Robin Hartill - The Penny Hoarder

This post was originally published April 1, 2017, as part of our April Fool's Day lineup.

I’ve always been one of those health-obsessed moms. You know the kind — I buy sanitizing wipes in bulk, obsess over every sniffle and was convinced my youngest was gluten-intolerant while he was still in the womb.

As a mother of four, I know how expensive health care can be. I paid through the nose for Obamacare, and who knows what will happen with the GOP health plan.

But I’m not taking any chances with my family’s health — which is why I’m taking these proactive steps to keep my family away from the doctor and exorbitant medical bills.

1. We Maintain a Healthy Diet on the Cheap.

A healthy diet is one of the best forms of preventative medicine you can buy — but we all know produce can get pricy. I maintain a backyard garden so my family can grow its own fruits and veggies. We won’t just save on health care costs in the long term by staying healthy — we’ve also shaved $1,500 off our grocery bill in the past year!

2. I Always Get Generics Whenever They’re Available.

Always ask your doc if a generic medication is available. Generics contain the same active ingredients and are available in the same dose, strength and form as brand-name drugs, but are significantly cheaper. By making the switch, your family could save hundreds at the pharmacy each month.

3. We’ll Use Our New iPhones to Get Fit.

It really hit home when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said some Americans will have to choose between getting that new iPhone they really love and investing in their health care. It’s 2017, and no American should ever have to choose between health care and a new iPhone.

Health insurance costs have kept me tethered to my refurbished 4S. (Thanks, Obamacare mandate!)

In fact, my whole family has phones so ancient they won’t let us download apps that will literally pay us to get healthy. That’s why as soon Congress finally gets rid of the mandate, we’re all saying “screw this” and getting new iPhone 8s. By taking advantage of apps that pay us for exercising and sticking to our healthy diet, we’ll save big on health care while earning extra cash.

4. I’m Embracing the Mind-Body Connection.

We’ve all heard of the placebo effect. Sometimes, just thinking you’ve received medical treatment is enough to make you feel better. But have you heard you can make your own placebos?

By adding sugar pills to the mix when we fill our prescriptions, I’ll make our medicines last longer, and we’ll feel better. Win-win!

5. I’m Using a Free Type of Birth Control.

If you’ve been relying on Obamacare for contraceptives, you may have forgotten about a super-effective method of birth control: the kind you learned about in your 10th grade abstinence-only education class.

6. But I’m Also Being Realistic.

But let’s be honest — abstinence isn’t always realistic, and I’ve got four bundles of joy to prove it. Just in case abstinence doesn’t work out for me and my husband, I’m hoarding pennies and pills by breaking my birth control pills in half each day.

And just in case that fails, I’m researching free childbirth options.

7. I’m Building My Kids’ Immune Systems the Natural Way.

I’m organizing play dates with all the anti-vaxxers and their kids.

8. I’m Stocking up on DIY Health Supplies.

No more $500 copays for stitches because Billy decided to shove Benny off the bunk bed. Ditto for insanely high dental bills. By stocking up on supplies like needles, thread and super glue, I’ll save when medical emergencies pop up.

Your Turn: What is your favorite DIY health care hack?

Robin Hartill is an editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’d like to wish you a happy (and healthy) April Fools’ Day.

When you’re a kid, every birthday is a big deal.

Remember those days when you actually wanted to brag about being a year older? You turned 9 and suddenly felt wiser and more mature than the kid sitting next to you who would still be 8 for another two months. Plus, birthdays meant presents, cake and maybe even a party.

And your birthdays somehow became an even bigger deal over time, at least for a while.

You celebrated your sweet 16 knowing that the only thing standing between you and your driver’s license was some guy or gal at the DMV.

You turned 17 and no longer needed a parental unit to buy R-rated movie tickets.

Your 18th birthday was the day you became a totally mature grown-up fully capable of making adult decisions. Errr... at least in the eyes of the law. Suddenly, you could vote, get married, open a bank account and get a tattoo, all without mom or dad’s permission.

But perhaps no birthday was a bigger deal than the epic 21st. It’s the day we all had our very first alcoholic beverage ever. Right???

And at 25, you could finally rent a car and have that quarter-life crisis you’d been putting off — still kind of a big deal.

Here’s the Deal on Birthdays After 25

But what about all those birthdays that come long after you’ve earned your last adulting badge — especially the ones that don’t end in a “0” or “5”?

I should know because a 32nd 33rd 34th birthday recently happened to me. As I contemplated birthday plans with a resounding “meh?”, it dawned on me that as you get older, your birthdays just aren’t a big deal.

Sure, next year I can finally run for president. And when I turn 50, I can get my AARP card, which I hear comes with lots of sweet deals. And maybe when I turn 67 77 87, I’ll celebrate my Social Security birthday.

Between now and then, I’ll be celebrating some not-that-big-a-deal birthdays. But here’s the thing about birthdays: Even when your birthday isn’t that big of a deal, you can score some really big deals. In fact, The Penny Hoarder has this list of 100 places that will give you free stuff for your birthday.

So in honor of celebrating the big 3-4, I decided to see how many birthday deals I could snag. Hey, you know what they say: You only turn 34 once.

The Inspiring Story of How I Scored $114.97 Worth of Birthday Deals

[caption id="attachment_52342" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robin Hartill, an editor at The Penny Hoarder, tries on the free lipstick she got from Sephora as part of a birthday deal in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

A few places will give you free stuff just for being born. Denny’s, for example, will give you a free Grand Slam on your birthday — no beverage to purchase or app to download. All you have to do is show your ID.

But most businesses want something in exchange for that freebie. They’re trying to lure you into a rewards program in hopes that you’ll order more food the other 364 days a year — which is why you’ll typically have to provide your email address or download an app. Or you have to buy something that’s often far pricier than the “freebie.”

I decided I wouldn’t spend any money I wouldn’t otherwise spend to get free stuff, which meant joining a lot of rewards programs. And to take advantage of all these deals, I had to plan ahead.

Many places require you to register at least seven days in advance of your birthday; some require you to sign up before your birthday month begins. So, in early February, I prepped for my March 20 birthday by creating a new email address and providing it to practically any business I could find that gives you free stuff on your birthday.

Sure enough, the deals started flooding my newly born inbox on March 1.

But here’s another thing you need to know about birthday deals: While you might get coupons of 10% or 15% off from your favorite retailer, the vast majority of the truly free birthday loot you’ll score is food.

That’s why, unless you’re hoping to start your new year 10 pounds heavier, you’ve got to rethink the way you’ve been defining “birthday” all these years. I thought of my first 33 birthdays as a single day, but I changed that thought for this experiment. .

Most places give you a window to use your birthday deals ranging from a few days before or after your actual birthday all the way until a month or two afterward. That’s why anyone who has a birthday needs to think of it as less of a day and more like their own personal appreciation/awareness month. Otherwise, think of all that free food you’re leaving on the table.

Here’s Exactly What I Got for My Birthday

Drumroll please… Here’s what $114.97 worth of birthday freebies looked like for me. But first a caveat: Birthday deals can expire, and they also vary widely by franchise and location. Don’t assume any deal is valid at a specific location without verifying it first.

OK, seriously now, without further ado:

March 17

Free Farmhouse Skillet Hash at First Watch. Anyone can snag a free entree at the breakfast-and-lunch chain by joining the Sun eClub.

Value: $11.22*

*All prices include tax when applicable.

March 18

Ten free wings at Hooters — but I had to purchase a beverage. Oh twist my arm, Hooters, I thought as I ordered an IPA. The deal is available to Hooters eClub members.

Value: $10.15

March 19

Free spinach, mushroom and egg sandwich with my coffee purchase at Einstein Bros. Bagels. Shmear Society members get a free egg sandwich with any beverage purchase for their birthdays.

Value: $5.33

March 20

Sit back, because this is the big day, and the deals came fast and furious.

Free slice of chocolate fudge cake at Buffalo Wild Wings. Is it really a birthday without cake?

[caption id="attachment_52335" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robin Hartill got free chocolate cake on her birthday at the Buffalo Wild Wings on Tyrone Boulevard North in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Value: $6.20

Free mini-size Tarte blush and lip gloss at Sephora, where Beauty Insider Rewards members get to choose one of these three free birthday gifts.

[caption id="attachment_52459" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Open class-action settlements A photo of tarte lipstick that was given to a reporter for free for her birthday as part of the Beauty Insider rewards program at Sephora in Saint Petersburg, Fla. (Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder)[/caption]

Value: A Sephora rep told me that since gifts are specifically for Beauty Insiders, a retail value isn’t available. But I found my selection for sale on eBay starting at $7.99, so I’ll go with that.

Free chicken Parmesan sub and drink at Jersey Mike’s Subs. Email club members get a regular size sandwich and drink on the house for their birthdays.

[caption id="attachment_52338" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robin Hartill shows off her free birthday sub she got at Jersey Mike's Sub in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Value: $9.89

Free churros from Tijuana Flats are available to Flatheads on their birthdays. Still full from free birthday food, I gifted them to a co-worker. #Teamwork

[caption id="attachment_52589" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robin Hartill got free churros from Tijuana Flats in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Value: $3.20

50 free Swagbucks. Occasionally, I’ll take surveys on the site while binge-watching Netflix to get gift cards and other freebies, so this gets me a little closer to that Amazon gift card I’m working toward.

Value: About 50 cents

Tall Nitro Cold Brew at Starbucks. Starbucks Rewards members get a free drink on their birthdays.

[caption id="attachment_52592" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robin Hartill sips on her free birthday nitro cold brew coffee at Starbucks in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Value: $4.27

Redbox free birthday rental: All Redbox Play Pass members get a free movie rental on their birthdays.

[caption id="attachment_52341" align="alignnone" width="1200"] For her birthday, Robin Hartill, an editor at The Penny Hoarder, got a free movie rental from Redbox at one of their locations in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Value: $1.61

March 21

Free medium coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, available to members of the DD Perks Rewards Program when they celebrate their birthdays.

Value: $2.02

$3 in ExtraCare bucks at CVS. Because I’m a member of the ExtraCare Beauty Rewards Club. I saved $3 on my purchase.

Value: $3

March 22

Free birthday burger at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews for being part of the Red Robin Royalty Rewards Program.

Value: $10.58

March 24

Free shot at the Hamburger Mary’s franchise in St. Petersburg, Florida.**

**This isn’t a deal I’ve seen advertised. I knew the location has a tradition of bringing anyone celebrating any special occasion on stage during Fabulous Fridays. Those 21 and up usually get a free shot. This night was no different.

Value: $7, according to the bartender’s best guesstimate

March 25

Choice of a free Bang Bang Shrimp or dessert at Bonefish Grill as a BFG Insider. Was there really any choice? Bang Bang Shrimp, please!

Value: $11.45

March 26

Free burrito at Moe’s, which Moe’s Rockin’ Rewards members get for their annual celebration.

Value: $8.56

Ulta birthday gift for Ultamate Rewards Program members: Benefit Cosmetics POREfetional Primer Deluxe Mini.

Value: $12

Party’s Over? Not Quite

After 10 days and $114.97 worth of birthday deals, it was finally time to call it quits, right? Hell no.

The only reason you’re reading this post is because I had a deadline, and my co-workers were gonna strangle me if I didn’t turn this in.

Remember what I said about how your birthday is really a monthlong occasion? Well, the 34th Annual Robin Hartill Awareness month is just beginning.

I’ve got plenty of coupons that don’t expire until April 20, a full month after my actual birthday. I even have a coupon for a free pastry from Panera that doesn’t expire until nine whole weeks after the big day!

Turning 34 now feels like a really big deal.

Cheers to all of you out there who will celebrate a birthday any time, well… ever. May your day week month be filled with good cheer and plenty of free stuff!

Your Turn: What’s the best birthday freebie you’ve ever scored?

Disclosure: A toast to savings! Thanks for allowing us to place affiliate links in this post.

Robin Hartill is an editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’d like to thank all the places that gave her free stuff for her birthday.