Finding free items is one of the key elements of living a frugal life. This is an age where there never seems to be enough money to make ends meet.
I am always keeping my eye out for things that I can get for free, or for very little money. Some things I’ve found have a hidden catch, but there are others that are relatively easy to obtain. Here is a list of a few places you can start finding free items – or spend little or no money and effort to obtain them.
Write the Company
Yes, this will cost the price of a stamp and envelope, with no guarantee of success. But companies rarely get handwritten letters of commendation any more. If you find a product/restaurant/store you truly like, write them a letter and express your delight with their product. In response, you could get nothing, or you could get from a coupon with cents off, a gift card or free product.
Finding Free Items in Trash Piles
Don’t laugh. The Country Boy and I are frequently finding items for free just by driving down a street on collection day. These aren’t exactly freebies, due to the gas you use, but you can cut down that expense by pre-selecting the neighborhoods you want to canvas, and do it while incorporating other errands you have to run.
I have also hauled off a truck load of leaves to put in my garden, which to me is like gold. If you can find one, home renovation sites are the absolute best! Just be prepared to have a few dry runs. However, always keep in mind that just one or two good hauls can well make up for any gas money spent on days you didn’t find anything.
Tip: You may want to go to the door and ask the person if it’s okay to take the items. Rarely, but on occasion, there have been people who don’t want you sifting through their trash. And ALWAYS leave the pile as neat, or neater, than you found it!
Newspapers, Craigslist & The Thrifty Nickel
It isn’t often, but I have seen ads for items free for the taking, if you’ll haul ‘it’ off. Keep your ear to the ground, because some folks will let you have an old building on their property if you are willing to take it down.
Doing this sounds good on paper. However, you need to research this thoroughly before you agree – there are some buildings that will take more time to disassemble, and by doing so, most of the wood or tin will be destroyed.
You may also be expected to take things you don’t really need, or remove items that are too heavy for you to take – such as I-beams or iron girdings. Doing your research can prevent you from getting in over your head.
My son and his girlfriend got a beautiful vintage sideboard to use for storage. All it cost them was a little time and the gasoline they used to go pick it up.
Barter & Trade
Finding free items is a great way to use the bartering system. The first step is knowing what you need. The second step is knowing what you have to offer as a trade. This can be an item or a service, such as babysitting, house cleaning or computer knowledge.
If you don’t already know someone who has what you need, put the word out with your family, friends and neighbors. When you are finding items for free in the newspaper, it never hurts to ask if the person who has the item you need is willing to trade.
Be sure they know you are willing to pay before offering to trade. You can say something like, “I think that amount is fair, and I am willing to pay that. However, I do have (fill in the item you have to barter with) if you may be willing to do a trade.”
These are not exactly freebies, but finding items at a flea market can definitely be frugal. Ayn and I usually set the first weekend in November aside and head to Main to Main – a flea market that starts in Bienville Parish and ends at the north side of Webster. It’s an all-day affair, and usually well worth the effort.
I have found doors, windows and other building supplies for pennies on the dollar (or less). I found an old library table that cost me $15.00. The same table in any antique store would cost no less than $250 or more.
I have noticed that some flea markets across the area are now commanding higher prices for their wares, but if you dig deep, you can usually find some great deals.
Have a Garage Sale
Want some free money? Okay. This isn’t really a ‘free’ thing – but you can accumulate quite a bit of money. Clean out your closets, cabinets and attic. Pull out all the things you no longer need or want. As you pull the items, stick a price tag on them. Spend a week organizing and place an ad in your local paper or online. Then spend a Saturday selling all those items.
At the end of the day, most garage sales net you enough money to make it well worth your while. Although we haven’t done it in a while, one of ours netted us over $700.00. And that was after subtracting the money for the newspaper ad. Don’t want to do it by yourself? See if you can get a few friends and neighbors to join in.
Garage sales and Estate sales are extremely popular ways to stretch a dollar. Just be prepared to haggle on the cost. At the end of the day, have Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local church (who is planning on having a Rummage sale) to pick up all the left overs. Ask for a receipt, and you’ll also have a tax-deduction to go along with your ‘free’ money!
Attending garage sales and Estate sales are extremely popular ways to stretch a dollar. And don’t be afraid to speak with others shopping at a garage or Estate sale. You may end up finding free items in places you didn’t know existed.
Not too long ago I spoke with a woman at an Estate Sale. She had a 4-shaft loom she no longer wanted. Oddly enough, she lived not too far from us, and (after a few phone calls to make sure it was safe), I drove to her home and picked up the loom at a very good price.
Do Your Research
There are times you may discover that finding ‘free’ items end up costing you more than the original value of the item. Furniture that looks sturdy in a photo may have loose or missing parts. Appliances may not work as advertised, and that pile of lumber may just have termites.
Some items may be larger or smaller than they appear. Measure your space before you pick up that great dining room table.
Before you bring anything home with you, make sure that it works properly. Dong the research and finding free items may not be worth it in the long run with faulty or irreparable items.
Finding Free Items isn’t worth the Cost of your Safety
Keep in mind: Finding free items isn’t worth compromising your safety or freedom. Never meet someone in an unsafe location – whether it is their neighborhood or if requested to meet ‘somewhere else’.
Never go alone, never flash large amounts of cash, and don’t take or leave personal items such as laptops, iPads or other things in your vehicle. And unless you know the person you are dealing with, never take small children with you.
Use any and all safety precautions when finding items for free in the newspaper, Craigslist, or online websites.
Never offer babysitting or other in-home services for someone you don’t know, as this may compromise your safety.
Stranger Danger isn’t just for children. It applies to everyone. To keep yourself and others with you safe on your search for finding free items, always err on the side of caution.
Finding Free Items
There is a simple trick to finding free items: don’t be afraid to ask, don’t be reluctant to try, and don’t be too good to pilfer a trash pile. Just always remember to be courteous and follow all safety precautions.
Do you have any other ideas for getting freebies or low-cost items? Please feel free to share them in a comment. I am always searching for ways to save money!