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Shopping at 'curb mart'

Need something? Scavenging keeps items out of the landfill, and dollars in your wallet.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 20, 2012 12:58PM

When I do errands, I keep my eyes peeled. You never know what you're going to find, from dropped coins to reusable shopping bags.

Scavenging is frugal, whether you do it in an organized way (Freecycle, Dumpster diving) or merely by keeping your eyes open. You're probably not going to get rich, but you may find something you need. You'll also be keeping items out of the landfill -- and dollars in your wallet.


Recently I heard this referred to as shopping at "curb mart." I like it.

I'm more of a Dumpster wader than a diver -- i.e., I paddle around the edges. I've also found my share of useful things next to trash containers: kitchen chairs, a bookcase, the shopping cart I use to haul home heavier groceries.

While walking I've found things like pens, screwdrivers, a partial roll of electrical tape and books and magazines from piles left on street corners. Seattle residents like to recycle their belongings by putting them outside with "free" signs. Or possibly they don't want to pay dump fees and hope someone will take the stuff off their hands. Post continues below.

Seek and ye shall find

I find My Coke Rewards points, of course, both caps and empty 12-pack boxes. Most days I'll find money, usually in the form of coins, although greenbacks occasionally go feral, too.

Best place I ever found change: under the cushions of a couch sitting on the sidewalk. Since the sign said "free," I figured that prospecting for pennies was permissible.

One windy day I found a red nylon shopping bag blowing across the University of Washington campus. It's imprinted with a "2010 U.S. Census" logo and folds up to about the size of a wallet. Since it weighs practically nothing, it lives in my backpack so I don't use too many plastic bags.

The UW campus was also the site of one of my woo-woo moments. One day I was thinking that I needed to get a white sheet and some safety pins to make a dust cover for my daughter's wedding dress, which she'd bought from a cancer charity well in advance of the nuptials.

Just after the thought formed, I saw a safety pin on the bricks of the university's Red Square. An hour later, I found another one. And then another one.

By the end of that day I'd found five pins, which were enough to secure the sheet over the dress. Weird, huh?

I didn't find the sheet, though. I paid $2 for it at a rummage sale.

Pack some Purell

Some of you might be appalled by the idea of picking up items off the ground. But as I've noted before, it's not as though I carry these things home in my mouth.

Besides, I do keep hand sanitizer in my backpack. If I scavenge a quarter from the edge of a puddle and can't find a place to wash my hands within a reasonable time, out comes the Purell.

Some might think it's low-rent to be seen stooping to retrieve a pin. (Don't they know that if you pick it up, then all the day you'll have good luck?) Or they'd be embarrassed to admit that the super-useful (and eco-friendly!) shopping bag was found on the ground.

To me, fishing a Hellboy comic out of a bag of free books is like finding money. It was in pristine condition and made a fun gift for my great-nephew, who insisted that we read it together during one of my visits. He referred to the character as "Heckboy" when his little brother was around, and I had a chance to explain that the concept of "changelings" might have arisen from physical characteristics associated with the genetic disorder called progeria. (You learn the darnedest things as a CHID major.)

A week after I rescued the mag, I walked by that corner and found the bag still there but sodden with rain. The few books left inside were ruined. Glad I saved Heckboy from that fate.

Readers: Do you scavenge? What's your best find ever? What are your boundaries, if any?

More on MSN Money:
Jan 20, 2012 11:33PM
The fact is that we have become a society that often is too foolish to realize that everything we are convinced that we need is not necessary.  We shop as a recreational activity and often buy things we want at the moment, but find out later that we don't really need.  For example, we buy our children more toys than ten kids could play with, creating future "over consumers".  Eventually, we get buried in so much stuff that we end up throwing away things that are perfectly usable.  Then we cry that we don't have enough money for essentials like food or rent.  If we would all pull our heads out and realize that just because TV or advertising says we "need" all this crap doesn't mean that we really do, we would all be better off and have more money to save or buy things we truly need.
Jan 20, 2012 9:45PM
I pick up litter on my street and my best find was a deer antler handled knife.  I give the aluminum cans to a nephew.  I find lots of stuff when I work on vacant rental houses.  I offer it to family members and take the rest to Goodwill.  Also salvage construction materials from jobs and take reusable things to Habitat recycle store. 
Jan 21, 2012 3:49AM
the only problem I see to this, is that you could bring something home with you.  not everyone who puts things out puts them out because they can't afford to pay for the item/items to be thrown away, they could be put out because they are infested with bugs, bed bugs at that.  so those who do this be careful on what you bring home.  you could be bringing home a bug that is very hard to get out of your home.............
Jan 20, 2012 8:23PM
@Themanthatloveswomen: It's not a store shopping cart but -- as sammy272 guessed -- one of those folding carts favored by the car-free and, yes, by little old ladies. And middle-aged ones, like me.
In fact, I have RETURNED several commercial shopping carts that wound up in my neighborhood.
Jan 20, 2012 9:44PM

My dad had his rounds to make before trash days, he even had a permit from the state of NY to do it legally (if anyone asked). He also  frequented the high end fruit and vegitable stands for produce to trade with local farmers as lifestock feed.

Us kids didn't really understand his attitude. One day he took mom on an around the world trip. Even with discounted airfare that trip  made us all understand that there is indeed  cash in the trash.

The only downside was when he died the 3 1/2 car garage and numerous sheds were full. A lot of trash but also generated a lot of cash for mom. What I remember with humour is taking out 15 trash cans out to the curb before trash day and watching other scavengers look through our trash for goodies.Each week had the same results but we had  already picked out the goodies!

With metal prices as high as they are, I have no problem in picking up anothers metal discards.

Jan 21, 2012 1:29AM
Got a great little pool slide to use for some nieces who were visiting.  Found two very dirty, but working fans to use for my classroom.  A bit of elbow grease and the kids said it was the coolest room in the school.  Picked up windows and made a cold frame for gardening.  Got a bench to put at the end of the driveway and put my extra produce on for the neighbors to take. My husband got a wooden screen door - made some gingerbread for it and it became our new screen porch door.  My husband just came home from the dump with a plastic bag full of clean, just washed and folded tee-shirts to cut up for rags.  Life is good...
Jan 23, 2012 7:57AM
Walking on the beach thought I saw a pop top in the sand did not want any one to be cut. Reached down and pulled up a Tiffaney braclet $650 find sweet. Felt sorry for how ever lost it. Place up sigh no one ever called. Love my new braclet
Jan 23, 2012 10:50AM
Those things people find are great, just bleach them or what ever and they are just fine.
Jan 22, 2012 9:52PM
What is the old saying one mans trash is another mans treasure.
 Yes I look too and go to auctions and second hand stores. lots of money can be made if resold or saved if re used.
Once I read and seen a article were a lady in New York did this all her life  and died a millionaire. Boy just think of all the treasures that we humans have thrown away and that are  still  in the land fills.
Jan 23, 2012 8:20AM

I have had great luck in the finding things category.  I sell a lot of what I find (ebay or Craigslist). Some of my good finds include 42” and a 50” plasma TVs , oodles of lawnmowers, and snow blowers. Also, some really great stereo systems. The system in our home, and my workshop were amazing finds. Since I do some woodworking, I was able to rebuild the speaker boxes, the drivers were in great condition.  My greatest find was an 8 foot wide gang mower that I was able to sell for $900. But, I have had several other items that brought almost as much.

Jan 20, 2012 4:30PM
I'm guessing the "shopping cart" may be referring to one of those little fold up carts that little old ladies who don't drive use, not necessarily a store owned shopping cart.
I have also rescued may almost brand new items next to dumpsters in apartment complexes I've lived in. Seems some apartment dwellers aren't interested in making the extra effort to reuse, repurpose, recycle or donate.
Jan 23, 2012 10:24AM
Favorite line from the movie Book of Eli

Now we kill for things we used to throw away.
Jan 23, 2012 12:53PM
The fact is that we have become a society that often is too foolish to realize that everything we are convinced that we need is not necessary.  We shop as a recreational activity and often buy things we want at the moment, but find out later that we don't really need.  For example, we buy our children more toys than ten kids could play with, creating future "over consumers".  Eventually, we get buried in so much stuff that we end up throwing away things that are perfectly usable.  Then we cry that we don't have enough money for essentials like food or rent.  If we would all pull our heads out and realize that just because TV or advertising says we "need" all this crap doesn't mean that we really do, we would all be better off and have more money to save or buy things we truly need.
A couple of years ago as I was leaving for work one garbage day morning I looked over at my neighbors driveway and saw a department store shopping bag full of womens shoes sitting in the top of one of the garbage cans.  I went over and took the bag of shoes and dumped it out in the trunk of my car.  There were at least a dozen pairs.  Most looked to have been moderately worn and one pair of high heels still had price stickers on the bottom and looked to have never been worn!  There was a pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers that certainly had seen better days, but they were still wearable for gardening or household chores, and for somebody who can't afford shoes, they would have been a welcome gift.   I recognized some of the designer lables and these were shoes that probably retailed for $100 or more new.  I took the bag of shoes and dropped them in one of those clothing donation boxes on my way to work.  How much effort would it have taken my neighbor to do the same thing on her way to work instead of just sending them to the landfill?
Jan 20, 2012 11:18PM
Wouldn't it be better not to have to be in that position? I'm guilty of it as much as anyone! I'm just a poor retired bastard too! But really, the only difference between us and a bum is that we wear clean socks and probably drive a vehicle to the dump!
Jan 23, 2012 9:19AM
 I found a race car toddler bed on the side of the road. I first thought it was a sand box but when I went back I realized it was a race car bed. I did ask neighbors first, turned out to a mobile home had been repo'ed and the owners left many items when they moved. The neighbors told me to take what I wanted. The bed retails at $450.00 brand new and I plan to sell it when he out grows it. All I needed was some bleach and now he is one happy little boy.
Jan 23, 2012 8:00AM

Thrift shop all the time.... when I binge shop, much easier to handle a $20 shopping spree...LOL... My personal challenge is to find the worlds best, or at least favorite find was a nearly new Ralph Lauren queen sized duvet cover from Goodwill. The cover was estimated to cost $300 by my RL loving guru friend. Paid $ .50! (yes, cents...) I honestly dont know what RL costs retail because I would never shop high end retail....

We have a "free room" at the dump. (transfer station). Many antiques wind up in there as unwanted junk. I realize not all old things are "antiques" but it always amazes me what people throw away. My husband swears I come home from the dump with more than I bring!

Jan 20, 2012 9:31PM
@themantheloveswomen} get over the shopping cart an find somthing useful to complain about ,the store probably wrote that thing if u as a tax payer had to pay on that u probably donated .2 cents on the whole the guy that found it good to you at least u put it to use instead of it becoming garbage to society an a part of the junk pile where it isn't useful. finding things an being able to reuse them can somtimes b pretty exciting,like being a detective.
Jan 23, 2012 1:08PM

I am proud to be a Dumpster diver.   Have even made a business out of it.   I take old cameras and rebuild them, dumping the metal and plastic for wood which I have claimed from refuse.  A $50 investment will be turned into a $800 "functional art" sell.


Jan 22, 2012 10:20AM
Recently I found one of those "up-right" shopping carts after a renter moved out. Perfect shape...EXCEPT for a bum wheel. When I find a wheel and repair it will be perfect for shopping or for resale. Kept it out of the landfill ....very green.
Jan 23, 2012 9:28AM
True story......driving down the highway with my younger son, there was money, paper currency, floating down the shoulder of the highway.  We picked up about $400!  More cash was on the center divider of the road, but it was not safe to cross.. We did not go after that money, but you know, to this day, I still wonder how much might have been there every time I pass the spot.

I almost always get my trashcans on the shoulders of the highways, where they fell off someone's pick up truck. Our very best find ever was an African wood carving room divider, that weighed over 40 pounds, delicately carved with giraffes, elephants, trees. This was brought home by my older son when he was 10 years old, who carried it on his back about seven blocks.  He still has it and now he's a professor in college.  It remains one of the nicest items in his home.  We also picked up a wonderful wooden picnic table that lasted for over ten years, and recently, a neighbor had a huge dumpster out in his driveway, where he was throwing away unwanted furniture.  Although there were no usable cushions, I got all of the frames for a beautiful outdoor living room set that is worth about $600.  While the cushions were rather expensive to replace, I still enjoy that find.  We were able to walk into the dumpster, as it had a large door on it.  The neighbor was very happy we took that out, as it gave him a lot more room to throw in what was actually not worth keeping.  

When my older son got married, at his $75,000 wedding, paid for by his very rich bride's parents......I appeared in an amazing periwinkle blue dress that got lots of wows and other compliments.  I bought it at a Washington, D.C. consignment shop where several Senators Congress members and their wives consign their clothing.  It was on the half price rack there for. $35.00.   When I was invited to a dinner honoring President George W. Bush, I wore a black velvet dress and dazzling jacket with what they call bling that honestly cost me $20. I got a three hundred dollar Atlas at the Goodwill for $3 on the hardback book rack.  This is so much fun!  
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