I’m generally against anything resembling impulse buying. It’s rare that you’ll ever get a good deal without putting in a bit of effort.
Waiting is important because three things can happen:
2. You may find a way to get it and not spend money.
3. You may find it cheaper elsewhere.
Forget about it
Most unplanned purchases are unnecessary. This means that, if you wait, you’ll often forget all about it. Or you may decide it’s not worth it.
Whenever possible, I like to have a cooling-off period on any purchase. If a few days later, you still really think the purchase is a good idea, you can at least know you thought it through.
When trying to find something for free, your first resource should always be your network of friends and family.
My cousin recently came to town with her two boys. My mom needed a car seat and booster seat to drive them around. Rather than renting, though, she called a family she sometimes babysits for. She got age-appropriate seats for no money at all.
Don’t think you know enough people? You’d be surprised. Just ask people you know; if they can’t help you, ask if they know anyone who can. Usually, in an extended network, someone knows a person who has what you need.
If you only know a bunch of recluses (in which case, how did you meet them?), try Freecycle. People post unwanted items and then choose from the respondents. So if you can wait and watch listings, chances are good that you’ll get what you need.
Want faster results? Try Craigslist’s free section. People are always giving things away. Some are utterly worthless. Others are great. Search listings. And if what you need isn’t listed, post under “items wanted.” Worst case scenario? No one responds.
If you still can’t find something for nothing, Craigslist also has a “barter” section. (This is also a hilariously strange read, if you’re ever bored at work.) People trade anything.
A quick search on Seattle’s listings quickly yielded all sorts of strange stuff: someone looking for a vehicle (in exchange for a phonograph); someone else looking for movers (in exchange for officiating a wedding); someone with a 12’x8′ utility trailer (willing to trade for an Xbox 360, laptop, gun or cash).
Last resorts for free stuff
If none of those tricks worked, don’t get discouraged. You probably have more resources than you realize.
Sit down and think about any gift cards you have lying around. You know the ones I’m talking about — they are utterly unusable by you but also so inappropriate that you can’t even re-gift them. Well, you’re in luck, because there are tons of gift-card selling (and swapping) sites.
This way, you can get a gift card to a store that carries your item. Or, you can get good, old-fashioned cash. And if you do, don’t feel bad. This person wanted you to get something you’d enjoy. And he or she need never know that Eddie Bauer just doesn’t fit your urban-chic look, or that Wet Seal is wholly inappropriate for someone in her third decade.
But maybe you don’t want to go through the hassle of these websites (though I particularly like Leverage Card, which lets you keep track of your gift certificates, in addition to earning interest on them). In that case, eBay or Craigslist are two other great options.
And if no one wants your gift card to the Museum of Swedish-Inspired Stamps? Well, take heart. While they take some time, programs like MyPoints can let you earn points without spending a dime (though it is quicker if you do). My husband joined and, within four months of just reading emails, had enough for a $10 gift certificate. For those with more patience, there are plenty of $25 and $50 gift cards — especially if you do online shopping anyway or are willing to try trial offers. (We plan on doing this to pad our accounts for Christmastime.)
There are times, though, when you can’t wait months to get something. That’s when you have to face the sad reality that you will need to actually pay money for what you want. I know, I know… It hurts. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying retail. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about how to find deals and to comparison shop for the best rates (and products.)