How To Get Free Stuff, Save Money, and Reduce Waste

There are so many fun ways to reuse your Imperfect Foods boxes. Photo courtesy of Imperfect Foods
There are so many fun ways to reuse your Imperfect Foods boxes. Photo courtesy of Imperfect Foods

January is free month here at Mommy Poppins, which means we are all thinking about how to get free stuff and save money. But a new year also means new resolutions, and one of them is to be good to the planet. Luckily, saving money and being Earth-friendly go hand-in-hand. Sure, we may have to spend some extra cash upfront on stuff like compost bins, reusable water bottles, and new light bulbs. But over the long term, these things will help you save money and be less wasteful. And that's a win for both you and the planet! And some of this stuff is free right away...

Here are 12 ideas on how to get free stuff, save money, and cut down on waste. For more ways to have fun with your family without dipping into your wallet, check out your city's Guide to Free Things To Do with Kids. And visit our Earth Kids Guide—and sign up for our Earth Kids newsletter—for more ideas on living more sustainably every day.

How to Get Free Stuff for Your Family

1. Use "Buy Nothing" groups on social media

About 6.5 million people in over 40 countries have figured out how to get free stuff from their local Buy Nothing group on Facebook or the Buy Nothing app. Buy Nothing groups are also great places to give away your kids' outgrown clothing and toys, old furniture, and other stuff to keep it out of landfills. And the things you find in the groups can be really cool. In one Mommy Poppins editor's Buy Nothing Group, a woman offered to make free birthday cakes for local kids because she needed the practice and reviews. Another editor recently received several boxes of old baseball cards from a man in her local group, which her twin boys spent hours poring though—and found some really valuable cards! You give stuff, you get stuff, and no money is exchanged—how wonderful is that?

2. Borrow toys and other items from the library

Aside from the obvious books, magazines, and DVDs, our local library lends out puzzles, games, puppets, and more from the kids' section, as well as small kitchen appliances, crafting items, and unique electronics from the general collection. My family will often try an item from the library first to see if we actually need to buy it. There are a few items we decided we don't need to own, including a toy that helps kids learn to tie their shoes and a cookie press. We borrowed those items for a week or two, then returned them so other families could use them. So this tip is less about how to get free stuff and more about how to get less stuff, meaning you'll save money and cut down on clutter.

RELATED: How to Get Free Baby Stuff: Free Diapers, Formula, Baby Gear, and More

Children's books at a consignment sale
Snag children's books at low prices at your local consignment sale. Photo courtesy of Rhea Lana

3. Visit consignment sales and shops

Online consigners (from our list of favorites) or local consignment shops and sales like Rhea Lana allow parents to sell outgrown kids' clothes and toys and buy new ones at great prices. Some sales even let you shop against your check, so you can get rid of all your 3T stuff and pick up 4Ts without ever seeing money leave your wallet or bank account. And when your kid needs an item you know they're only going to wear to a few times before they outgrow it, like a pair of dress shoes for a formal event or snow pants for a ski trip, it sure is nice not to have to pay full price. When consigning, try to use sales that allow you to donate any unsold goods to charity so that your stuff is more likely to get used a second time, even if no one buys it.

4. Buy last year's model of the latest goods

No one really needs the newest iPhone model or the latest pair of Jordans... right? Last year's version of electronics, video games, toys, or even cars can be just as cool but cost way less money. Plus, it's better to give those "leftovers" life than have them simply thrown away.

5. "Shop" your closet, attic, garage, etc.

It happens to the best of us—we run out to buy hats at the first sign of winter only to discover last year's stash tucked away in the coat closet. Or, we buy a new dress for a party and forget about that killer LBD with the tags still on it. So the next time you need something, take a few minutes to make sure you don't already have it or something similar before you go out and buy it. The fewer new items you buy, the less clutter you'll have in your home and the less stuff will end up in landfills.

RELATED: 26 Tips for Living More Sustainably Every Day

Imperfect Foods truck
It's always exciting when the Imperfect Foods truck arrives! Photo courtesy of Imperfect Foods

How to Save Money on Food and Drinks and Reduce Waste

6. Embrace "ugly" produce

Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market are subscription services that offer less-attractive fruits and veggies or overproduced food at reduced prices, delivered straight to your door in recyclable packaging. You can also reuse the ice packs and bubble wrap to cut down on waste. Don't want to commit to a subscription? Try visiting farmer's markets at the beginning or end of the day to see if any vendors have less-than-perfect goods they will sell you for cheap. After all, a crooked carrot or a misshapen mango can be just as delicious as a perfect one—and the lower price will make it taste even better!

7. Use the Too Good to Go app

Ever wonder what happens to the donuts, cupcakes, breads, and by-the-slice pizza that are not purchased at restaurants by the end of the day? A new-ish app called Too Good to Go allows customers to buy these leftovers for a very low price, and keeps the restaurants from throwing things away. (This also helps the business recoup costs and stay in business. It's a win-win-win.) The app will let you know.

Here's a little taste of what you might get: Our local gourmet donut shop offers its stragglers extra cheap if you pick them up at night, which is always a great surprise for my kids the next morning. Mommy Poppins' LA editor is obsessed with this app, using it at least twice a week to get gourmet breads, pizza, bagels, and even French pastries. Options in some cities are more robust than in other locations, but the service seems to be growing rapidly.

8. Plant your own garden

I miss summer, when I could grow enough tomatoes and cucumbers in my backyard garden to save $10 to $20 a week on groceries. But even in winter, you can grow herbs in an indoor garden to reduce your dependence on grocery stores and the supply chain. Plus, creating a veggie, herb, or pollinator garden is a fun and educational activity to do with kids. Make sure to can the excess from your garden before it goes bad—I haven't bought pickles or jam in years thanks to the leftovers from our summer haul!

9. Buy reusable water bottles and coffee mugs

Drinking water from plastic bottles or cans, using K-cups for your coffee, and getting drinks in to-go cups from restaurants costs money and creates unnecessary waste. Instead, fill a reusable bottle with tap or filtered water. When you visit a coffee shop, ask the barista to fill your travel coffee mug instead of a disposable cup—many will gladly do it!

RELATED: How to Pack a Zero-Waste School Lunch

Papaya reusable paper towels
Many reusable paper towels are as pretty as they are Earth-friendly. Photo courtesy of Papaya Reusables

More Ways to Save Money and Cut Down on Waste

10. Ditch paper towels and napkins

When my kids were 1 and 3, I could probably go through half a roll of paper towels in a single meal wiping hands, faces, spilled milk, and more. Then I discovered reusable paper towels. You can get them from a company like Papaya or have someone on Etsy make you a roll. I've probably reduced my paper towel use by half since I've had these. Use one to clean up after each meal when most of the family is home. Try replacing paper napkins with cloth ones, too.

11. Switch to LED bulbs (as your current bulbs burn out)

For slightly more money, you can get LED light bulbs instead of traditional fluorescent or incandescent ones. LED bulbs last up to 10 years instead of two, use less energy than other bulbs (meaning they're better for the environment), and often burn brighter than traditional bulbs. But if the idea of shelling out a ton of money to switch out every light bulb in your house is overwhelming, don't worry—you don't need to replace every single bulb right away. Just keep using any bulbs that are still working, then replace them with LED ones as they burn out.

12. Make your own cleaning products

We all know by now that traditional cleaning products often contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment, to pets, and to people (especially kids). Plus, they come in plastic packaging that will just get thrown away. But organic and eco-friendly cleaning products can be very expensive. So, why not make your own? Water and vinegar can adequately clean most surfaces in your house for a fraction of the price of fancy cleaners. If your kids don't like the smell, throw some lemon zest into the spray bottle. You can also use baking soda to deodorize kitchen surfaces.

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