Simple but Savvy Ways To Get Free Stuff

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There Is Such Thing as a Free Lunch

We were taught that getting something for nothing is too good to be true, but really you just have to be savvy enough to find the real no-strings-attached, no-cost stuff that's out there. To get free stuff, you have to be willing to hunt, but here are some starting points on the path to some cool giveaways.

Related: How to Get Free Fast Food

Male friends unload rug from SUV
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Join a Buy-Nothing Group

Two friends from Washington state, enthusiastic about saving the planet and building community, started the Buy Nothing Project in 2013. It now has more than 40 million participants in 44 countries. The idea is simple: If you have something to give, offer it to a neighbor. If you’re looking for something, ask for it. The variety is endless, from baby gear and furniture to electronics, books, clothes, bikes, and party supplies. The traditional way to join a local Buy Nothing group had been through Facebook, but now there’s an app.

Related: Here’s Why You Should Join Your Local Buy Nothing Group

Anything she needs, her phone's got her covered
Delmaine Donson/istockphoto

Search Freecycle

Freecycle is older but smaller than Buy Nothing, and the website has a minimalist vibe. But there’s plenty here, and in addition to searching offerings you can post to ask the Freecycle-sphere for what you want. It’s also possible to set up a group with just friends to exchange in a less public way. 

Related: These Sites Can Save You Serious Money on Travel, Shopping, and More

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The simplest little entertainment station
Charday Penn/istockphoto
Middle Aged Man Playing Guitar in Home Study

Check Out an Instrument

Libraries in several U.S. cities — including Sacramento, California; New York (at the Brooklyn Public Library); Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Northampton, Massachusetts — allow patrons to borrow everything from guitars to dulcimers to maracas. While coronavirus restrictions have put some programs on hold, no doubt the joy of music will soon be shared freely again.    

Related: Amazing Libraries in All 50 States

Modern Library Building

Borrow Tools for Nothing

Got a home-improvement project with a limited budget? Or don’t feel like buying a $75 orbital finishing sander you may never use again? There are public libraries that permit people to check out tools, such as an awesome one in Oakland, California. There are dozens of specialized tool lending libraries across the country. (While some require a small or pay-what-you-wish membership fee, checking out tools is free.)    

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Chicago Tourism

Visit Museums on Free Day

Many of the country’s best museums can be pricey. But do your research and you might discover free admission on certain days or for certain hours. Here’s a list of freebie deals at New York City attractions, for instance.  

Related: Spectacular Outdoor Art You Can See for Free

Keeping up with what's hip and happening
katleho Seisa/istockphoto

Follow for Free Events

Common wisdom says you get more out of spending on experiences than material goods. And sites that keep you in-the-know about free events in your city can be a great way to stay busy, happy, and solvent. In New York, the Skint is a great source for free and low-cost happenings. On sites such as the San Antonio Current, filtering event calendars to show only free events is a savvy move.

Related: Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences Worth the Extravagant Price Tag

Family watching movie
an asian chinese senior man having discussion with his colleague via online virtual meeting in a cafe
chee gin tan/istockphoto
Unrecognizable Women Relaxing At Her Home And Reading A Book From Her E-Reader

Download Your Next Favorite Free Book

If ebooks are more your thing, there’s no shortage of choices for free paperless literature. You can be sure that blogging bookworms will keep you informed about what’s available for free on Amazon’s Kindle app. Impressively, Google Books offers more than 10 million free titles. Checking out free ebooks or audiobooks from a local library is another savvy choice. 

Free Outdoor Library

Track Down a Little Free Library

Your next good read might be waiting for you inside one of the world’s 100,000-plus Little Free Libraries. You might have happened upon one of these micro book exchange sites in your area, but there’s a map for that too. The plans to build your own little library are also free.  

Craziest Things on Craigslist
Perfume Sampler
Learn to Play an Instrument

Pick Up an Instrument and Jam Away

If you’ve always wanted to take music lessons but the cost has held you back, there are no excuses now: YouTube videos with professionals sharing their knowledge don’t cost a penny. One of the most popular channels for free guitar lessons, for instance, is Marty Music. The beginner’s acoustic lesson has more than 8 million views. 

Related: Gift Ideas for Music Lovers

Accountant and client

Get a Hand with Your Taxes

If filing taxes on your own seems daunting, you could spend a bundle to hire an accountant or … go the free route. The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide service looks for tax breaks and deductions. It’s aimed at people older than 50 or with low to moderate incomes, but open to all.

Related: Why You Might Not Need a Tax Pro

Waitress serving family after the COVID reopening

Treat Your Kids and Your Budget

Patronizing restaurants that offer free food for the little ones in your life can make eating out more budget-friendly. Some national chains offer free meals for kids with the purchase of an adult entree at participating locations, including Denny’s and Luby’s (on Wednesdays and Saturdays only).

Related: 45 Restaurants With Kids Eat Free Deals 

Row of brick homes in Park Slope of Brooklyn, New York City

Become a Super Stooper

New Yorkers have a long tradition of discarding items at the curb or on stoops — the steps leading to the entrances of a residential building — in hopes passersby will find something useful and take it. (In places where this practice isn’t customary, leaving something out with a “free” sign does the trick.) The internet age has upped the chances of discarded items being rescued: Instagram accounts such as @stoopingNYC point “stoopers” to where cool stuff is up for grabs.    

Related: 30 Signs You're a New Yorker

Garage Sale

Find the Free Box

You could spend a few dollars at a yard sale, garage sale, or tag sale and leave happy. But if zero dollars is the budget you have in mind, consider that a few items are often set aside in a sale’s free box or free section. A perusal couldn’t hurt.

Related: Where to Donate Clothes and Clutter for Money

Keeping their creative minds busy
Cartoonist woman with good feeling create good design work-stock photo

Stock Up on Complimentary Stock Photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, but how much cash are you willing to shell out for a photo for your website or publication? If zero sounds about right, there are numerous sites offering free stock images. Often memberships or attribution is required.  

Related: 35 Hobbies That Pay Off in Jobs

Redwood National Park
RomanKhomlyak/ istockphoto

Celebrate National Parks Day

The National Parks Service was established Aug. 25, 1916, and every year on the anniversary visitors celebrate with free admission to the country’s 63 national parks. The Parks Service has a handful of other special free days on the calendar, too, and certain groups always get free access — including fourth-graders who sign up for this cool pass

Related: Money-Saving Tips for Visiting National Parks

man pours a fizzy drink.sparkling ice soft drink cola
Nutthaseth Vanchaichana/istockphoto

Be Older, Wiser, and Less Thirsty

With enough birthdays behind you, you might have the freedom to score free beverages all the time. Several fast food chains, including Arby’s, Taco Bell, and Whataburger, offer free soft drinks to seniors. Not all locations participate, age requirements vary — and you might have to buy something else to get the free refreshment.

Related: 130+ Senior Discounts (Some Starting at Age 50!)

istockphoto/Andrei Stanescu

Try to Return Something Small to a Big Store

You or someone you know has probably already benefited from this freebie hack: After buying an inexpensive or bulky item with a free-returns policy, you contact customer service at Amazon or Walmart because you want to send it back. But they tell you to just keep it. A Wall Street Journal report confirmed the practice is common.     

Related: Store Return Policies for Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy & More

7-Eleven Free 7.11oz Slurpee on the Happy 7/11 Day 2012
7-Eleven Free 7.11oz Slurpee on the Happy 7/11 Day 2012 by Majiscup Paper Cup Museum 紙コップ美術館 (CC BY-NC-ND)
Italian Ice
Kelly M./Yelp

Free Italian Ice, Ice, Baby!

Traditionally, Rita’s locations offer a free cup of Italian ice for all on the first day of spring. In recent years, as many as a million customers at the company's 600-plus stores have participated.   

A woman foraging for wild leeks, also called ramps, or wild onions. Allium tricoccum
Tree seedling ready to be planted in a garden

Hug a Free Tree

Greener is better, and some municipalities are so interested in beautifying neighborhoods and cleaning the air by adding trees that they are giving trees away. It’s worth checking to see if there’s a program in your area. In Seattle, for instance, more than 11,000 free trees have been planted.

Related: 22 Tips to Keep Gardening Dirt Cheap

Throwing Away Whole Foods

Embrace Freeganism

A mashup of the words “free” and “vegan,” the term “freegan” was coined in the ’90s to describe a person who eats only food they get for free. One of the main occupations of freegans is digging for food in trash left out by food establishments such as grocery stores and restaurants. You don’t have to go full-on freegan to take advantage of this strategy. For the freegan-curious, here’s a sample dumpster directory.