Companies are always giving away gifts to get you to switch to their service. If you play your cards right, you can get DVD players, digital cameras, cell phones, and CD players for free… sort of. The premise is this: you sign a contract to stay with their service for a certain period of time, which usually costs a little more than their competitors, and you get the free stuff. Always proceed with caution, but you could get some really great deals.

[SKIM THROUGH YOUR JUNK MAIL]

If you are considering a major purchase like a television or cell phone, pay attention to your credit card offers and the spam in your inbox. It just might have what you are looking for as a premium.

[DO THE MATH]

I recently switched to Sprint long distance, even though I work for a long distance company and get great rates. They offered me a digital camera (albeit a flimsy one). The catch was I had to stay with their service for 90 days. The service has a $4.95 monthly fee. The long distance rates themselves were only mildly more than my current rates, so basically for $15, I got a “free” camera.

Sometimes, you could buy the item cheaper at Wal-Mart, so make sure to figure the cost to see if you are actually saving money.

[WATCH THE CONTRACTS]

I also got a “free” DVD player for switching to Earthlink for my Internet service for six months. I paid $24 shipping, and the service is a few dollars more than the competitor, so it worked out to be only a little over $40 for the DVD player. However, if I cancel my Earthlink service before my six months is up, I have to pay a $200 early termination fee.

Beware. The wording on the contracts can be tricky. Don’t get toasted by seeing the great deal and not taking the time to understand the legalese.

[ONLY SIGN UP FOR WHAT YOU WOULD NORMALLY USE]

You’re not saving any money if you pay for a service that you didn’t really want or won’t really use. Always be sure that the money leaving your pocket is not much more than you are already paying for the service. It wouldn’t be worth the $45 waterproof AM/FM radio to open an account with a travel agent if you never leave the state.

[MAKE ‘EM FIGHT]

If you find two companies that have similar offers, call them up. Let them know that you would be interested in joining their service, but you have found a better deal with their competitor. Ask if they would be willing to match it or offer a better incentive. This works especially well if you have an aggressive personality and find it entertaining to play mind games. If you are a gentle spirit, and would rather pay $5 more than talk to a customer service manager over the phone, haggling for deals probably isn’t for you.

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