29 things that used to be free By Aviya Kushner, Bankrate.com The best things in life are free, or so pop songs and well-meaning grandparents insist. While love and sunlight and smiles still don't cost a cent, much of what used to be free isn't anymore. Part of this is just the usual pesky cost-of-living increase. "I remember when bread was 5 cents a loaf," says Ruth Rhoads of Iowa City, who is nearly 80 and remembers cheaper times vividly. And some of the freebie evaporation might just be a tightening of belts and a scrutinizing of bottom lines. But asking people across the country what freebie they missed most, from butcher-shop generosity to full service at the gas station, yielded a fascinating snapshot of tight-fistedness run wild. Plenty of nostalgic consumers, it seems, are frowning at the bill and reminiscing about a kinder, cheaper America. "Doggie bones" at the butcher. "Once it was OK to ask for them and the butcher would wrap them up for you, but now they call them soup bones or soup starters and they are $1.69 to $1.89," says Spider, a semi-retired artist in Mesa, Ariz. Extra cheese at the pizza parlor. Forget having a little more cheese, just because you're the customer and it's the restaurant's job to make you happy. "Now everything is premeasured and instead of flipping an extra handful on the pie, they ring up another dollar and grumble about going to the refrigerator for it. Or worse, charge you for it, but 'forget' to put it on," adds Spider. Butter. Expect to pay for it at Bruegger's Bagels in the Midwest and at many Dunkin' Donuts outlets on the East Coast. The cheaper the restaurant, the more likely you'll pay for butter. Soup and salad. "They used to come with the meal in a restaurant," says Spider, who's 64 years young. "Now you have to pay through the nose or get the salad bar for the lukewarm soup and wilted lettuce." Parsley. "It used to be available in bunches at no charge," says Glennis McNeal. "It helped flavor the soup made from 'dog bones'-- also provided free by the butcher, who was kind enough not to ask for proof of dog ownership." Beverages - Where's the generosity? Coffee refills. The local diner may refill your cup for free, but don't expect the pricey coffee house to give you a second cup of java for free. At $3 or $4 a pop, Starbucks won't give up profits to be that generous. Water. Sarah Courteau, who grew up in Arkansas, sometimes has to pay for a glass of water. She's not the only one complaining about that indignity. In fact, Arizona had to pass a law making it illegal to charge a parched customer for a little H2O. Paper cups. In the old days, a deli might give you a paper cup to take a pill or split a soda can between two kids. But a sign in a funky Des Moines coffee shop spells out the hard modern truth--"We don't give out paper cups." Bottles. The bottle your beer is in will cost you. "Returnable bottle fees, returnable wet cell batteries, propane tanks. If you don't return them when you buy new ones, you get fined, right?" says Owen Duff, who lives in New Jersey. Gift wrap. "Gift wrapping in many stores is an extra-cost item now and that used to be the bachelor's salvation," says Spider. "The people wrapping them seemed to care and they had some real skill. "Now it's plain paper and a stick-on bow that won't," he says. "You're supposed to pay for a fancy bag to put the gift in since everybody is too busy to even unwrap what your hard-earned money went for." Bags. Call 'em what you like--sacks, bags, wraps--they now cost money at many grocery stores. ALDI, a discount food chain with outlets in Illinois and Iowa, charges 10 cents a bag. Supermarket carts. Remember when you could just take a cart and shop? At some chains, you now need to lend the store a quarter for the use of the cart. No quarter, and you'll be stuck carrying, not wheeling. Shipping. Von Maur, a department store in the Midwest, will ship your merchandise for free. But that doesn't happen too often anymore. Car service -- What service? Maps for the lost. "Highway maps at gas stations used to be free," says Dave Bertollo, a computer scientist in Orangeburg, N.Y. Full-service gas stations. You pretty much have to pump your own gas in nearly every state, except New Jersey. That isn't the way it used to be. "Going to get gas for the car meant somebody would check your oil and clean your windows -- all of 'em. And mirrors," says Spider. "Now you pay extra for 'full service' and that just means some bored person will stand by the gas filler to make sure the tank overflows onto the paint." Other gas-station freebies are gone, too. "No windscreen cleaning, oil checking, radiator filling or tire-pressure checking," he says. Air for the tires. Free air for your flat or water for the overheating radiator was common, according to several older drivers. In fact, they point out that someone usually came out to help -- and that was free, too. Free national parks. Dave Bertollo remembers when camping used to be free at our nation's parks. Now, it's waiting lists and escalating costs. Airport check-in. These days, you're your own check-in agent, says Sue Futrell, who lives and works in Iowa City. "At the airport now you have to print your own tickets, select your own seats, check yourself in ... supposedly more convenient but not when the airline agents are 10 times better at it than you are!" Futrell says. Travel info -- like your ticket. "Information that used to come to you in the mail now comes in e-mail, so you have to print it out yourself," Futrell says. "None of these services has gone down in price but consumers now do more and more of the work themselves." School supplies. Kris Jones, a health economist in Orangeburg, N.Y., remembers free rulers and pencils. No more. Copies for college students. The cost of copies used to be included in tuition. "Printing and copying at university libraries used to be free," says Brian Martin, who recently graduated from George Washington University in Washington, DC. "It's eight cents a page at GW now." And at the famed University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, a $12 "copy fee" is tacked on for many courses. Gym facilities for undergraduates. Despite all the flak about overweight Americans, some colleges now charge students for using the gym. Cashing a check. "Banks are supposed to cash checks written by persons who have accounts with them," says Don Baumgart, a writer in Nevada City, Calif. "A free service, right? Wrong. "A recent story aired by KCRA TV in Sacramento told the story of two workers who don't have checking accounts who (took) their paychecks to the issuing banks to cash them," Baumgart says. "And they were charged $5 because they were not customers of that particular bank." ATM use. "There used to be a state law in Iowa prohibiting ATM fees," says Laura Crossett, an Iowa native who now lives near Chicago. "Obviously, that's a thing of the past. I no longer have an ATM card, as a protest." Your balance. Go to an ATM and try to find out your balance, and you might be charged a buck for the privilege. Free checking accounts. They're harder and harder to find. (For more information, read "Ditch all fees for online banking services" and "Tips for cutting the high cost of banking.") Telephone info. Remember when you could call the operator -- and get a human operator, not a computer -- to give you a phone number, free of charge? Free Internet. "NetZero used to provide free Internet service and now they charge; a similar free Internet service is long gone," says Yiyun Li, a writer in Iowa City. Even in this time of rising consumer complaints, great customer service is still free -- if you can find it. "I'm a bicycle commuter," says Marge Murray, a mathematician. "A couple of weeks back I brought my bike in to have them check an annoying, potentially ominous clacking sound in my bicycle crank. They took me right in, looked at the bike right away, made a couple of adjustments and sent me on my way, gratis. "It's a curious contrast to how auto service is done these days," she says. Aaah. Even conversations about freebies turn into conversations about getting milked. The bottom line: Some things are still free, but you've got to search for them. So walk outside, and look at the sky -- still there, and still free.