Garden City Giveaways

On freeloading in the five valleys


Despite the hallowed place of Ramen Noodles in college lore, frugality is not a lesson learned freshman year. At least, such is the conclusion one could draw from the piles of perfectly good—if unremittingly shoddy—stuff clustered in and around dorm-side dumpsters each semester when the University of Montana’s student housing empties. On the other hand, maybe these dorm-dwellers are smoking their money on things other than quality home furnishings.

Either way, a student with sufficient hauling capacity could furnish his or her entire college experience with the stuff profligate classmates leave behind. Too bad you missed last year’s scavenging festivities. Take courage, though: The coming year is rife with opportunities to gather what another man spills, as one lyricist has put it.

In that spirit, here are some tips on utterly discounted life in Missoula.

Free Schooling

The whole world is a learning opportunity, a fact that people who are paying to be educated can easily forget. But you can learn a thing or two for nothing courtesy of the University of Montana, which subsidizes almost a dozen world-class lecturers each year as part of the President’s Lecture Series. (Check in at once fall semester starts for the 2007-08 schedule.) Most likely, if you’re a frosh, the hope of acquiring extra credit to remediate your hangover-crippled attendance grade will be the lure. But seriously, this is a chance to get for free what you’re otherwise paying to blow off.

Free Airtime

Missoula Community Access Television will do whatever they can to get you in front of a cable access audience. Not only do they offer airtime to whomever comes up with something worth beaming to Missoula’s cable subscribers, they’ll even hook you up with the equipment to get it down on tape. To get started, attend one of the monthly orientation sessions at MCAT’s 500 N. Higgins Ave. studio, taking place the second Wednesday of each month.

Free Music

A few local watering holes will pay the band just to get you in there, among them the Old Post Pub, 103 W. Spruce St., which regularly brings in locals on Thursday nights, and the Union Club, 208 E. Main St., which hires bands to make you move your feet and your drinking arm every Friday and Saturday night while school is in session. Neither ever charges a cover, either.

Free Bikes

Imagine the pride of constructing your own sweet ride. Now stop imagining it and get down to Free Cycles Missoula, 732 S. First St. W. The community bike shop, project of the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, collects bicycle parts and wholes. Then they supplement their stock with a slew of knowledgeable volunteers who can help you with anything from repairing a tire to tightening a spoke. If you want to get around town in sustainable style, Free Cycles is your one-stop shop.

Free Ride

Get on the bus. Mountain Line, Missoula’s municipal bus service, supplies free rides to Griz Card holders. And that’s just the start of what the local bus line can do for you. Between monthly EZ pass giveaways to entice riders and longer-term freebies for employees of many Missoula businesses, if you can’t wrangle a free ride out of Mountain Line then you’re not really trying. Throw a free bike (see above) on the bike transporters at the front of every bus and you’ve got multi-modal sustainability on a budget that makes environmental conscience affordable to all.

Free Beer

In the offices of a downtown business, a facially pierced, black-clad young woman with a taint of street life piled a small plate high with snackables while looking on in disbelief as a friend of mine filled up a pitcher with amber liquid. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked. “If you think it’s beer, yes,” I said. She was dumbfounded, marveling that Missoula businesses open their doors to give away food and even beer. “They never do that in California,” she said. Maybe so, and as long as she doesn’t tell any Californians, she’s welcome to keep eating and drinking for free during the First Friday art walks, which offer booze, hors d’ oeuvres and elevating aesthetic experiences to all comers, even you. The proportions in which First Friday hosts offer these accoutrements varies—and I’m not about to print the locations of my favorite stashes—so do some investigating for the best catered art-show events.

Free Movies

With World Wide Cinema and Cheap Date Night, the Missoula Public Library, 200 E. Main St., manages to smuggle a few cinematic offerings onto the screen for free. World Wide Cinema brings acclaimed movies from foreign countries to the Large Meeting Room’s projection screen a different Friday each month, while on the third Friday of each month, Cheap Date Night screens mainstream American offerings and supplements the entertainment with free popcorn. (The library also stocks books, which can be checked out for free.)

Free Everything Else

The Missoula Freecycle Yahoo! Group (not affiliated with the bike shop, above) is your potential source for just about anything you need—not to mention it’s not a bad place to get rid of the junk that might secretly be someone’s treasure. When you sign up for the group at, you’ll join a mailing list with almost 1,000 subscribers in the area who, in the space of a recent 24 hour stretch, offered up Lincoln Logs, a 30-gallon aquarium and a 14x72 foot trailer. The group takes requests too, so you don’t even have to wait for someone else to realize you need what they can painlessly dispense with.

Alright. Now stop spending and start freeloading. You’ve been living off your parents long enough.

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