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Tapped out? There's still free stuff online

Feeling a little tapped after outfitting the kids for school, paying tuition, or shelling out for a new fall wardrobe? Snag something free online. From time-saving tools to helpful services, there's still free stuff available online.

Here's a roundup of sites that will help you to get things done faster and be more productive.

Googlealert.com Sometimes you just don't have time to sit around running Web searches. Sign up for an account at googlealert.com and it'll do the work for you. Once you enter a few keywords and tell it how often to search, googlealert will automatically deposit search results in your e-mail box.

While the site is not affiliated with Google.com, googlealert is focused on searching Google. From the search settings page you can select the number of results you want and how often (daily, every two days, weekly, twice a week) you want to a search to run. There's also a "run now" button that returns instant results.

Like Google, the site offers an advanced search that lets you restrict your search by language, date, and file format, among other choices.

Seatguru.com These days, booking air travel online isn't that big a deal. You can search for the right fare, select a seat, and even check in online. But there's a little more to picking a seat than selecting window, aisle, or avoiding the dreaded middle chair.

Seatguru can help you take some of the misery out of flying coach or identify the best seat if you're paying extra for an upgrade. The site is organized by carrier and type of aircraft. You'll find seating plans and commentary on which seats to avoid on American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways.

Say you're trying to book on a flight on an MD-80 with Continental. According to seat

guru.com, rows 29-32, d, e, f, "aren't as wide as other seats on the plane due to curvature of the plane. It's also pretty loud back here."Phone directories Never mind that the phone book is serving as a booster seat for your kid. You can quickly look up numbers online. Anywho

.com searches white pages, yellow pages, and toll-free numbers. There's also a reverse lookup that allows you to type in a phone number and get back an address as well as links to international phone directories. The site is refreshingly uncluttered and easy to use. That's also true at infospace.com, which is sporting a more streamlined look these days. Infospace tacks on extras such as the weather, horoscopes, and maps, but none of that gets in the way of quickly hunting down a phone number.

Dictionary.com Spell check will only get you so far in this life. Sometimes you need to check the meaning of a word or alternate spellings. For free you can look up words at dictionary.com, get a word of the day e-mailed to you, or post questions in a user forum.

One recent visitor asked: "Would you capitalize Contagious Epididymitis in a sentence, or any other disease for that matter?" Another inquired about the origin of the word "bumbershoot."

Other freebies here include a simple language translator, a toolbar add-on that puts a dictionary search on your Web browser, and a program called "CleverKeys" that adds dictionary.com search to programs such as Microsoft Word or Outlook Express.

If you're willing to part with $19.95 for the premium version of the service you get access to an ad-free site and extras such as games, additional dictionaries, and audio pronunciations of words.

And yes, there's a thesaurus.com, too.

Michelle Johnson is a freelance writer. She can be reached at mijohn@mail-me.com.

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