Need to save this holiday season? Or all year round?

It’s two days before Thanksgiving as I write this. Seems like we just got done with Back-to-School sales. Then, Halloween candy hit us like a diabetic brick, and we didn’t even get Thanksgiving this year–Black Friday sales were in my inbox the day after Halloween. Some called them “pre-Black Friday.” Someone even had a Veterans’ Day Black Friday sale. They need a swift kick.

Tired of constant spending? Allergic to Black Friday? Going minimal, waste free, or just trying to save this holiday season? I’ve got just the strategy for you–Freecycle, Marketplace, and “Buy Nothing” groups may be the answer.  But, you have to know a few things first to get a deal and to peer-to-peer shop and gift safely.

The best places to look for cheap and free stuff

Freecycle is a group that lets you get rid of stuff. You post it and people take it.

“Buy Nothing” groups are a little different. You’re supposed to give and take–never trade or sell. Telling stories, telling how you’ll use things, or in general community building is encouraged, not just getting rid of stuff.

Facebook Marketplace is a great place to sell things, so you can get things cheap.

I’ve used all three. Here are my experiences:


This was my first group. I joined to help the environment and to clean things out. There are no real restrictions in Freecycle, though they’ll put you in a geographic location when you join. I had some good experiences cleaning out my house to move–and some not so good experiences, too.

One lady came at bedtime to pick up a “I’ll be there at 5PM” grill. She came in heels and expected me to carry it out for her. It was slightly ridiculous.

Buy Nothing Groups

Search these up by geography on Facebook. The premise isn’t only keeping things out of the landfill. It’s a touch of frugal with a healthy dose of community building, too. I met some great people on this group.  The rules are this: give without expectation of receiving back. Ask for what you need. Live in the geographic region. That’s about it. You don’t have to give to the first person who asks–unlike Craigslist or Freecycle where you’re trying to get rid of stuff, you can give to the person you most want to receive your items. “Tell me how you’ll use this and I’ll pick on Wednesday.” Or “I’ll choose from a hat tonight.”

I, personally, don’t have to tell a sob story and jello wrestle other people for a free item on a forum, but some people feel good seeing their things go to the person who will need it most. In that case, I bow out and go shopping. For the most part, I use this site to gift things.

You can gift anything–I shared perennials all over the community this year and met great people. Also, I’ve gifted clothes, single books, and other things that had value to the new owner. I’m even thinking of making a few nice items for the holidays just to have a crafternoon and gifting them specifically to teachers or “any good person who needs a high-five and spirit boost today.”  We’ll see.

Another feature of the Buy Nothing Group, (though I haven’t once seen anyone ask or offer in this way) you can post or request services, too. I may do this once for fun.

Facebook Marketplace

We got a grill that needed a wheel (free!), bought our dining room set from an artisan furniture restorer who picked up beat up pieces from estate sales and stripped them down. It’s beautiful. I got the only end table in the world that would’ve fit between our two living room chairs, and a brand new upper-end Instant Pot when I realized how much I loved them and wanted a second. It was so cheap I was convinced I was participating in off-the-truck crime, but really, this was a mom who bought overstocks and storage units and flipped the contents. So, a win-win for all. I bought two Ikea shelves, pretty much new, for $30. One, for my new home office, and the other for my son’s Lego displays.

In every case, I bought things I needed for a giant savings (the grill was free!), from people who really wanted to get rid of them. And I met some wonderful people.

eBay and Craigslist

These are the Original Gangsta sites–they’ve been around forever. eBay’s got some good stuff. Craigslist does, too.

How to Use Free and Cheap Sites without Getting Murdered (and with the best possible manners)

Look before you buy. Plan ahead, if possible. Between Marketplace, “Buy Nothing,” Freecycle, and others (Craigslist, eBay…) chance are, you’ll find something.

Be flexible. You may not find an exact match for something, but if you’re looking for a category, and are patient and flexible, you’ll get something. My Instant Pot was an example. I didn’t really care which model and I had the time to meet up with the woman.

Watch out for scam and do safe pickups. I have no problem having people to my house for pickups. I have dogs and it’s a pretty great area. I also feel safe enough going into most places to pick something up. If you don’t, then meet at a public place or have someone with you.  At a minimum, tell a friend, “I’m going to meet a stranger in a dark alley to pick up some flatware. I’ll call you when I’ve made the exchange.” Seriously–use your common sense. There are scams and unsafe situations out there. I could tell stories. Be safe. No excitement about a cheap or free item is worth your safety.

Be on time. I was a few minutes early to pick up the Instant Pot. The mom pulled up in an SUV filled with little kids. “Thanks for being on time.” I learned most people were not, or worse, stood her up. Anyone who stands up a homeschool mom with four little kids has earned a special place in the afterlife. I was glad to have bought from her.

Know prices. If you’re using Marketplace, eBay or Craigslist, know what you should pay and be aware of potential quality issues. There is a wide range. It’s better to buy something from the store than get garbage for less from the internet.

Know shipping. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found the perfect something for a great price on eBay only to have the shipping be a million dollars. It’s scammy. Look out for this. Check reputation scores, too.

Ask for what you need. Don’t be embarrassed. I recently asked for a table saw on my Buy Nothing group. I said this, “I know this is a stretch, but I’m going to ask before I buy. Time to fix up some things in the house, and my jig saw’s the wrong tool for the job. I don’t care if you’re asking for a new car… do it. You can give a reason or not. You may get it–or not. But, you never know who’s got what going on in their lives, and that trash may be your treasure.

Plan ahead. You can look just for fun on the way to the store. But, if you’ve got time, then look casually over time for things. You have a better chance of finding them.

Say thanks. I’m a big fan of “the gratitude post” for gifting groups. I love seeing people show off their deals, trades, and buys if they feel moved to do so.

Don’t stuff that’s cheap because it’s a deal. If you struggle with “collecting” or buying just because things are cheap, beware of these groups. They put ideas in your head. Only use this strategy if you can discipline yourself to getting what you need and nothing more.

Don’t fall for a bait-and-switch or take an item that isn’t what you need. Sometimes posts seem to be one thing. When you drive out there, it’s not what you thought it would be or need. Just because you drove out to see it doesn’t mean the deal’s done. Be polite but firm about saying, “This won’t work for me.” Then, leave. It’s better than spending money or bringing home clutter.

Hopefully, this year, you’ll be able to find some holiday steals, clean out your after-Christmas stockpiles, or spring clean like a pro. You can even find some 70’s furniture coming back in style and upcycle it for the “Starbucksification of your classroom.” There are no limits here!

Pick and use the right sites effectively and you can save money and build community, too. If you didn’t find what you want, keep looking or use these strategies to save online. But, patience pays off. Chances are, if you’re disciplined and look once in a while, you could find something you want and make a friend.




Photo by Indira Tjokorda on Unsplash