Prep for Free, by George H.

Obtaining everything on your prep lists can be a very daunting and expensive task no matter what your background is. What I have found is that you can gradually squirrel away a large amount of equipment and food for free. Furthermore, the money saved can be used to secure more quality gear with your savings. Disclaimer: Everything listed below was indeed voluntarily given and verified as available free for the taking.

At Work:
1. Food service:
First off free food is readily available in meals provided by your employer. Most employers will also have a large surplus of some type of food every week. Large services can easily buy $50,000 worth of food every week based on expected demand with limited storage capacity. If the demand shifts they will have excess of certain foods which they have no need for and must to either pay to dispose of or give to their employees.

I have received cases of ice cream bars, cases of breads, pastries, egg product and many take home meals at the end of a day of work. Damaged food, either frozen or dry will often be given away. The food is still perfectly safe just the exterior packaging is damaged so it will not sell. This can be used by yourself or as feed for livestock. Some of the undamaged bulk food I passed onto the Boy Scouts (eggs for breakfast) for a fundraising meal or onto neighbors (cases of Dove ice cream bars).

2. Maintenance Work:
Part of this work was trash pickup, people throw out pretty much everything. Results are hit or miss.

Every week we would get: $5-to-10 in redeemable cans and bottles, towels, clothing, electrical cords (heavy gauge which had twist lock connectors and were “useless to the previous owner) baseball cards, tools, clamps, hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, saws And if the above were damaged then scrap metal. Old equipment we were throwing out, strip it of wiring prior to putting it in the dumpster if your employer is okay with this.

3. Factory Work:
Factories are always getting rid of old equipment, wiring, tools, cabinets, shelving, fencing and many other equipment. (Tip if you see something you want ask, maintenance would often rather load your truck then fill the dumpster. Pretty much always ask rather than risk someone think you are stealing) If there is equipment in the scrap metal dumpster ask if you can strip out the copper wiring (at $2-3 per pound).
What I have obtained:

  • Flammables cabinet for gas and other storage.
  • 200 feet of 6 foot tall chain link fence and posts.
  • Shelving for food and equipment storage.
  • Lockable heavy gauge cabinets for gun lockers.
  • Fire resistant cabinet for ammo and powder storage.
  • Pressure tank from a coating chamber, still certified use to make a gas-powered air compressor.

4. Town dump/transfer station:
Fortunately our transfer station allows people to drop off useable toys, pots and pans, books, board games and miscellaneous items for others to use.

  • Board games, connect four, battleship, chess checkers ? Kids toys, basketball hoop
  • Mason jars
  • Books, encyclopedias and other “outdated” media. Our town also supplies sand in the winter for anyone to pick up and use on their driveway. Not truly free as our taxes paid for it but still something to take advantage of.

5. Craigslist, Free Stuff:
Almost everything imaginable may be found in these listings. Things that I have learned through trial and error:

  • If it is not nearby then it is probably not worth traveling. Too many times I have not been the first to get to the item or it was in worse condition than I had anticipated. It is not worth driving an hour to hear “ Someone just took that rototiller two minutes ago.”
  • The faster you reply (e-mail, call or driving) the better your odds of getting the item.
  • Be polite and tell the poster where you are located. Using your manners may bump you to the top of the list and telling where you are located seems to make you relate more to the poster.
  • People do not want to be bothered selling these items, they just don’t want to pay to get rid of them. Although I have seen people post that they would pay $10-20 for removal!
  • I have obtained 100 cinder blocks, a truckload of bricks, garden fencing, T-posts for fencing, a variety of building supplies, (roofing, plywood, nails, etc), firewood, and pet food.
  • Sheet meal sheds sheds are worth considering if you have the time and ability to disassemble, transport, and re-assemble them.
  • Sometimes you may get very lucky, such as when I was picking up some plywood and PVC drainage pipe the owner asked if I would please take 100’ of heavy gage wiring left over from wiring the well. I did not need the wiring but the owner wanted it gone. That sold for $40 on eBay. As a general rule I do not go looking for anything that I plan on just selling. However, if the homeowner is going to have to pay to have their basement cleaned out and they ask that I take something then I will.

Things which I have missed out on:

  • Old and disused tractors, out in a field where you would need to first "clear out and then pull out."
  • Photovoltaic panels.

6. Side of the road:
This is very dependant on the season. In the summer kids outdoor toys, Cozy Coupes, pools, sandboxes, and bikes. In the fall/spring garden supplies, tomato cages, garden fencing, edging and even vegetables. Windows for cold frames and greenhouses. Building materials, doors, wood, roofing, everything to make a shed or even a barn. Landscaping supplies such as stone, mulch and compost. Two working "Power Wheels" ATVs with batteries and charger for my kids. (Their kids outgrew them and they were doing some spring cleaning.) One wise guy had a sign “Free Snow!” on a huge pile after a blizzard last year.

7. FreeCycle/other.
My brother uses this often, I signed up for it but the constant messages got to be too much of a hassle with replies and then have to sort through all of them. Personally I prefer to look at everything in a list with location rather then getting 50 e-mails a day. But if you have the time and patience then this is another method.

8. Friends/Family/Co-workers
Most of my kid’s clothing is hand me downs from family and coworkers. ? I have never bought a lawn mower, I get my dad’s and father in law’s old mowers
which used to be self propelled. Now they are heavy duty push mowers! When they finally stop working I sell them for parts on Craigslist. People move and look at unloading tools, old food, furniture, lawn mowers,
almost everything. By taking the bookshelf you get storage and they don’t have to move it! ? I bring in Rhubarb every spring and Pumpkins every fall, my co-workers bring in pies and tomatoes.

9. Charity work.
(Note that this is not making money at the expense of charities but rather as a result of helping someone.) This happens maybe 1 out of 10 times and only when people insist they give you something in return. Think of it as Karma if you will. Jump starting someone Pulling someone out of a snowbank/ditch Transporting something, furniture, lawn mower, helping someone move. Helping a neighbor with tree removal/yard work. Helping out most organizations with meals will result in a free meal for yourself. Donating blood, typically there is something a large company will give donors, such as ice cream, grinders, candles, case of bottled water. Again this is different from being paid to do something, this is essentially to alleviate any guilt the receiver has. That they do not want to accept charity, they have their self respect and offering you $5-10 for help on something they can not do themselves allows them to keep their self worth. Take the money and let them keep their self respect. I have felt awkward about accepting money on occasion, so I then donate it.

10. Volunteer:
You help out, make connections in the community and generally can learn another skill. You will not make money on this but learning a new skill is invaluable. And, when you show off your skills and help someone out odds are they will return the favor. Need a root cellar dug? Well, if your neighbor/Boy Scout associate/Farmer has a backhoe, then you just got it! Seriously, when I have all my trees cleared I am calling my buddy I helped all day when the ice storm hit clearing trees. Free root cellar dug, stones we dig up also free for the foundation.

11. Internet Forums
Some forums have free sections for items people are giving away depending on their interests and just general items. Gun forums have gun components loading presses, magazines, boxes of ammo. Sometimes people are also looking to trade one item they bought too many of or the wrong size for something you have.

12. Other
There is always yet another way to save money, including using less, recycling, farmer’s markets and making the most use of what you can get for free! On Scout camp outs we have found fishing lures stuck in trees, Gas cans floating in the ponds, life vests and other items which fell off of someone’s boat at some time. Always keep your eye out and if you have a mobile Internet connection take advantage of it, one person’s junk is another’s treasure! To have a truck as your daily driver is a major advantage to getting free items. Almost all items are time sensitive, if you have to go back home and get a trailer it will likely be gone. Some straps, bungee cords and a tool set will be required for most items. Keeping a tow strap and shovel on the truck will help with the charity work when it is safe!