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The Freecycle Network: Good for the Planet (and Your Wallet)

Renowned U.S. economist Milton Friedman created a panic among cheapskates everywhere when he once declared, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

No, Milton! Say it ain't so!

If you know where to look, there's free stuff—including free lunches—all around us. (In fact, if you're looking for free or discounted meal deals, check out Web sites like these: www.heyitsfree.net, www.mrcheapstuff.com, www.kidsmealdeals.com, www.TheFreeSite.com, www.freenology.com, www.volition.com.)

It's true, no other word gets a cheapskate's heart pumping faster than the word "free."

And the most exciting news to come down the cheapskate freeway in recent years is an international nonprofit organization called The Freecycle Network.

The Freecycle Network was started in 2003 in Tucson, Ariz., and has since grown into nearly 5,000 community-based Freecycle groups in over 85 countries around the world. Chances are that there's a local Freecycle group in your area, and you can find it on the Freecycle Web site.

The mission of The Freecycle Network is "to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community."

Every day the group does just that, preventing over 500 tons of items from ending up in the trash. As The Freecycle Network points out, that would-be trash amounted to five times the height of Mount Everest in the past year alone.

Through The Freecycle Network, members list things online that they're looking to give away or hoping to receive. Members of my local Freecycle group recent posted items including laptop computers, cars, bicycles, baby carriages, plants, and clothing.

The catch is, Freecycle is straight-up "gifting." Trading, swapping, or charging for items is strictly prohibited. If you have something to give away, just give it away. If you're looking for something, just ask, and you may receive.

Freecycle is for everyone—regardless of economic status—since, again, the primary goal is to keep usable stuff out of the landfill. Membership in The Freecycle Network is free, and you usually join the Freecycle chapter in your local area so that items can be picked up and dropped off in person, usually at your home or place of business, rather than shipped through the mail.

While The Freecycle Network is the largest organization of its kind, other local "reuse groups" are also springing up everywhere. You can find a nationwide directory of local reuse groups at www.green.yahoo.com, and also check out www.ReUseItNetwork.org and the "free stuff" category for each city featured on www.Craigslist.com.

So, next time someone tells you there's "no such thing as a free lunch," don’t panic. There are plenty of terrific free things in life, if you know where to find them.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.

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