How to Save Money and Get Free Stuff as a Bootstrapping Entrepreneur

It sounds a bit scrappy, desperate, and untraditional -- get free stuff?

Yet, if you're a bootstrapping entrepreneur, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Let me share with you a harsh truth about entrepreneurship. It's hard -- really hard. It's belt-tightening, ramen-eating, brain-numbing, all-night-working, scared silly kind of hard.

And when you add "bootstrapping" to the equation, that difficulty reaches a whole new level of insanity.

Bootstrapping, as the term is often used, is the process of starting a business using existing resources. In other words, you're not going the traditional route of "funding," in which people loan you money in exchange for ownership, equity, or future profits.

You're doing it on your dime, which is the hardest way possible.

The obvious problem with bootstrapping is that your business has zero funds, and your own source of income may be limited and/or nonexistent.

Enter the scrappy, desperate, and untraditional hacks.

If you're in the bootstrapping mentality -- and that's not a bad place to be -- here are some things you need to try.

Note: This list does not include software, storage, and online tools. If you're looking for digital tools to code, write, design, communicate, or organize, check out Growth.Supply, Entrepreneur, and TheGrowthList.

Change your mind.

I hesitate to dive headfirst into the psychology of the thing, but here goes.

You need to change your mind about two things:
  1. First, entrepreneurs are not super wealthy people, flying around in private jets and bathing in100 bills. Most of them are broker than broke and surviving through the loving care of relatives and friends. (Some of them might end up rich someday.)
  2. You need less than you think you do. We live in a culture that is saturated with stuff. All the stuff makes us think we need more stuff. Fact: We don't really need all that stuff.

As long as you have your primary work tools (computer), a place to rest (a bed would be nice), and food to eat, you should be good. Clothes are also helpful.

Don't expect free-of-charge penthouse suites and complimentary chauffeured Rolls Royces just because you're bootstrapping it.

Find a free place to work.

Since my domain is digital, I will advise on the single thing you need to stay in business: WiFi (the free kind).

Big cities the world over have free WiFi in abundance. Here's where to find it:
  • Coffee shops. Look no further than a coffee shop. Coffee shops are great places to get stuff done and purr along on the high-speed connection.
  • Coworking spaces. The rising popularity of coworking spaces is a boon to the bootstrapping hacker. Most of these places charge a monthly fee for a desk and coffee. Others, however, provide a free spot in exchange for your talent -- branding, coding, marketing, or other skills. Check out DesksNearMe to find some options.
  • Downtown spaces. Some cities have a municipal wireless network that is free of charge. Some wireless networks are better than others. You can find Muni-Fi cities all over the globe. Find yourself a seat, power up, and log on.

Get a (cheap) place to stay.

If you choose to live in one of the world's startup hubs, you'll need a place to stay. Park benches are generally unsafe for overnight use.

Your exact location and situation will vary, but here are a few hacks:
  • Use your car. It's yours, and there's room to stretch out and grab a few winks, right? Go for it. Several bootstrappers have done the car-living thing with great success. Keep in mind that in some U.S. cities, it is illegal to live in your car. (San Francisco: Illegal. New York: Legal.)
  • Find a hostel. Most large cities have at least one hostel where you can sacrifice a few of the traditional hotel amenities and get a good night's sleep. Money: Saved.
  • Find a hacker hostel. You can find hacker hostels in startup hubs like San Francisco. As long as you are relatively unattached and aren't choosy about your roommates, you can find a place to sleep for a steal. Hacker inhabitants swear by the intense intellectual stimulation of these spaces.
  • Find your crowd. The best way to find cheap digs is through friends and coworkers. Likeminded bootstrappers know people who know people who can lend a helping sofa when times are hard.

Get free clothes and other items.

You probably need to wear clothes, so here are a few places to find free threads:
  • Hunt4Freebies. Most days, you'll find a free t-shirt offer here. It might not be as comfy as American Apparel, but it will serve its purpose.
  • Petrix. There are plenty of companies printing too many t-shirts. In exchange for your information, you can have one of them.
  • Honest Society. If you like free stuff, you can check out Honest Society. The platform allows you receive free items for through a 90% to 100% off coupon code purchase on Amazon. As long as you leave an honest review on Amazon for the product, the stuff is yours to keep. I've seen nice purses, smart watches, stereo equipment, hover boards, cosmetics, supplements, and clothing from this site.

Get free random things.

Plenty of manufacturers are willing to share inexpensive items for marketing or promotional purposes. Other times, your neighbors need to upgrade, downgrade, or simply get rid of their possessions. Here's how to get a piece of the action:
  • Freecycle. Somewhere in your neighborhood, people are giving stuff away for free. You can find this stuff on Freecycle.org. Freecycle allows you to publish "wanted" posts to share things you want to find for free.
  • Craigslist. Most people sell stuff on Craigslist, but some people give their things away for free. What is available on Craigslist? Everything. Cars, boats, computers, dryers, food, cats -- if you want it, you can probably find it.
  • Hey It's Free. The creators of Hey It's Free scour the Internet looking for items free of charge. If you want to get sample packs of Purina dog food or conspiracy theory magazines, bookmark this site. Occasionally, you might nab something a bit more valuable -- gift cards, nice meals, etc.
  • TrySpree. Similar to Hey It's Free, TrySpree collects promotional offers from around the web and shares them on their website.

Conclusion

Be positive. Positivity is free. Plus, it breeds success.

Your mindset is everything. If you stumble through the entrepreneurial journey with a scarcity mindset, you're going to experience scarcity with your money, time, and resources. Researchers have determined that a scarcity mindset is equivalent to losing 13 IQ points.

Basically, being poor makes you less capable, less intelligent, and less likely to succeed.

If, on the other hand, you function with a mindset of abundance, you'll likely experience more success.

As an entrepreneur, you know that life and all of its accoutrements will not be handed to you on a silver platter.

You probably also realize that a bootstrapping entrepreneur needs a few resources to have a shot at success.

What is your experience with bootstrapping?