"There's no such thing as a free lunch", the old adage goes. But there are plenty of freebies out there you can get your hands on, if you know where to look.

Why you need to be careful

Everyone loves a freebie, but it pays to be careful on what you take and from where.

There could be laws, unspoken rules and even dangers to getting free stuff. In this guide we are going to take a look at some places you might be able to find things for free and whether there is anything to consider before taking what you find.

On the street

Designers from an Amsterdam-based product design agency called Waarmakers have come up with a simple way to give junk a second chance.  

The ‘Goedzak’ — which means ‘good bag’ or ‘do-gooder’ — is a transparent rubbish bag with an eye-catching yellow stripe that can be left on the street filled with items you no longer need, but might be of use to others. 

The see-through design means it’s an advertisement to passers-by of the contents within. One problem with the concept though is that under Dutch civil law picking up someone else’s property from the streets is considered theft.

It’s the same in the UK. Items left in bins, skips or on the street aren’t for the taking, even though they seem to have been abandoned.

So even if someone discards something and does not intend to use it again, like a bike or a mattress, they retain ownership of it. Tesco used this ‘theft by finding’ principle to press charges against Sacha Hall who took food from a bin outside a Tesco Express in Essex in 2011.

That said if you are able to ask permission there’s no harm in taking things off the street.

Telephone boxes

Once a lifeline for communities the payphone has now fallen out of use, with mobile and home phones proving to be much more convenient.

So in response to the decline in use, plus requests from local councils and residents, BT introduced an ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme in 2008.

Communities are able to purchase the familiar icons for as little as a £1 and transform them into useful spaces. Over 1,800 Kiosks have been purchased so far and are now being used in novel ways.

Some store lifesaving defibrillator equipment in isolated villages while some have been turned into mini art galleries and others have been made into community book exchanges. So you never know, the telephone box in your community could be a hidden gem full of free things to use or enjoy.

But remember to abide by the rules. You might not be able to keep what you find in one of these boxes!

The books available should be returned for others to enjoy and equipment should be left where it is.

[Related story: Freebies, perks and benefits available to new parents]

Twitter and Facebook

Apart from finding out what’s going on with the likes of Kim Kardashian or checking out your friend’s holiday snaps, Twitter and Facebook serve a greater purpose for freebie hunters.

Companies have taken to using social media platforms to reach more people. Many offer free sample products for doing something as simple as liking their Facebook page or the opportunity to win great prizes by merely retweeting a message.

But try not to get carried away, or else you may be flooded with updates and messages from companies you might not necessarily want to know anything about. Or worse you could unwittingly pass details onto those looking to get more out of you than you think. Social media is rife with fraudsters.

Also remember your online profile is a representation of you, so retweeting a message from dubious sources could damage your image.

Online communities

The web has made it much easier to give away the things we don't want. Most already know of Freecycle and Freegle where you can post ads for unwanted items you want to shift and search for things going for free in your local area.

Streetbank.com goes ones step further and allows you to share more than your unwanted junk. When you sign up you can let other users know what you would be prepared to help with, lend and give away.

So on top of your junk, you are offering your services for odd tasks, as well as things you wouldn’t mind people borrowing. It's a way of helping you to get in touch with your local community and save everyone some money.

But with websites like this that involve a local community, it relies on people giving as well as taking. So don’t ruin the spirit by not returning the generosity of members and never giving anything back.

Swaps

If you need some new threads, swap parties with people you know or those in your local neighbourhood can bag you a new look for free. It doesn’t have to be limited to clothes either; the theme of your party is up to you.

The only etiquette to remember here is to make sure you bring enough along and to avoid making a scene if you don’t get the swap you wanted. Sometimes stating the minimum items and setting some ground rules will help these parties to run smoothly.

Online you can avoid the tantrums and the chance of losing an item for a rubbish swap. 

Swapz.co.uk launched in 2004 and allows you to list items you wouldn’t mind swapping should the right item come along. Users can find items they want and use something they have to barter for the exchange. It’s up to you what you would like to accept or are willing to offer up and it’s easier to say no online!

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