A security salesman once came to our house trying to get us to use their system. He made me laugh out loud (politely) when he asked us to look around the room and add up the prices of what we see. I was sitting on a couch from a friend who moved, he was sitting on a garage sale recliner, the entertainment center was from someone who moved, the TV/computer monitor was a hand me down, the kitchen table was a hand me down, the chairs were from a swap meet, even the decorations were free. The only pricey items in the whole room were the computer (which we built) and the wedding ring on my finger. Although it would take some time to replace the items and I’d rather not be robbed of my physical possessions (safety is still a valid concern), I really don’t think it would set us back too far.
It isn’t like we only have junk either. Admittedly, some of it is near its end, but only because I don’t throw it out, not because can’t get a good one. I just have a hard time getting rid of something that still functions, so we have a couch in almost every room.
So what’s the secret to free or greatly reduced items? Open eyes, time, and a little manipulation.
If you have a mental or physical note of what items you are looking for and keep your eyes open for the following opportunities, you will be able to find almost everything you are looking for. Time is the key to quality. You can probably find most things any time, but if you can wait for the right price/quality combo, you will save tons of money.
This is the first method I fell in love with. It sounds very desperate, so a lot of people pass, but that means there is also less competition. I only recommend this to people in oddball locations with high turn over (such as college towns), otherwise it can be slimy and stinky with few returns. When I was in college, after each semester there was a mass move out. On those weeks, the dumpsters weren’t filled with rotting food, but clothes, furniture, kitchen stuff, and small appliances. I’ve even found an ipod shuffle! While dropping off my brother at college, one of his roommates asked us to carry his computer out to the trash because he forgot his password. I told him there are ways around that, but he didn’t care since he got a laptop. That became my first reliable computer and is still functioning just fine. Another favorite is my mixing bowl set, they have rubberized non-slip bottoms, a perfect handle, and a pour spout. My husband saw and grabbed it for me, but wouldn’t tell me where he got it until I fell in love with it. Other things we’ve gotten include: plates, a set of dressers, and a table. I know we found more gems, but we gave many away and I don’t remember what they were.
Occasionally our church will have these set up in a back room or corner in conjunction with an activity. Everyone brings their donation items and puts them on a table. If you want anything there, take it. If you don’t have these where you go, they are a huge hit. Try and get one started with any community group you are involved in. There is nothing wrong with asking your kid’s scout group or your book club if they would like to do one once, annually, or quarterly. The only real effort is reminding people to bring donations and taking whatever is left over to a thrift store or other donation center. Things I have gotten include tons of clothes, a few toys, decorations, plates, and pans. Before meeting me, my husband was once on a date and saw a Bosch Universal Mixer while walking past an exchange location. He excused himself, grabbed it, put it in his car, and resumed the date. His date laughed and said she was eyeing it and would have grabbed it if he hadn’t.
Help people move
This may sound like you are taking advantage of people, but it is definitely a win-win. Often when people move, they have a pile of stuff that only goes if it fits. When you are the one loading the truck (especially if you have a pickup), usually you get the remains of that pile so long as you are willing to take what you don’t want to the dump. Just make sure you were really there helping. Expect to scrub walls/sinks and move a lot of boxes/furniture first. A few of the things I’ve gotten with this method are: two entertainment centers, a vacuum, board games, a sink drying rack, a shower caddy, a full-sized bunk bed/futon, toy trains, back yard children’s toys, and plenty of scrap wood. This is probably one of the most effective methods and it also feels really good to help.
Yard Sale Clean Up
I have not personally done this one, but some people have success with it. Just stop at any yard sale you see and offer to pick up the remains after a specified time and take what you don’t want to the dump. If they aren’t ready for that, you can always set up a time for you to come back and make an offer on the remains.
Hand me downs/gifts
This one follows the “more you give the more you receive” rule. Before you throw away anything, think to yourself who might want it. I give clothes to my younger siblings and I often get clothes for my children back. The more you create an atmosphere of giving, the more objects start migrating around and usually end up with someone who could use it. I can’t say that I’ve given more than I receive because I simply am not very good at thinking of it or I use things to the point of no one wants it. I do however, try hard to bring bread or homemade jam to friends.
The other important thing is to make sure people know your sincere appreciation of their gift. I like to send pictures of my kids in their clothes or tell them that I use the baby carrier all the time. If people know you actually use and appreciate their gifts, they are happier giving them.
Make stuff out of scraps
If you have tools and a little know how, you won’t need to look outward for many things. We probably all have some clothes we don’t need anymore that could be used for cloth. When I find clothes I don’t want, I think who might like it. If It really is scrap, I put it in my fabric pile. I’ve sewn a doll carrier, an apron, a stuffed dolphin, and a pillow out of scrap cloth. Almost all of my Halloween costumes are from scraps (How to Make Fantastic Halloween Costumes for Cheap). We’ve also made wooden organizers and toys out of scrap wood and a can organizer in our pantry and a toy kitchen out of cardboard.
There are plenty of places to look for free stuff online. www.craigslist.com has a free section. www.freecycle.org is all free. This link www.facebook.com/salegroups will help you find a buy/sell/give group on Facebook. There are also specialized sites such as the following seed exchange: http://www.heirloomseedswap.com/ where you sometimes can send a self-addressed envelope to a generous farmer for seeds. I personally don’t have much from online because I find almost all of what I want through the other methods first, but I have gotten a baby bumper, years worth of whole wheat kernels, and a grocery sack full of crayons. This is probably better for finding discounts than free stuff. Here is a list of 31 sites with free stuff.
There are tons of places you can sign up for free samples. They can be given away as gifts, taken on trips, or just used in place of the full-sized product. Once my pediatrician gave me over a year supply of sample sized bath soaps for my babies when my son kept having dry skin patches. Try these websites: free-samples-without-filling-surveys and freesamples. My personal experience is that it isn’t worth signing up online to get them. It is a lot of clicking and entering personal information for a one use item. Then you get spammed and have to keep hitting “unsubscribe” until you finally are cleared up again.
Make things become free
This method requires a little creativity, but it is also tons of fun. I love making things self-fund (How to Self-Fund Halloween). With some resourcefulness, you can do the same. You can find an undervalued set, sell enough individual components to cover the cost, then keep the rest for yourself. Personal example: I recently bought 146 old yucky pint-sized canning jars for $20. I just finished washing them up and listed them on a Facebook group. If I sell 40 of them for $0.50 each, it will get me the $20 and I can keep the 106 for free! So far I’ve sold $12 worth to a lady who makes them into candles. You could also buy classic games at a thrift store, part it out on Ebay as replacement pieces, and earn enough to get you a new set.
Another way is to buy things at a price you know you can resell at, use it for a while, and then send it on its way. I bought a bunch of baby food on sale for $0.25 each. With some patience, I think I can sell the empty clean jars for the same price. I painted one and gave it as a Christmas gift already. Another example: buy children’s clothes at a thrift store or yard sale for $0.25-$0.50 each, then box them up and sell them at the same price once your child has grown out of that size.
Note: When you do spend money one products, make sure to use discounted gift cards from giftcardgranny.com. I’ve been using them for years and get an average of 9% off all my gift cards! Hooray for free money!
Well, there’s my list. How do YOU find free or cheap items?