How to Easily Find Thousands of Freebies
By Donna Freedman
Want something for nothing? Go online, because Freecycle's got company. Free beauty products, children's items, restaurant meals, furniture, electronics or even cellphone service –- all you have to do is look.
Sometimes this means a one-time sign-up, but ongoing sources of goodies also exist, letting you browse whenever you have a minute. You might not even have to do the browsing, because reputable freebie bloggers will do the filtering for you.
Depending on where you live The Freecycle Network can mean a constant stream of fabulous freebie opportunities or a sluggish trickle of "meh"-ness. After all, people in wealthy areas have more to give than folks in less affluent communities. Another variable: Freecycle groups are not always very well organized.
But, given that Freecycle is a volunteer organization, it's a little hard to complain. Besides, when it works it's fabulous. A relative has picked up furniture, children's clothing and other goodies. When I lived in Seattle, I received canning jars and tree fruit. I also used Freecycle to give away framed prints, a two-CD set of "The Nutcracker," a paraffin hand spa and an unopened pair of anti-embolism stockings, which saved car-free me from having to lug all this stuff to the thrift store by bus.
Similarly, the "free" section of Craigslist sometimes yields some real keepers, as do trading sites such Listia.com, Swapmamas (for kid-related needs), Swapstyle (clothing) and BookMooch. Sure, you have to pay for the gas to pick up Freecyle/Craigslist swag or pay for shipping from the trading sites, but do the math and balance the total against the cost of buying new items. It might be worth it.
There are some pitfalls, such as the "flake factor." Flakes are the folks who offer you a futon or bookcase but aren't home when they said they'd be, or who gave it to someone else and forgot to tell you. Get a phone number or at least an email address so you can remind them you're coming over.
And another word of caution: If you're going to the home of a total stranger/inviting a total stranger into yours, he or she might be sizing up your home for future burglary or intending to do you some sort of harm. Think about meeting in a public place (for smaller items) or bringing the couch or bookcase outdoors when the trader shows up. When I did business via Freecycle or Craigslist, I met the other party in the lobby of my apartment building. But I also made sure that my son-in-law, who has studied martial arts, was taking a cigarette break outdoors each time.
Consumer Loyalty Encouraged
Looking for an ongoing source of gratis goodies? One thing you should not do: a general online search for "free stuff" or "freebies." You're likely to find websites with viruses or malware that will infect your computer, or "free" offers that ask you to provide a credit card. Guess why.
Instead, sign up with freebie bloggers such as HeyItsFree.net, Hunt4Freebies, The Freebie Blogger and Absurdly Cool Freebie Finder, who uncover an amazing variety of free stuff, from housewares to snack foods to beauty products. (Tip: Start sending away for nonperishable freebies now, and you might not have to buy a single stocking stuffer next Christmas.)
You can also go the social media route. Companies anxious to promote products, encourage brand loyalty and woo additional customers have turned social media into a nonstop giveaway. A super-simple method is to follow "freebie tweeters," such as @freestuffrocks and @heyitsfree. Or follow your favorite brands on Twitter (TWTR), or click "like" on their Facebook (FB) pages.
Social media contests abound, too, some of them as easy as hitting "like" or re-tweeting an offer. Then again, you might actually have to do a little work: write something, post a photograph or even make a video. However, the prizes can be primo, e.g., trips, jewelry, high-value gift cards and electronics. A few best practices for social media freebie-finding:
- Focus on local businesses. The contestant pool is generally smaller.
- Watch local franchisees. Your local Chick-fil-A may give out freebies independent of the national office.
- Start a separate email account. Use it for all giveaways/freebies/contests, not just the ones on social media.
Tweeparties maintains a calendar of upcoming Twitter parties, as do some deal and mom bloggers. For a list of chats, check Tweetreports or Tweetchat. Note: You'll have to spend up to an hour at each event, so be sure you choose a topic that actually interests you.
If you have opinions to share, you might get paid for them by joining Amazon Vine. Writing helpful reviews on Amazon can lead to an invitation to try out new and early-release products. Yay, free stuff!
Want to make your next big trip a lot more affordable? Get your lodgings for free through organizations like:
- Couchsurfing International Inc. Just what it sounds like: You sleep on someone's couch (or maybe in a spare room) for free.
- Tripping. While this site seems to have a vacation-rental focus, its "Tripping Community" is a network of folks who offer free home stays all over the world.
- Servas. This international peace association has matched travelers to hosts for more than 50 years; today it operates in more than 100 countries. There's an annual membership fee of $25 to $85, but that's less than the cost of one night in a hotel in many places. For info on joining, click on the Web page for your country.
Free meals, movie tickets, beauty products, gift cards, ice cream and more are available to you every year in honor of your birthday. Since some of these are good for the week or even the month of your birthday, you can stretch out the celebration and pocket the savings. For more info, see "How to Find Hundreds of Birthday Freebies."
All Free Stuff, All the Time
Some additional avenues for free stuff:
- Join rewards sites. Get gift cards or cash for doing online searches via InboxDollars, Qmee.com, the Bing search engine and Swagbucks. You won't get rich, but why not make your searches pay?
- Send away for rebates. But only if you're organized enough to do the paperwork/online form immediately after getting the product. Plenty of rebates just never get filled out. I'm pretty diligent because I like those free-after-rebate items, whether they be toiletries or office supplies.
- Use rewards credit cards. If you're going to charge something, why not get a little payback? Points from several cards paid for almost all of my holiday gifting this year. For the best rewards, use the Money Talks News credit card search.
- Be a loyal customer. Retailers and restaurants let you rack up points to trade in for free food or store credit (Hi there, all you CVS (CVS) ExtraCare fans!). Sign up for any rewards programs offered. Tip: If you're making a coffee or lunch run to any rewards retailer, ask if any co-workers want to put in an order. They'll pay for their drinks or Danish, but you get to keep the points.
- Stop buying books. Millions of public domain classics are available for free at such sites as ManyBooks.net, Open Library, Google (GOOG) Play (formerly Google Books) and Project Gutenberg. Gizmo's Freeware lists 913 sites for free e-books and 224 for free audio books. Or go to the Kindle or Barnes & Noble (BKS) bookstores sites and type "0.00" in the search bar; that day's list of free books will pop up.
- Get creative with eBay (EBAY). If an item you like went unsold after being listed for less than $1, email the seller to see if he's willing to part with the item in return for postage. This article on eHow.com notes that folks sometimes just want to get rid of a bunch of clutter. Or try this: If the person has similar interests, let him know what you've got and propose a trade.
- Write a letter. Drop an email to your favorite company, and you may get a free product, or at least some high-value coupons. Give a concrete example of how a product improved your life, e.g., "ZapStains removed all the blueberry stains from my son's shirt after a pie-eating contest." Sometimes all you get is a "Thanks –- we love hearing from our customers," but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Put it out in the universe. Another blogger I know is crazy about coin collecting. When I found an old buffalo head nickel whose date had been worn clean off, I figured it wasn't worth more than 5 cents to me. So I mailed it to the blogger, who was delighted with the coin (and I racked up a bit of karma). If there's something you want, let it be known.
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