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You dream of building a homestead, but you’re flat out of money. Here are some strategies to get the materials and services you need for cheap or free.
In the past three years of building our homestead from scratch we’ve gotten pretty good at scouting out deals on building materials.
We’ve done the vast majority of the build for cash. To go with that, we don’t have ridiculously high incomes. We both worked varying degrees of full and part-time as teachers and freelancers in the course of the build.
Since we’re not exactly rolling in cash, we’ve figured out ways to get the materials and services we’ve needed for the house for way less than buying at retail. Here are our best tips and tricks for building the homestead you want, even when you have next to no money.
**When you’re done, be sure to check out the follow-up with SEVEN additional ways to save money on building materials (you might not have thought of) with some of our favorite reader suggestions!**
9 Ways to Get Building Materials Cheap or Free
1. Look for free and cheap items on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
This should be your obvious first stop on your quest to get cheap or free materials for your homestead. It’s relatively easy to find anything from shipping pallets to furniture, lumber to appliances in the free section.
Sometimes you’ll even find free items listed in other sections or listed along side of priced items within a single posting.
Aside from Free, your next best bets are Materials, Farm and Garden, General, and Household. Searching by category beyond that can be hit or miss, so be sure to use the search feature. Remember to search for multiple iterations of an item (i.e. laundry tub, laundry sink, and utility tub can all mean the same thing).
Looking for something in particular? Set up alerts in both Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to get notifications of new listings matching your search.
2. Find [online] auction houses.
There are plenty of these to be found in rural and metropolitan areas alike. One of our family members absolutely loves visiting country auction houses to find anything from vinyl records and antique toys to tools and farm equipment.
We’ve also had good luck with a local online auction clearinghouse that gets items from local businesses selling overstock or going out of business. My mom got a king-sized memory foam mattress for $100 this way. I’ve also seen loads of restaurant and food service items (so hey, if you need a giant stainless steel prep table for when you process deer…), cabinets, power tools, furniture, hardware, etc.
To get started, do a search for “auction houses near [your city]”.
3. Visit building reuse centers.
We’re lucky to live in an area with several building reuse stores. We have two local stores run by Habitat for Humanity, but there are a few other independent ones throughout the area. We’ve gotten things like wall tile, toilets, bathroom vanities, doors, and more from our local reuse centers.
Sometimes you have to keep an eye out for hidden gems. One of our favorites was run by an older gentleman out of the basement of an old elementary school building. We got two big, tall windows for our bedrooms there, among other things. We found his store through word of mouth and would gladly have kept shopping there had he not passed away.
4. Look for demolition listings.
These are listings from property owners who intend to demolish a house. Frequently, property owners will open the home to anyone willing to do their own demo work to get free or very low priced items. And often, this includes almost anything you can pry up in a home: flooring, trim, cabinets, doors, windows, railings, etc.
If you’re willing to put in some time and sweat equity you can walk away with thousands of dollars in materials for little or no money.
5. Estate sales.
We happened upon an open house estate sale one day and decided to take a look around. Once we waded past the mid-century furniture and shag carpet, we found a treasure trove of materials out in the back shed and the garage. There were loads of gardening tools, bags of potting soil, boxes of roofing shingles, paints, stains, power tools, and more. It obviously varies from house to house but estate sales can be a homesteader’s gold mine.
6. Yard sales and moving sales.
Similar to estate sales, yard and moving sales can be a treasure trove.
Whoever shopped my family’s yard sale before we moved out of my childhood home scored big. We sold practically everything, including my dad’s tools and everything from his shed. That included a nice Cub Cadet mower, weed eaters, leaf blowers, an old CB radio, camping/survival gear, and more.
Scout out sale listings in local classifieds and on Craigslist. Sometimes you also find virtual “yard sale” groups listed for your area on Facebook, so take a look.
7. Put out an all-call for materials.
Here’s where social media can work to your advantage. If you put it out there that you’re looking for particular materials or will be doing certain kinds of projects, there will often be people you know who are eager to get rid of things they don’t need while helping a friend at the same time.
When we were building our cordwood walls I mentioned needing bottles to create bottle bricks. All of a sudden I had friends saving bottles for us and giving us their stashes.
Even just having your friends know about your building project can be helpful. When a friend was tearing up their old paver patio to put in a deck, we managed to snag all of their pavers for FREE. Sure, we had to go get them, load them, and then unload them, but we got hundreds of dollars in free materials and he avoided having to pay to haul them away.
8. Barter and trade.
This works well for services as well as goods. If you have a skill set you can leverage or items that are valuable to someone else, you can barter or trade for what you need. Check with neighbors, relatives, and friends to see if they have any useful items they’d like to trade with you.
You can also check the Craigslist barter section for your nearest city. In the process of writing this post, I checked mine and found listings for American Guinea Hogs, a crane, a truck toolbox, and .6 acres of land!
Don’t count out your local big box stores just because you’re not buying full retail. We visit ours a LOT and often find lots of scratch-and-dent items sitting out for sale. They’ll usually put these in specific aisles towards the back of the store. Besides the usual fare of appliances, you can also find things like cabinetry, sinks, tubs, paneling, open box flooring, miscolored paint, and more.
Learn more about keeping your project within your budget here:
Have you used any of these methods to get cheap or free building materials? Have any to add? Let us know in the comments below!
And if you’re planning to build your own home with all the great materials you find, be sure to download our FREE Owner-Builder Quick-Start Guide below:
Check out our homestead progress and find out more about our cordwood homestead project here. You should also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m always pinning lots of great ideas on Pinterest too! Thanks for reading!