Thrifty Living: The best things in life can be free

Everyone's looking to save a little bit of extra cash at the moment. For some families, that may simply mean eating out a little a less, or getting rid of the cleaner and doing more home chores yourself. For others, however – those who have lost their jobs, for example, or those who are struggling to make their wages stretch to meet their monthly financial commitments – it may mean making much bigger sacrifices.

If you're resourceful, however, it's amazing how much you can get for absolutely nothing in Britain.

The basics

Everyone needs a roof over their head, and at least one, preferably two, good meals in their stomach every day – two expenses that account for a high proportion of the average person's outgoings.

The easiest way to get a free place to stay is to find a friend or relative who is willing to put you up. But if that's not an option, you could also look at house-sitting – which as well as providing you with accommodation, may also put some cash in your pocket. Registering with an agency such as safehandssitters.co.uk is one of the easiest ways to find out about house-sitting opportunities in your area.

If you're just looking for temporary accommodation, you could take a look at couchsurfing.com – a website that matches up people with empty couches, and people looking for a place to sleep.

Find an empty abandoned building – of which there are an increasing number in recent times – and you could also consider squatting. Visit squatter.org.uk for more information about squatters' rights.

As far as food goes, you can find all sorts of edible wild mushrooms and shrubs in the British countryside, but be sure you know what you're eating – as there are plenty of poisonous plants out there too. If you'd rather stick with the supermarket, then remember that if you wait until the last hour or two before closing to do your shopping, you'll be able to pick up a lot of heavily discounted fresh items.

Household goods

Televisions, washing machines or furniture may all feel out of your price range if you're strapped for cash – but it's possible to pick up all kinds of household items for free on sites such as freecycle.org.uk or gumtree.com. You'll usually have to agree to collect the item yourself, but you can occasionally pick up some reasonably good quality items on the site.

If it's cosmetics or healthcare products you're after, check out websites such as free-stuff.co.uk and free-samples.co.uk, which can help you track down all sorts of introductory free offers. Usually, you won't need to do anything more than register your details on a website to qualify for a free handout. It's worth keeping an eye on sites such as moneysavingexpert.com to keep on top of all the latest freebies.

Travel

Trading in your car, or public transport, for walking or cycling is another easy way to get something for free. And if you do it often enough, you might even feel you can give up your gym membership. But if your journey is too far to walk or cycle, there are other ways to get a free ride. The most obvious is hitch-hiking. Sites such as hospitalityclub.org and digihitch.com can help you find drivers looking for company in advance.

If you're looking to travel overseas, try asking friendly faces whether they'll let you travel in their car at the ferry port. Most ferries charge per car, so it won't cost them anything to let you travel along with them.

If you're looking for a free holiday, and you can get yourself out to Spain or Italy, you could consider vaughanvillage.com – a company that offers free food and accommodation for English speakers in southern Europe, in return for their help teaching English. You don't need to speak any foreign language – in fact, you're banned from speaking the local lingo.

Entertainment

If you're after some distraction in your spare time, but don't have any cash to spare, you might be surprised how many free events are laid on in your local area. For a start, most museums around the country are free these days. But there are loads of free festivals, readings, live music events around the country too – if you're prepared to hunt them down.

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