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By the author of the online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture
Many, many years ago, my brother gave me his old truck for Christmas. I was so excited. Many of you might imagine that I was excited because I had a year-round vehicle to supplement my motorcycle in our Canadian winters. No: what I was most excited about was that I could really go road shopping then!
Road shopping is my own coinage to refer to picking up stuff by the side of the road (urban or rural) that is often in people’s garbage. I loved that old red truck all the years that I had it and would fondly refer to it as “my shopping cart.”
Fond Memories of My First Truck
That old truck was not too much to look at for most folks. It had some giant gashes on one side where it had met some concrete parking dividers (not in a good way). My brother, who was much better at computer stuff than bodywork, had simply smeared Bondo on the dents, leaving the red truck with some dramatic rough stripes of grey in the rather large dents.
None of that fazed me at all. The thing I most remember about that truck was how absolutely THRILLING it felt that I could pick up absolutely anything (yes, ANYTHING!) that I might find of interest in anyone’s garbage.
City Road Shopping
At that time, I lived in a smallish city. What was really great was that I drove through a pretty wealthy neighborhood to get to work. There were often great treasures by the roadside, which I could stop and grab on my way to and from work. No more calling a friend with a truck. No more missing out because I wasn’t the first there. It was like heaven. Outdoor furniture, scrap wood, lawn ornaments, random kitchen appliances…they were all mine, mine, MINE!
Once a year, the students of this university and college town would empty their temporary apartments as they prepared to return home. I would dedicate extra time at that time of year to prowling the streets, finding many treasures on the way.
Rural Road Shopping
These days, I am in a rural area. In my township, we have no garbage pickup. I am continually amazed at the quality of items left by the roadside, generally with some kind of improvised hand-written sign saying, simply, “Free.”
All I have to do is lift my head to see my riches from the roadside that furnish the eco-cabin: A wall-mount microwave cabinet with solid oak cupboards (roadside on the outskirts of a local village 10 km away), my solid wood filing cabinet (roadside between my place and a large city), my small four-shelf unit (sitting by a dumpster at our local dump), a glass-topped outdoor table, sitting under the snow and waiting for spring (roadside in my nearest village).
Yep, all free. And when it’s time to say goodbye to them, all I will need to do is…you guessed it! Place them roadside with a sign of my own.
Road Shopping Tips
My road shopping heydays with my old red truck were before the existence of the internet. Since then, technology has added some extra ways to expand your road shopping horizons. In our nearest city (population of around 130,000 and about an hour’s drive away), there are many buy and sell pages with a “Free” section. People post stuff all day long that they are setting out to the curb on a first-come-first-served basis. When I lived in that city, boy, I would have some fun chasing that stuff down!
Road shopping now has a “green” reputation that has given it some glamour that it previously lacked. This same city actually has designated special days of the year just for road shopping! They call them “Giveaway Days,” and there are now four every year on four Saturdays between April and October. The city has a recommended list of what to set out (“Only set out appropriate items that you know someone else might want”…duh!) and what not to set out (things that our Consumer Product Safety Bureau thinks are unsafe. Most of these are related to babies: cribs, car seats, bath seats, playpens, plus mattresses.
In addition to these regulated days, as this is another university town, there is still the “end of the school year” opportunity to cruise the streets looking for goodies from the departing students. I used to walk to work at this time of year a number of years ago. I could not believe the amount of good, solid wood furniture that was just being thrown away. Yum yum!
Now, I have never, myself, had a problem, but I have read that there can be a risk with picking up furniture that it could be harboring unwanted guests (think cockroaches, bedbugs, and the like).
When I left the big city well over a decade ago, I know my building had an infestation of bedbugs on the two upper floors of our building. There were signs posted warning about picking up furniture items from around the dumpsters outside our building.
Some recommendations to protect yourself could include keeping the item out in the cold before bringing it in (works best if it’s cold and winter when you pick it up). Personally, I would be reluctant to spray items before bringing them inside, because I’m so sensitive to chemicals, but this could protect you. Our nearby city with the Giveaway days recommends sanitizing items before bringing them in, as well.
Road Shopping: The Thrill of the Thrifty Chase
I have used road shopping to get a lot of the furnishings for my eco-cabin for free. Could you see yourself trying any of the road shopping tips offered here? Do you have a great side-of-the-road shopping find you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments section!
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient. Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!
17 thoughts on “How Side-of-the-Road Shopping Can Save Money”
a word or two about bedbugs:
1. bedbugs can live even in furniture that doesn’t have a stitch of upholstery on it. they live in the spaces between the pieces of wood the item is made of.
2. i’ve never used diatomaceous earth to get rid of bedbugs, but i suspect it could be done. a few years ago my bff adopted a shelter cat that had fleas. pretty soon we noticed that my friend’s recliner, the chair the cat slept in, and even my own recliner in my apartment had become infested. i got some food-grade diatomaceous earth (always use food grade), treated all three chairs, and within a few days we weren’t getting bites anymore. i did it again 2 weeks later just to be sure. the fleas disappeared and didn’t come back. that stuff is amazing.
Hi Nancy, This is a fantastic tip to use the food grade diatomaceous earth. Given your success story, I think this would be a relatively inexpensive preventative treatment. Thank you so much for sharing this with the Frugalite community! Happy road shopping to you in 2023!
We’ve had to set around broken Crapemyrtle branches. I can’t explain it “other than it’s something we learn from the older generation”. The old ways are something we consider a lot.
Hi WhereEaglesDare, Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge, which I treasure and love to learn more about. So many days I am working on my homestead, I wish I could sit down for tea with my great grandmother. She tilled her own garden well into her nineties and hauled water from a neighouring farm her whole life, as they didn’t have their own drinking water well. How I would love to exchange gardening and homesteading tips with her! Thank you for sharing the knowledge of the elders with all of us today!
My all-time largest roadside finds were a couple of discarded rear projection TVs. I did not care whether they were working or not because I wanted to (and did) extract the giant Fresnel lenses from them to make solar heating/cooking gadgets.
One thing that could make roadside shopping (or a craigslist cash deal evaluation in the middle of a parking lot somewhere) more beneficial might be an inverter that you could plug into the 12 volt DC cigarette lighter socket in your vehicle so you could have some short term AC power to test out a gadget you are being offered. If it’s a gadget that runs on AC power you don’t know if the former owner (or seller) even knows whether it runs despite his/her assurance. That inverter can be your mobile truth teller for such gadgets.
That could also be a way to do a quick demo in similar remote locations when attempting to sell anything that requires AC power. That makes better sense than inviting strangers to learn where you live … let alone inviting them inside to watch you plug in the gadget you’re selling to demo there.
For security reasons some deal-making people prefer to meet in the parking lot of a local police station or at a local bank. In either case having that truth telling inverter handy could be very worthwhile.
Hi Lewis, My goodness! Your ingenuity never ceases to AMAZE me. I have passed by projection TVs by the roadside several times, never realizing that I could have had a lens for a solar heating/cooking gadget. Lesson learned….I will research this and be better prepared,
I particularly appreciate your recommendations regarding security and online transactions. I recently bought a full set of basically brand new snow tires in a Walmart parking lot of a city some 2 hours away. No one could accompany me, and I was nervous about meeting strangers who knew I would be carrying a fair amount of cash. To provide me with a bit of security, I asked the Walmart parking lot cart guy to keep an eye on me and the transaction. When he saw the sellers pull in, he made sure he hovered nearby and introduced himself as a friend. Boy, he was thrilled when I gave him a $20 at the happily ending transaction!
Thank you so much for your helpful comments! Happy road shopping to you in 2023!
My daughter picked up 4 sturdy but obviously cheap kitchen chairs off the curb the evening before trash pickup. She used them for several years before she bought some that were even sturdier and more attractive. She put the original 4 back on the curb where someone else retrieved them.
My husband put a lawnmower on the curb with a sign saying “runs”. Someone knocked on the door and asked if it really ran. I explained that the self-propelled feature no longer worked in our thick turf. Delighted, he replied that he had a small yard so that feature wasn’t needed.
I picked up a nice picnic basket at the curb. My son-in-law got a nearly new golf bag at the curb.
We always drive slowly and look closely at things the evening before pickup day. The things mentioned are just a few of our free finds or donations.
Hi Mary, Wow! What a thrifty group of road shoppers you all are. It sure is fun, isn’t it? I bet you have enjoyed that beautiful picnic basket. Everyone in the family has made some great finds. Thank you for sharing some of the highlights with all of us. Wishing you all very lucky road shopping this year!
I loved this article!
In my spendthrift stupid days, I put out a lot of household furniture that I was too lazy to sell. Now I am the one who goes curb picking. I have found a dining room hutch, a beautiful bookcase, and a single bed frame that I refinished. The owner had these out front and offered to deliver them for free! They had moved to a smaller home and did not downsize enough. I had downsized too much, so it was a good fit.
I have put out some unwanted dishes, counter chairs that were too cheap and flimsy to sit on that the previous owner left, and miscellaneous stuff. All was taken.
I’m afraid if I had a pickup, I’d be a hoarder! Cudos to you.
Hi Marie, Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it so much. Your comment brought me a big smile. I hope that I can find a nice hutch for my eco-cabin on the roadside when the interior is ready for it! I just LOVED your story of free delivery for road shopping. It gives me some hope for big items with my current Toyota Corolla. Thanks so much for sharing. Wishing you some great finds by the roadside this coming year!
I think the epic epitome of my pwn road shopping was when I would pick things up, take them home, and then fix them up to sell to others. Sometimes all they needed was a good cleaning with Murphy’s Oil Soap, and other times I’d do some distressed paint or stain. I had yearly yard sales for all my upgraded treasures and often made a thousand bucks or more from stuff other people had thrown out.
One of my daughters used to cringe with embarrassment over me pulling over any time I spied an interesting-looking road side pile, but now it amuses me so much when she does the exact same thing. 😂
Hi Daisy, WOW! That is truly the epic epitome of road shopping: turning it into a profitable business. Good for you! I love your story about your daughter. I am so glad that she has “seen the light” and now benefits from your motherly Frugalite wisdom. I hope you both find some great treasures by the roadside this year, whether to sell or to keep!
I almost furnished an apartment when I was a newly single mom this way. I just cruised the apartment complex at the end of the year when students were leaving. The best hauls we’re the foreign student dorms. They took almost nothing with them when they were going back home overseas. Nowadays, you can’t get on campus because of security but off campus apartments are good. Lysol and elbow grease did wonders.
Hi Denise, Thank you so much for your story about furnishing your apartment. I am sorry to hear that security is tight on campus these days, but that is great that off-campus is still good. That is a great tip for folks to focus on international student dorms, if there are any. I wish you some great road shopping in the coming year! May your Lysol and elbow grease bring in some amazing finds!
I love road side shopping and regularly find great stuff. My favorite memory though was as a high schooler my friends and I would divide up into two groups and cruise the neighborhoods on the night before trash got picked up. We would have a contest to see who could find the best stuff. Then we met up again after to compare our hauls and declare a winner. We then (stupidly) put everything we found at the end of someone stranger’s driveway and never kept anything. Thrifty friends might have fun with a similar contest as adults 🙂
Hi JS, What a great idea to turn road shopping into a contest! I can see it now…..the Frugalite Olympics! I think we would have some good contenders in this group! Here’s wishing you a gold medal find in your coming year of road shopping adventures!
@Daisy – copy edit issue again re: article author.