5 places to get great free stuff online

Even as the economy seems to be getting better, finances remain tight for many people. No one wants to spend money too frivolously, and many even find some of the things they need for free. Would you like to be one of them?

There are a number of online sites that exist just to list free stuff. Others have portions of their sites dedicated to those who wish to give things away. You can find air mattresses, clothing, plants and furniture. I've even seen stylish, fairly expensive appliances listed on such sites on occasion. You never know what you'll find until you look.

Here are 5 places to get you started.

Craigslist. This site virtually invented online classifieds. Even today, its sales section is incredibly popular. But did you know it also has an area devoted to free items?

Just go to the For Sale section and click the Free link. Some interesting things I discovered in our area just this week included: an entertainment center, landscaping rocks, a 32-inch flat-screen TV, "nearly new" baby clothes and a sectional. That's several hundred dollars in stuff right there, even at garage sale prices. All you have to do is go pick up what you want!

One caveat: Craigslist users have been plagued with some bad incidents in recent years. Be sure to use caution before allowing a stranger to come to your house or before going to their place. People who use Craigslist often choose to meet in a public place, such as the parking lot at a Starbucks, where they'll be in view of others. And it's always a good idea not to go alone.

Freecycle. A lot of what you throw away ends up in a landfill, even when it's still perfectly usable. Many people are using local Freecycle sites to find a good home for their useful castoffs.

The concept of Freecycle is to keep things out of landfills needlessly. It works on a membership basis, and you generally apply to join a local site in your area.

Once you are a member, you can post items you'd like to give away. As a member, you'll also see what others are offering for free. Nothing is to be sold. Many of these groups don't work on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to read the rules of the group. Additionally, if you only take and never give (especially if you post too many "wanted" requests), you could find your membership curtailed.

But items given away through Freecycle are often higher quality than on more anonymous classified sites. I found children's clothes, a pool table, several printers, books, a leather recliner and more.

eBay Classifieds. eBay is best known as an auction site, but it also includes a robust classifieds site. That includes a section for free items. Just look in the Free Stuff category.

I took a quick look and found a baby crib, a like-new complete living room set (um, purple), landscaping bricks and quality wallpaper. You'll also find a lot of pets that need good homes.

Freenapkin. This site is similar to the other classifieds sites with one big difference. Everything on this site is free.

I saw a child's play set, car rims and chairs. It's best to stick to your local listings. Most people are trying to get rid of something quickly, so they don't want to deal with shipping.

BarterQuest. Consider trading for what you want or need instead of paying. This is one of the fastest growing, nearly underground forms of commerce today.

You probably have something you wouldn't mind giving away. Yet it could be exactly what someone else needs.

You can trade for electronics, antiques, furniture and instruments. There's even a section for working vehicles and real estate.

You can also trade for services. For instance, if you are a graphic designer or a message therapist, you might be able to swap your services for legal advice or other needed expertise. Others arrange to switch houses for a low-cost vacation. The system is very flexible system. Just use reasonable caution, as always, when making any arrangements.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Get the podcast or find the station nearest you at www.komando.com/listen. Subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters at www.komando.com/newsletters. Copyright 1995-2012, WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved.