Using Freecycle (tm)

by Gary Foreman

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I found a website that you will love. It's called Freecycling. People post stuff they don't want, and other people contact them to get it. It started in Tucson in 2003, I think, and there are now groups all over the world. I'm in Cincinnati. Our group has 3,000 members. Please check this out. This is the ultimate in frugal living!
Mary Lynne

Mary Lynne is right. She's onto something that a lot of people would find interesting.

The describes the project this way: "Freecycle is a project of RISE, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission includes reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills and fostering cooperation between other nonprofit organizations and the public."

Using Freecycle is fairly simple. People join a list of freecyclers in their city. When they're ready to dispose of an item or looking for something, they send an email that goes out to the entire list. If you have an interest, you contact the original poster and make arrangements to exchange the item. No money changes hands.

The freecycle site will allow you to look for a group in your city. If you don't find one, the site will give you step-by-step instructions on getting one started.

Freecycle claims that 6,603,507 people are part of the groups. They're not limited to the U.S. but can be found worldwide. One hundred and twenty different countries are shown on the list of international participants. They range all the way from Brisbane, Australia to a number of cities that have one lone member trying to get things up and running.

Nonprofit organizations are encouraged to use Freecycle to get things that their clients need. Members are requested to give priority to nonprofits if more than one person wants their item.

So how does it work from a practical aspect? I joined about two months ago. Our list has 600 members in a city of about 50,000. To avoid a lot of email, I chose to use the "digest" mode. That means that I get one email each day that includes all the individual emails to the list over the last 24 hours. I could also have chosen to not get any emails and used the webpage to view postings.

A couple of things are important in using Freecycle. Everything offered must be free. Lists are monitored and they claim to maintain a "2 strikes and you're out" philosophy. That means that if you break the rules once, they'll assume you didn't know and warn you. But, if you break them a second time, you'll be banned from the group. Our group seems to be controversy free, but the moderator has included a reminder of the rules once or twice.

One weakness that I've noticed is that there seems to be a lot of "wanted" postings. And, while that could trigger someone to clean out a closet, my experience is that rarely seems to happen.

A second weakness is that the size of the group is both an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. A larger group will have more items available and more people who could be interested in an item. But, as a group gets larger, the amount of mail it generates also increases.

Giving items away seems to work well. I tried it with some household items and it worked without a flaw. One posting elicited two email responses. I connected with one by phone and they came and picked up the items the same day.

Like most projects, the biggest trick is to get it started. A group with a very few members will have a difficult time finding matches between those offering and people wanting goods. Probably 100 or more members are needed for a well-functioning group.

One thing leading to the success of Freecycle is that it is free. There are no dues to belong to the group. You only risk a few moments of your time to try it out.

The project appears to be very much a grass-roots effort. The webpage doesn't have a "contact us" link. So beyond the initial instructions on how to form and group and get the computer list running, you're pretty much on your own.

Take Mary Lynne's advice. If you like recycling and getting the most for your money, you'll want to try using Freecycle. At the very least, you'll have an interesting, free experience in how the Internet is impacting our world.

Updated November 2013

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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