On my drive home from work yesterday, I passed a stack of wood along the side of River Road. On top of the pile was a hand-lettered sign that read: FREE LUMBER — HELP YOURSELF. I drove past, not paying it much mind. (I was singing along to Kelly Clarkson at the top of my lungs. “Since you been gah-ohn!”)

But then it occurred to me that a stack of free wood might be useful. Didn’t I just pay a lot of money to buy lumber for my horseshoe pits last spring? Aren’t Kris and I wanting to edge the vegetable garden? If nothing else, couldn’t I cut up this wood and use it to heat my workshop next winter?

I went turned around and went back. It took some creativity, but eventually I loaded my Ford Focus with the entire pile:

  • Nine four-by-fours ranging in length from 6 feet to 12 feet.
  • A variety of two-by-fours, all under six feet.
  • A handful of plywood pieces.

All of this material is used, but in great shape. It’s perfect for any purpose I might have, especially to edge the vegetable garden.

I’m a big fan of the informal “side-of-the-road” exchange system that exists in most neighborhoods. Last summer I wrote that free is a very good price:

One step you can take to becoming more frugal is to overcome our cultural resistance to picking stuff up from the side of the road. I’m not suggesting that you dumpster dive, but start paying attention to the things that people discard. The perfectly good things that people discard.

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A better source of free stuff is family and friends. Pay attention to the things people are purging. You can often get good stuff for free (or cheap) simply by asking. I’m always happy to give my friends things that I might otherwise sell.

Our circle of friends often exchanges things with each other: Mac and Pam gave us a couple of old chairs; Mike and Rhonda just brought over some metal edging (we have a lot of beds to edge); we gave our old couch to my brother’s family; etc.

Watch for useful items that people are discarding. And don’t just throw useable things in the trash. Ask around — somebody you know may view your trash as a treasure.