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Clark Howard is a nationally syndicated consumer advice expert
There probably aren't many people who celebrate birthdays the way Joe Nelson does.
About a month before his 38th birthday last October, Joe signed up for dozens of birthday clubs at restaurants. Then when his big day arrived, he spent a full 24-hour period (with 3 hours break) collecting 105 freebie offers around metro Atlanta.
He drove 177 miles, spent $46 in gas, and roughly $22 in tips and tax to collect $578 in food and non-food items on his birthday.
What could one person do with all that food? It's certainly too much to eat alone or even with the 3 friends Joe brought along to help him document the outing in real-time on his blog, BirthdayTrek.Blogspot.com.
Last birthday, Joe drove around downtown Atlanta and gave much of the food he got in 2012 to homeless people. This year, however, he shared his freebies with whoever happened to be around him at the moment he got them.
"I would get my free item and then whoever was there that was willing to take it, I would give them the item plus a slip of paper explaining what I do on my birthday," says Joe, who works as a full-time delivery man for Edible Arrangements -- one of several jobs he holds down.
In addition to the explanation, on that slip of paper was written the following: "I ask for nothing in return other than you try and do the same for someone within the next week."
Several people did in fact get back to Joe with reports of their own good deeds that his actions inspired.
One woman wrote to say she paid for another person's lunch in the car behind her at a Wendy's drivethrough. "[Thanks for] opening my eyes as to how we all can help one another in this crazy world of ours," she noted.
Another person wrote in to say they quietly paid for the lunch of a girl who had apparently lost her debit card. The payer was greeted with a tearful thank you in the parking lot for their kindness.
"My birthday this year ended up not being about me at all, but about helping others out and showing love to strangers for no reason at all and expecting nothing back from them in return," Joe says. " It was beautiful to see the smile on their faces and their genuine appreciation."
Joe's birthday freebie obsession began in 2011. That year, he collected 31 items. He was shooting for 50 freebie items last year, and this past year he more than doubled that by crossing the 100-freebie mark.
As you might imagine, Joe is a pretty thrifty guy in many areas of his life. He loves stocking up at the grocery store when things are on sale, and he routinely looks for damaged or discontinued reduced priced items.
"I'll buy 3 jars of Baconnaise when it is on sale because it rarely goes on sale, and I know I'll use it up eventually," he says. "Fresh produce is one thing I will buy at regular price, but [I] will buy the lowest priced apples or carrots to save money."
A few areas where he won't compromise quality over price include toothpaste and toilet paper.
"I will pay more for good toilet paper," Joe says. "I cannot tolerate the cheap one-ply rolls. Charmin Extra Soft. Period."
(Too bad Joe doesn't know that high quality toilet paper comes remarkably cheap!)
Want to be like Joe? He's shared 3 simple tips to get you going on your own birthday freebie spree!
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