiosity Stream’s app, so no Chromecast. You can cast your whole device or tab, though. Max out your borrows at the end of each month!

Kanopy – Another library service! Global cinema and series without any ads. My library gives me about 12 borrows a month (24 tickets). You’ll connect your own Kanopy account to your library card, so the app works with Chromecast. Don’t forget to max out your borrows at the end of the month!

Pluto TV – I didn’t like the auto play which I could not figure out how to switch off, and movies would stop partway and refuse to ever load again, but maybe you’ll have a better experience than I did.

Free alternatives to Spotify

Spotify’s free tier. It’s ad supported and you can’t always listen to the exact song you want, but you still get access to your playlists.

YouTube Music – As of May 2024, you can still upload your own music to YouTube Music and access it from anywhere. This was the replacement for Google Play Music, which was superior as a music organizer in my opinion. I prefer Plex’s Media Server to YouTube but it’s handy. If you’re listening to music you own, there are no ads. If you stream music you didn’t upload or purchase, it will be ad supported.

Amazon Music’s free tier is pretty bare bones. No playlist editing, but you can still access the ones you made with a paid account, if you were a Prime member at any point.

Pandora’s free tier

Borrow albums from your library via Hoopla

Calmed by Nature ambiance videos on YouTube – This channel designs their own art (no generative AI!) and commissions the music in their videos. Additionally, they don’t have mid-roll ads, so you can listen for hours without interruption! Really fun themes for all seasons.

Burn your old CDs to your computer and organize them with a Plex Media Server. I use mine to access my 3k+ song library from my phone! I did pay a one-time unlock fee for the Plex app, but I think it was about $5. There’s a plus tier you can pay for that gives you additional features; I hear it goes on sale around Thanksgiving.

Free alternatives to Audible & Kindle Books

Libby – Overdrive’s app links to your library card for easy borrowing. Get ebooks and audiobooks, which stream directly through the app! Integrates with Kindle e-readers or you can read directly in the app.

Kobo’s Overdrive integration – If you own a Kobo e-reader, you can skip Libby and integrate directly with Overdrive. Borrow from your library direct to your Kobo device.

Project Gutenberg – Free eBooks, largely ones in the public domain.

Free alternatives to a Beach Body subscription

FitOn – I used FitOn for a couple of years when it was newer. They started to push the paid subscription and locked certain features, like streaming to a device, behind the paywall. But it has a solid variety of free workouts, tracking tools, and community features.

YouTube – YouTube is a huge repository of fitness videos. Here’s my playlist of 5 Minute Workouts

Free alternatives to Skill Share & other online learning courses

YouTube – No matter what you’re interested in, someone on YouTube has probably made a video about it. If not, check Reddit.

Coursera – Free courses from global universities. Look for the audit option to take courses for free! Sometimes the free options are a little hard to find. If you’re looking at a multi-course degree or program, look at the individual courses for the free audit links. You do not need to pay to access Coursera’s content. Some quizzes/assignments/capstone projects are available only to paid students, but if all you want is to watch the videos and gain some knowledge, you can do it for free.

The Great Courses binge pass from Hoopla (via your library)

Some more no-cost solutions

Several of the following services have paid tiers, but you can get a surprising amount from the free versions alone.

Carrd – Make free, simple, one-page websites and digital business cards

Canva – Free browser-based graphic design program (also has apps). Think InDesign meets Photoshop Light

Unsplash – Free stock photography for personal and commercial use

Google Drive – Love them or hate them, Google offers a lot of free services, including Drive. It integrates with Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Tasks, Calendar, and Meet.

Discord – My favorite chat program. I use it for a writing group & to communicate with my assistant. The Nitro tier is worth paying for if you use server boost features, but free Discord is robust as-is and is feature rich, especially when compared to Slack.

Notion – My favorite organizing tool. I run my life out of this program. The free tier is incredibly generous.

WordPress – If you don’t want to host your own website, you can start a free one over at Worpdress.

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