Free resources available in the USA
I have mentioned before that new immigrants (especially those on a low budget) need to take advantage of the various low cost and free resources available in the USA. So what can you get for free (or really cheap).
As I mention in this post I took advantage of free family entertainment events over this summer. I took my family to free outdoor movie nights (there was one within driving distance almost every week). There were free firework displays around July 4th and in my area (Livermore, California) several town centers around here had various events such as classic car shows, rodeos and so on. Really, there was loads on.
For a few dollars you can take find other great opportunities for entertainment and enrichment. A few days ago my wife suggested (on a Sunday morning) we go to a cultural event and sure enough we checked out the internet and found a musical theater production a few miles drive from the house. They were having a “kids go free” weekend, so we watched an excellent production of “Guys and Dolls” for about $50 for all three of us. My 6 year old daughter loved it – and it sure beats watching TV!
My daughter is bilingual (Spanish and English) so we are always keen to do anything to encourage her Spanish language skills. One challenge about that is getting a 6 year old to not feel “different” from the other kids, which is a concern even though Spanish is an extremely widely spoken language in the USA. We found the local library has a bilingual “storytime” where adults read short stories alternating between English and Spanish. This is totally free to attend, and wherever you are you may find similar initiatives within your community, with or without the bilingual focus. It strikes me that for new immigrants (who possibly aren’t totally fluent in English), having help getting our kids comfortable with English is a good thing.
Find out where your local library is – they are pretty convenient – my small town has 3 or 4 locations.
The libraries here are an AMAZING resource, absolutely essential for a new immigrant family. Free stuff at the library includes:-
- This past weekend my library hosted a “drop in” arts and craft morning – where the kids were provided with arts and crafts materials and help to build some Halloween decorations. The help, materials, everything was free of charge.
- Our library allows us to book out up to 99 books at one time for up to one month. This is free of charge.
- The library also has around 100 internet connected computers available for public use, again, free of charge. There is also free wifi if you have your own device. No need to pay to use a computer or the internet!
- My library also offers a couple of days a week of after school homework assistance. This is a service where kids can go to the library and get assistance with home study assignments. Again – this is totally free of charge.
- Free legal consultations
- Tax filing advice and help.
- Job hunting assistance with preparing resumes etc.
One of the things you will need to think about when you settle is how to keep in touch with family and friends back home. With internet access you can make your absence a lot easier. Most people know about services like Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime and so on. These are great services, but you may also want to have the ability to phone home. A growing area of telecommunications is IP telephony – phonecalls through the internet. For USA calling I use MagicJack line, (because it was far cheaper than the same service available through my cable company).
I also have a Vonage line for international calling. They have a plan that allows unlimited calling to many countries. It is worth checking whether your country is included. The USA plan is a pretty good deal, although I actually kept my UK vonage account and bought the UK Vonage adapter with me. That means I have a UK phone number (so family can call me as if it were a local call), and my UK plan includes all the international countries. The UK plan is less than half the cost of the USA plan – so that is worth considering if Vonage is already available in your country.
In my house I then have cordless phones that handle multiple lines – so I can use one phone and decide whether to call from my American number (MagicJack) or UK number (Vonage).
OK this one cracks me up.
Many stores publish coupons here to offer special deals at various times. These coupons are published on websites and newspapers also and sometimes can be combined. There is a “movement” called extreme couponing. Some people learn how to combine discount and coupons to by things for a fraction of the real cost. I have seen examples of deals where you can walk in to a shop and load up your cart with some product and the store will end up paying you for these things. I am not kidding! There are a load of websites that explain how this works (similar to this one), so whilst I don’t do it – some people are fanatical about these deals.
The best example I saw was this guy:-
Credit Cards/Loyalty programs
Always check into these programs! Some hotels for instance have loyalty programs so you can earn “free nights” which is a nice perk if you have to travel a lot for work – I have earned many free nights on company paid travel. Airlines do a similar thing – I have earned (literally) millions of “air miles” with several airlines which can be used to buy free flights or upgrades. So – sign up for these programs.
Some credit cards offer “cashback” programs. Take advantage of those when you are able to get a credit card. I have a Discover card (Capital One is similar) and it is paying me around $40/$50 just for using it (they pay 1% on everything and 5% on some things). The card itself has no annual fees and I pay it off in full so I don’t pay any interest.
Really – I cannot stress enough, there is lots of help and resources available – you would be a fool to ignore it!
I’ll try and update this post when I see other ideas…