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Your portal to the land of the free

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MADISON, Wis. (9/15/10)--The good old U.S.A. is called the land of the free, and no one knows this better than the smart consumer. Anyone willing to take the time to look--and ask--around is sure to find bargains at the best price of all: nothing. Where to begin? How about the place that has catered to cheapskates since the days of Benjamin Franklin? As one Minnesota credit union member told readers of the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA’s) Home & Family Finance Resource Center: "Visit your local library--if you haven't been there for a while, you'll be surprised, as I was, to see what they have to offer. Aside from current books and magazines, you can get free or very cheap DVD rentals. In addition, our county libraries have free museum passes--they give you no-cost admission to many area museums and attractions. No strings attached. It's a great way to get truly free entertainment.” One library resource you’re sure to find useful is the annual list of “fabulous freebies” from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine (Sept. 1). But there’s much more. Libraries all around the country are coming up with ways to offer unusual services for free or a small fee. For example, at many branches you can rent framed artwork for your home. Some libraries circulate toys for kids and household tools for grownups. You might even be able to check out an electricity monitor to modify your home electrical use or borrow an e-reader to take on vacation. Ask library staff to help you track down free opportunities in your area. Many communities have neighborhood festivals and art fairs. Almost all museums have free days or partial days--find out when they are and arrange your visit around those days. See if your children's museum, science center, zoo, or aquarium has free times or free special events. Depending on where you live, the opportunities keep coming. For example, if you're in a college town, find out about free performances by music department faculty or students. If your community has an orchestra or symphony, see if it allows free access--even if it's for rehearsal time. And speaking of free access, most public libraries allow you to get online at no charge. On the Web, participating credit unions provide free financial advice for heads of household (in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center), young adults (MoneyMix), and preretirees (Plan It). With the help of your friendly librarian, you don’t have to be Poor Richard to save a pretty penny.