Top 10 Ways of Meeting Your Needs – Without Spending a Cent

Whether our motives are ideological, a matter of necessity, or pure tight-fistedness, we all like getting things for free, right? Well, it just so happens that you can get many of your needs met without spending a single dollar or cent (or yen, or peso, or shekel) on the really free market. Here are ten easily accessible ways of doing just that, and none of them involve begging or stealing!

1. Open Source & open access technology

Open source technology is really taking off, and opening up a world of opportunity to both consumers and producers – for free. The open source community started out as an information technology movement, providing free access to community-developed software, from operating systems, to web browsers, to website-building software, to office suites that rival Microsoft. Now the open source community has expanded in scope, to include offerings as radical as open-source ecology – a platform that facilitates the building of industrial machines. Even SHIFT magazine is produced under an open source creative commons license, which means it can be reproduced by anyone who wants to share it free of charge.

2. Freecycle

Anyone who hasn’t yet heard of Freecycle has clearly been living under a rock, and probably paid for the privilege. The global freecycle network enables people to scour suburbs far and wide in search of what they need, totally free of charge. Some freecyclers even help out with transport, although usually it’s expected that you’ll pick up items yourself. Freecycled items range from the ordinary, such as pre-loved furniture and cookware, to absolute steals, such as computer equipment and car parts, right down to the kitchen sink (literally – we kid you not).

3. Time-banking

A long-time tried and tested method, time-banking provides no-strings access to a wide range of goods and services. Different systems work in slightly different ways, but all essentially revolve around stating what you can offer the community, and asking for what you need from the community. In most systems, time-bankers can determine how much their own time is worth, and save up credits from the work they have done to spend on meeting their own needs. Even if you’re strapped for cash, you may find yourself overflowing with time-banking credits if your skills are sought after.

4. Couchsurf

Why stay in overpriced and sterile hotels, motels and hostels (ok, a lot of these are far from sterile!) when you can hang with locals for free with the added benefit of being shown around? Couchsurfing options are as varied as the couches available to surf on, and some hosts even offer the privacy of a bedroom with ensuite bathroom. It just takes a little courage to inquire, and you’ll likely find yourself rewarded with an airport or train station pickup, a guided tour round town, and a laid-back place to crash out when you’re done for the day.

5. Join a freesharing network

There are more of these around than you think, and each one works in a slightly different way, but the basic premise is the same: you get stuff for free, provided someone has it to give. Some freesharing networks are locally-oriented, while some are global. Some offer ownership, others offer access. Some offers are one-offs, while others are ongoing. There really is something for everyone’s needs whether you’re looking to kit yourself out with a pre-loved couch, borrow a ladder, or snatch a shared ride around the country.

6. Food swap

Overpriced food that isn’t fresh anymore, or fresh produce for free? Supermarkets or swaps? It’s a no-brainer really. Food swaps are local community initiatives that provide growers with variety in exchange for your own surplus, so it’s a win-win for all involved. You may not always get the choice you find at the supermarket, but there’s something special and exciting about not knowing quite what you’re going to get in exchange for all those lemons!

7. Borrow from a resource bank or library

These are popping up all over the place now. Resource banks work just like lending libraries, in that you can check out the item you need for a given period of time – free of charge – and then return it when you are done with it (of when your borrowing period is up). This is particularly useful for expensive items you don’t use very often, like power tools, and an excellent idea for toys for kids whose interest quickly wanders from one flavor of the month to the next.

8. Upcycle pre-loved stuff

Ever seen something old and worn – and maybe even a bit dilapidated – and thought “I could make something useful out of that”? That’s upcycling – the up-and-coming extension to the tried-and-tested freecycling. And while some innovative people are making a storming trade out of it, it’s an open market for creative hands. The only limits to upcycling are the trash you can find to turn into treasure, and your own imagination.

9. Skillshare

When it comes to learning new skills or improving on your current skills-set, there’s no need to pay for the privilege if someone is willing and able to teach you for free. There seems to be no limit to what you can learn for free these days, and even if you’re feeling too shy to hook up face-to-face with a teacher or go to a skillshare workshop event, there are amazing online options ranging from amateur tips and tricks to full university courses.

10. Pay it Forward

Otherwise known as PIFing, Pay it Forward is our favourite way of making sure that what goes around comes around. This delightful concept which emerged from an equally delightful movie of the same name, revolves around putting out what you can to the world, and receiving what you need when your time comes around. It involves a leap of faith, but is, in essence, the basis of the gift economy that served humankind quite nicely thankyou well before the invention of money as a proxy for trust. It can be as simple as paying for a stranger’s bus fare or cup of coffee, or as selfless as donating your skills to a worthy cause for the day. There is even a global day of celebration of the concept, called, you guessed it: Pay it Forward Day, and the next one is coming up very soon – Thursday 24th April. There’s no time like the present for deciding how you will Pay it Forward!

For some great go-to options and ideas, check out the list of resources below to get started:

Open source/access technology





  • Global (a merger between Streetbank and Just for the Love of it)
  • Global (a directory of local freesharing networks)
  • Australia local

Food swap

Resource banks/libraries



Pay it Forward

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