How to Get High-End Electronics with One Simple Question


My friend Mandy became the proud owner of a Mac PowerBook G4 in perfect condition, without spending a single cent. She's also come into a Canon digital camera, a Dali lithograph, a house full of antique furniture, and plenty more, all completely free. And the only thing she had to do was ask for them.

She explained the concept to me: "Anything that gets updated regularly (a computer, a digital camera, a phone, an iPod) you can get for free easily because a new and cooler version comes out and your friends replace their version -- even though it works fine." For example, she estimates that most people get a new computer about every 3 years. "If you have 36 friends, about one of them replaced a perfectly good computer this month. All you have to do is find that one." Just mention to a handful of people that you're in the market for a new computer, but you're short on funds. Even if they don't have one to offer, the next time one of their friends tells them they just got a new computer, they might just do the footwork for you.

It works even better with cell phones. People are constantly replacing them, but there's not much profit in selling the old ones. So they end up lying around, gathering dust. People are happy to unload them onto you.

I know firsthand that this works. A recent mugging left me with neither a cell phone nor a digital camera. My cell is my primary number, and I depend heavily on my digital camera for my food blog, so this was a fairly devastating loss. I sent an email to 65 of my closest friends (yep, it pays to be connected), asking if anyone had one lying around, either unlocked or locked to my provider. Along with an abundance of good wishes, I got 6 offers for a loaner phone, and by that night, I had not one but two free cell phones in my hands!

But it doesn't even take hordes of contacts -- sometimes one person is all you need. A couple weeks back, a friend asked about my blog, and I told him that, sadly it was losing its mojo due to lack of camera. I wasn't even soliciting, but to my amazement and deep gratitude, he offered to loan me a camera for a year. Not a crappy one either: a 7.2 megapixel Cybershot, along with a 2-gig memory stick, and he even bought a charger to replace the one an old roommate had taken. That one kind act saved me hundreds of dollars. See that? Unbridled generosity, all for just telling a friend what you'd like to have.

And that's the other thing about it. People want to give you their stuff. Even though they've got the newer, fancier version, there's nothing wrong with last year's model. So your friends feel good that their castoffs are actually getting some use -- it alleviates a certain guilt, making them feel less wasteful and more generous. Top it off with a sweet thank-you card, and you'll make your friends feel truly magnanimous.

The list of items Mandy has acquired in this way is quite impressive: in addition to the PowerBook, the camera, the Dali litho, and the furniture, she's also nabbed clothes (fancy threads from cutting-edge-fashionista friends), a bed (from a friend who couldn't take it along when he moved cross-country), a high-end duvet -- unused, antique glassware, art, vases, books, and more. She told me "I think i just listed everything I own. No, seriously."

Seriously, this tactic is a win-win. As Mandy tells us, there's no need to go to sources where you have to pay for electronics, like eBay or CraigsList. "Your lazy, well-meaning friends are a much better source for the goods you crave." All you have to do is ask.


photos by *nathan, k.giff, jean ruaud, taniwha, and epmd.

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Guest's picture

... your friends have money, stuff and are the kind of people that replace their still new things with newer things. What do you do if all your friends are poorer than you or are all frugal?? Sigh... maybe I need to make friends with your friend Mandy!

Paul Michael's picture

They have all sorts of folks giving things away in the FREE section. I've seen old laptops, TVs, fridges,'s a frugal shoppers treasure trove.

Guest's picture

"Your lazy, well-meaning friends are a much better source for the goods you crave."

I've had times in my own life when I was much better off than many of my best friends and I did give them things I would have otherwise donated to Goodwill. If I ever saw them say something like the above quote, however, I'd never help them again. Goodwill would get my stuff long before they would.

Not only that, but whether my 'friend' upgrades their laptop or not, the thing is valuable - if not to them, then to me - and I can't imagine *taking* it without offering some form of payment, even if it meant I would buy them dinner at a nice restaurant next time we were together.

This isn't saving money, it's leeching.

Guest's picture

I can't imagine letting my friends know that I need a new laptop. There's no pride in that, in fact if they did find out that I needed a new laptop and offered me theirs, I would insist on paying for it.

I feel bad enough asking people for rides or when people offer to give me things or to buy me lunch. I even feel marginally guilty bumming cigarettes. Perhaps I have a complex, or maybe I just don't have the grace to ask people for things without thinking of myself as a mooch.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

The 'lazy, well-meaning' bit was simply referring to the fact that they wanted to share their stuff, and were too lazy to go through the rigamarole of selling it. I fit myself into the same category -- I am both well-meaning and lazy. Don't worry, we love our friends and appreciate their generosity. I certainly wouldn't call it leeching: this isn't "Please can't I crash on your couch for one more week and eat all your food and not wash dishes and practice the art of electric guitar at 3 am nightly?" This is "hey that phone that you are not using and is taking up space in the clutter of your drawer, I'd love to take it off your hands and put it to use." I think it's up to each person to express their appreciation as they see fit -- in the case of the camera, I made cookies. Certainly not a monetary equivalent to the camera, but it was important to me that my friend knew how grateful I was for his generosity.

Now then, as far as the pride issue, again it's a personal call. But remember, these people are your friends. They are not there to judge you, and I certainly hope they are not judging you based on your current financial status -- money comes and goes, for all of us. When I have stuff that is excess, I'm happy to share it too. To me, it has little to do with money: when I lent a friend a guitar long-term, not expecting anything in return, I wasn't at all thinking he was too poor to afford one. My thinking was simply, "at least someone is using it."

Sarah Winfrey's picture

...does anyone have a digital Rebel lying around that they'd give me(or sell for a good price).  Kits with multiple flashes, lenses, a battery-housing grip will be given preference.



Guest's picture

I often put that stuff up on Ebay. I sold old Treo's there for $200-$250 a piece when I upgrade to a new one. I'd do the same with the laptop, but I haven't upgraded laptops yet - still on my first one.

Guest's picture


I'm finding you everywhere!

I am more than willing to gift my possessions to friends (if they're high end electronics, I'll usually try to sell them on CL or eBay and then use the profits for my upgraded device).

I'm a bit of a minimalist, so I feel like my friends are doing ME a favor by taking things off my hands, that I don't find useful but they will.

Guest's picture
Teejay is this same idea, but on a much larger scale (and focused completely on exchanging items for free, unlike Craigslist). Join your local group and you can be hooked into thousands of people in your town, post wanted ads - the whole nine yards. It increases your chances exponentially from just emailing friends or friends of friends.