How to Save by Scavenging

Before looking for hidden gems in the trash, consider these 10 tips.

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On that same note, if you need something, you are allowed to buy it. (After all, not denying yourself necessities is one of Rufus and Lawson's principles.) "We're not advocating that you live some crazy life where you never get what you want. If you really need something, just go to the store and buy it," says Lawson. Whether it's a new molar, medicine, or outfit for a job interview, there's nothing wrong with making a purchase when you need it. Of course, you might be able to at least find it on sale. When Rufus and Lawson's refrigerator broke 10 years ago, they were doubtful they would find a discarded one that worked. So they did some comparison shopping and bought one on sale.

8. Get help from friends. With so-called social scavenging, people looking to trade items they have or pick up other people's discarded items connect with each other and make deals. The increasingly popular "swap parties," where friends get together and shop each other's closets, let people spruce up their wardrobes for free. (If that blue scoop-neck top never looked good on you anyway, why not trade it for a red skirt that does?)

9. Know your role. If the idea of picking up someone's used button-down shirt makes you cringe, then consider being a "scavengee"—the person doing the supplying. Put your box of recyclables out early, donate clothes to a thrift store, and put unappreciated artwork by the curb. (Put a sign out that says "free" to avoid confusion.) "Scavengees are an essential component of the scavenomics cycle, so even if you blanch at the thought of Dumpster-diving yourself—heck, you can still join the scavenging revolution," say Rufus and Lawson.

10. Get started online. Websites such as freecycle.org, freegan.info, and freesharing.org help connect people looking to scavenge and exchange goods. The online auction site eBay.com can also be a great resource for finding used goods at bargain prices.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer