Friday, August 22, 2008

Accepting Handouts

So much stuff simply gets tossed away in our society, only to clog up the landfills, or worse, our oceans. My advice is to make friends with people who are apt, even eager, to part with items that are still perfectly serviceable. They may look foolish to you, frugal soul that you are, with their constant replacements or upgrades for possessions that are just fine as they are. But in all likelihood they aren't stupid, they're just fixed in the way they think about life. That's just fine: make it work to your advantage. Knowing people who are early upgraders or who "need" to have everything they own be in perfect condition is a good thing for any frugal person.

Further, never say no when someone offers you something. Unless accepting it will impose a serious burden on you, it's always best to firmly establish the impression that you are happy to receive any item they may want to get rid of. Maybe you can use it, sell it at a yardsale, give it away to someone else who needs it, sell it for scrap metal, donate it to a charity, or take it to the recycling center yourself. Exactly what you do with it is not the issue. Saying yes to all offers keeps the offers coming. And at least some of those offers will probably be great. If you say no too often, they may stop offering. So try to say yes as often as possible.

Items we've picked up as hand-me-downs or giveaways include a great wheelbarrow, an old but functional sit-down lawn mower, an upright freezer, three bags of organic powdered dry milk, and several bags of very expensive tea. People we know personally simply wanted to get rid of all this stuff. In the case of the wheelbarrow, the bucket had a small crack in it, which was easily repaired. The food items simply weren't wanted, but were still perfectly wholesome. I never ask why they bought this unwanted stuff in the first place, I just show my appreciation, and usually some genuine excitement. And I remember those donors when I have garden surplus. The upright freezer turned out to be very old and so inefficient that it made no sense for us to run it. So we got rid of it. But because we'd said yes, we continued to get offers for other things from the people who gave it to us. We've even been offered the heating oil out of the old tanks of a couple who installed a geothermal system. We're working on ways of getting that out.

Of course, there are ways of increasing your chances at this sort of largess if you don't have a strong social network yet because you're new to an area. Use the intertubes. Craigslist, Freecycle - put these websites to work for you. I had one guy contact me after I posted a wanted ad on craigslist for canning jars. To be clear, I was offering to buy canning jars. Here was someone calling me and asking if I wanted two free pressure canners. Guess what I said? Free is my favorite flavor, and it's always in the budget.

Honestly, I could go on, but I think you get the picture. There are times when people simply want to get rid of perfectly useful stuff. Who knows why? You're actually doing them a favor by accepting it and taking it off their hands. Win-win, right? I see nothing at all wrong with accepting this sort of handout. Cultivating a reputation for always saying yes to free offers has really worked in our favor.

By the same token, we try to find people who can use the few things we end up with that we don't need or want. We're pretty frugal, so we don't tend to accumulate much by way of purchases. But we have a few bits and bobs now and then. Freecycle and Craigslist, again, are good tools to reduce the clutter. And we get to see the other side of the coin: people who are thrilled to get stuff we don't need or want, usually for free.


Emily said...

I love your frugal advice! I'm a poor college kid always looking for deals and I have found the same thing, take what people offer. I definately am living the "frugal life" (although not entirely by choice.. ha) but I do admire how you are living and hope to someday be debt free, too! That is awesome that you are almost entirely debt free- very rare in this day and age!
feel free to check out my site! I'm new at this and would take some free advice if it is given :) I'm sorry to say that my blog is definately not focused on being frugal. Maybe I'll write a blog on it soon though. It's a good topic and a good way of life.

cafenowhere said...

You make a great point when you say, Don't ask why the giver bought the unwanted item in the first place. People don't want to feel judged. I think we do better to set a good example than to criticize someone else's choices.

Kate said...

Lisa - Thanks. I agree that it's best not to judge people in most situations. We frugal folk so easily succumb to the holier-than-thou attitude, and I certainly see that pattern in myself sometimes. But so far I've been pretty good about keeping such thoughts to myself. It's a struggle sometimes though.

Emily - Thanks for letting me know you like my ramblings. I encourage you to stick with your blog, or at least blogging. I've found that blogs can take on a life of their own. It took a while before I found a niche that worked for me. By the way, I was pretty far from debt free at (what I take to be) your age.