The Best Things Are Free — or Really Cheap

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Pennies

The only thing I love better than a great garage sale is getting stuff for free. True, at a garage sale I could pick up a nice end table for around $20, but I could find a similar table on the local free section of Craigslist.com and keep my $20 in my pocket. I don’t consider myself cheap – I consider myself frugal.

One great trick I’ve learned is to read the garage sale signs. They usually give you the hours (Friday 8-2 and Sat. 8-2, for example). I will go back to a garage sale that had interesting items at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon, when they are just about to call it quits. The people running the garage sale are usually willing to give stuff away just to get rid of it, or at least slash their prices way down. You’ll be amazed at what you can walk away with when people don’t want to lug stuff back into their garage.

Another great way to get new-to-you stuff is to swap your old stuff with someone. Swapstyle.com is a great website for those of us who love fashion but are too cheap (er, I mean frugal) to shell out top dollar for new items. Photograph stuff you don’t want anymore, upload it to the site, and then start shopping. When you find items you’d like to have, you send a swap request to the owner of the item, who will then look over your items to see if you have anything they want. If they like something of yours, the swap is on!

I stumbled across an amazing website called Freecycle.com. These are all local groups where members of a community get together and basically give stuff away. Perhaps a neighbor redecorates his living room and doesn’t want his old couch. He doesn’t want to spend the time trying to sell it so he sends out an e-mail to his Freecycle group and someone who needs a couch responds. The couch stays out of a landfill and the person who takes the couch has a comfy, free addition to his living room.

If I can’t get something for free, then a good discount is always great. I’ve never been a big coupon saver because I tend to lose the coupons or forget them at home when I go to the store – and I really don’t like fishing through a stack of coupons while a line forms behind me at the checkout. But couponing is getting easier, especially with stores that have loyalty cards. Kroger, for example, has weekly coupons on their website. If you have a Kroger loyalty card, you can load it up with the coupons, and then at the store just swipe the card and all applicable coupons are used. If you shop at a different store or want even more coupons, Coupons.com will apply coupons directly to your grocery store loyalty card, as well.

Getting stuff for free or at a big discount is great – but beware of scams and schemes. Some websites will offer huge freebies – but first you have to agree to do a bunch of trials or participate in a bunch of surveys – even buy a bunch of stuff you don’t want or need – before they will give you the free item. Avoid these types of sites completely because, sure, you may get that tablet or e-reader, but the process could cost you valuable time and money. Use common sense when you are looking for free and discounted items – if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Also, don’t arrange to meet someone alone. Take a friend with you or agree to meet in a public location.

As much as I love a bargain, some items should just be purchased new – sure, take that great old headboard, but leave the mattress behind. In addition to mattresses, cribs and car seats should always be purchased new – in this case, it isn’t worth the risk. Before you buy (or accept) toys, clothing, or other items for your baby, it’s a good idea to check and be sure they haven’t been recalled. Other things to always buy new include hats, helmets, and anything else that goes on your head (head lice potential), bathing suits and lingerie, and anything that may harbor germs and bacteria (shoes, makeup, and so on). Make it a rule to avoid anything that could be a safety issue.

Not only is finding freebies fun, it’s eco-friendly to reuse and recycle items that might otherwise be tossed out. And in a time of economic difficulties, it makes sense to save money when you can. So be proud to be cheap! (Or if you prefer, frugal, penny-pinching, thrifty, parsimonious …)