Short on Cash? 6 Things You Can Get for Free, Including Books and Streaming Apps

Low on Cash

You probably know about all the free games you can download from your favourite app stores, but there is so much more. Photo: Chad Springer/Getty Images

With the rising cost of living putting a strain on many families — not to mention the interest rate hikes that affect your credit card and mortgage payments — Canadians are looking for ways to save. In fact, Google Search says there was a huge spike for words like “cheap” and “affordable” over recent months. No surprise there.

But instead of “cheap” and “affordable,” what if you can get some things for free that you otherwise might be paying for? You probably know about all the free games you can download from your favourite app stores, but there is so much more.


Free Phone Number


A Canadian app, TextNow (iOS, Android) gives you a secondary — and completely free — phone number to use on your existing smartphone. Why do you need this? You might not want to reveal your real phone number, if, say, you’re selling something online (which may require a phone number) or for those going on a blind date (in case it doesn’t work out!). You can call or text for free over Wi-Fi with this new number, or use it out of the home, but will incur data charges. Choose a city in Canada or the U.S. and you’ll receive a number for that area code. Like your main number, you can change the ringtone, access voicemail, and more — but all for free.


Free Books


So long as you have a library card, you can borrow ebooks — today’s bestsellers and classics, too — for free through the Libby by OverDrive app. Once you install Libby on your tablet or smartphone, create a free account and then search for something to read. Like your library, you can enjoy the book until the “due date,” but this time you don’t need to drive the books back to the library or face a late fee! You can install Libby on multiple devices, in fact, and all your loans, notes, bookmarks and reading progress sync across your devices (start on your iPad and finish off on your smartphone later on).


Free Audiobooks


Here’s a little-known trick for iPhone or iPad owners: turn your ebooks into free audiobooks, using a built-in accessibility tool called Speak Screen that will read aloud any text on the screen. Now you can listen while in the car, while closing your eyes on an airplane or when walking down the street. To activate it (only required once), go to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak Screen. Then, in any app you have open, such as an ebook reading app, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to have the book read to you. It also works with emails, web articles, recipes or notes. You can tweak the voice, including gender and language, speaking speed and more.


Free Radio Plays


Speaking of audio, ii you have fond memories of “old-time radio” shows popularized in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s — before television became the dominant entertainment medium in the home — you can find virtually all of them for free at websites like or by subscribing to various podcasts (one of my favourites is the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society and anything by Relic Radio). Just like TV, there are different genres to choose from, but be sure to check out Suspense!, Escape, The Jack Benny Show, The Shadow, Lux Radio Theatre, X Minus One, Inner Sanctum and Fibber McGee & Molly.


Free TV Shows, Movies


Called AVOD services (ad-supported video on demand) or sometimes FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV), these networks provide free videos to watch on a smart TV, smartphone, tablet or laptop. Popular examples include Tubi, Roku Channel and PlutoTV, all of which have a huge collection of new and older shows and movies. You’ll need to sit through commercials, but they’re typically shorter and less frequent than those on regular TV. Also be aware many of Canada’s biggest national networks offer their own free streaming apps — such as CTV, Global TV and CBC Gem — while YouTube also has no shortage of free content.

Free Productivity Software


While there are some free productivity programs, most require an internet connection to use them. Instead, Apache’s OpenOffice is a downloadable, offline suite of productivity tools for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations and more. OpenOffice is available in multiple languages and runs on many operating systems, and you can install it on as many computers as you like. The software suite supports a wide range of file types created by other programs (including Microsoft Office’s .doc, .xls and .ppt). On a related note, there are many good, free photo-editing tools, but Gimp might be the most robust, thanks to its powerful editing features, digital retouching, multiple file support and customizable interface options.