Using Serendipity to Maximize Frugality

There’s nothing better than an unexpected positive event happening purely by chance. What’s even better? Serendipity when the price tag is very small or nonexistent, or when you’re able to multiply the value of your dollar enormously.

The challenge, of course, is to put yourself in situations where serendipity is likely to occur without inherently having to spend a lot of money. For example, you might experience serendipity in the aisles of an electronics store, but the price tag is going to be steep. As a frugal person, you’re better off seeking serendipity elsewhere.

So what can you do to open yourself up to frugal serendipity? Here are eleven things you can do to widen the possibilities without emptying the wallet.

Keep an eye on community buy/sell/trade forums (Craigslist, Facebook groups, Freecycle, and so on) Check out the Craigslist for your area and keep an eye on it. Do the same for Freecycle. See if there are any buy/sell/trade groups for your community and join those groups. Look through those groups consistently. Remember, your goal isn’t to just find stuff to buy, but for serendipity to arrive when you see something you’re actually looking for at a great price or something you know you can flip quickly at a nice profit.

Keep a pocket notebook and pen with you (or a note app on your phone) and get in the habit of noting everything of interest and reviewing your notes frequently This is something I do. I write down people’s names when I meet them, along with contact info if given and some things to remember about them. I write down useful tidbits I learn throughout the day. I write down ideas. I write down things that should be done and things I ought to do. Then, once or twice a day, I review them. This keeps serendipitous things from slipping through my fingers – things like great ideas or information about someone I met that I may want to follow up with or things I really should do that I might forget.

Intimately know the value of a lot of specific items in a certain niche (or multiple niches) If you have this, then it’s easy to stumble across huge bargains on a surprisingly frequent basis. I have quite a bit of knowledge of the value of vintage video games, some types of trading cards, and a few other odds and ends, and you’d be surprised how often I run across such items at secondhand shops and other places, picking things up at 1% of their value and then quickly flipping them for a profit. Simply having that knowledge is a big part of the equation (as is being in places where you can often capitalize, which is part of some of the other tips on this list).

Visit secondhand stores frequently These are great places to capitalize on knowledge of niches as well as well-priced items on things you actually need (like, say, lamps). The vast majority of what you’ll see is junk that you don’t want, but there is serendipity all over the place in such shops, especially if you go frequently. If you go equipped with some specific areas of expertise and a few items you actually need for yourself, serendipity will strike.

Hit yard sales and estate sales regularly This follows the same logic behind visiting secondhand stores. They’re just great places for serendipity to strike, especially if you’re familiar with the value of niche items and also if you have a particular personal need. Most of the time, you won’t find anything that matches up, but the odds of serendipity striking go way up if you make such events a regular part of your schedule.

Go out with food in your bag and flexible plans that include something free to do One of my favorite things to do in the evening when I was single and lived in a city was to simply throw some food in my backpack and go out wandering around. I’d usually have something in mind that was free to do, but I didn’t have to do it if something better came along. Strangely enough, something better often did. I would wander by a concert or something and someone would just give me a ticket because they couldn’t go to the show, or they would be selling cheap tickets or giving them away to fill seats.

Wander the aisles at the library Whenever you’re bored for entertainment, just go to the library and wander through the shelves. Go through the DVD and Bluray sections. Wander through the multitudes of books. Just look at the shelves and snag anything that looks interesting. You might just find your new favorite book or movie, or you might find a guide to a new hobby that you would have never explored otherwise. Libraries are great for this because everything there is essentially free. Plus, you’ll sometimes stumble upon programs and meetings of interest, too.

Go to community events and meetups and just talk to people, particularly if you’re a beginner This is such a powerful opportunity for serendipity! People love to feel like experts and have an opportunity to help a new person out, which means that there is no better opportunity to dig into something new than by going to a local event related to that topic and simply asking questions. I’ve been given home brewing equipment, piles of yeast, a used guitar, and all kinds of other things at events like these, and I’ve made a ton of strong relationships over the years, too. Simply check out Meetup and your community calendar and go to some events in your area.

Be generous with non-financial resources when asked If someone you know can really benefit from you sharing some information or making a personal or professional connection or sharing some time and energy with them, give it without question (as long as it’s not a major negative impact on your life). This opens people up to helping you in the future and creates tons and tons of serendipity potential. I have friends out there who will share finds of potential interest at yard and estate sales and secondhand shops. I have friends who will practically jump at the chance to lend a hand when I need it. I have friends who slip me useful information on a more-than-daily basis. How does that happen? I give to all of them when I can help, too. It feels sometimes like good things fall out of the sky because of it.

Go to the grocery store exclusively looking for in-store specials and sales If you’re visiting a grocery store, simply look around for in-store specials and sales on various things. You’ll often find things like highly discounted produce that’s quite ripe or overstock sales, and if you’re flexible with your meals and with food storage, you can really take advantage of this. Many vegetables can be preserved, as can many fruits. I’ll often go do this when I have some spare time for food preparation as I can almost always find things to use for dirt-cheap meals, sometimes even in bulk.

Be appreciative when others help you People really like to be appreciated and recognized for their efforts, so give that appreciation. If someone helps you, thank them for it, and even do it publicly sometimes. This does nothing but solidify that relationship and encourages them to be helpful in the future, increasing serendipity, and it also encourages others to do the same, as people want relationships with others who appreciate them. Let the appreciation flow and you’ll never regret it! You’ll find people dropping useful things on your lap and jumping to help you when you need it all the time.

These little steps vastly increase the opportunities for frugal serendipity in your life. Good things come in all shapes and sizes, and these ideas help to make sure that many of them come to you without a big price tag attached.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.