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How one guy racked up $580 worth of free food and clothing in 24 hours

Joe Nelson, 38, spends his birthday racking up freebies from businesses and giving them away to strangers.

It’s hard to put a price tag on good karma, but we’re willing to bet Joe Nelson, a 38-year-old delivery man from Atlanta, Ga., is pretty much set for life.

Three years ago, Nelson decided to turn his obsession with finding free birthday coupons online into a bona fide movement of his own. Each year on his birthday, he collects dozens of freebie deals from businesses around his hometown and doles them out to the homeless, friends and strangers lucky enough to be standing behind him on line.

Already an avid couponer, Nelson said the idea of collecting birthday freebies came to him naturally.

“My dad was always just kind of saving every penny and it just rubbed off on me,” Nelson told Yahoo Finance. “I guess it escalated as I got older.”

In a six-minute video he posted on his blog Sunday, Nelson documents his latest whirlwind 24-hour freebie giveaway, which took place on his birthday in October. After weeks of research and carefully tracking deals online, he managed to rack up nearly $580 worth of free items, logging over 177 miles across 14 cities and cashing in more than 100 coupons.

It was a new record. On his 37th birthday in 2012, Nelson cashed in about 50 free deals worth $350. That year, he gave nearly half his free food away to homeless people in the Atlanta area.

For his 38th birthday, he decided to make things a little more interesting. He gave himself just 24 hours to double his 2012 haul, with the clock starting at 12:00 on the morning of his birthday.

“Because of the short amount of time and the things we had to collect, I knew I wasn’t going to have time to run downtown to find homeless people, so I came up with the idea of a ‘pay it forward’ approach,” he said. “I would just give it to whoever was standing next to me at the store.”

It was a grueling effort that often required trying to convince skeptical patrons he was sincere in wanting to give them free stuff.

“Quite a few people turned me down,” he said. “If we still were carrying something after two stops and it got refused, we would just eat it ourselves. That was our meal throughout the day.”

But Nelson is no stranger to, well, strangers. Throughout the year, he juggles as many as nine freelance jobs, including as an event security man and promoter, working lights for church groups, dealing blackjack, and sometimes working as an extra on film sets. His steady income is from his work as a delivery man for Edible Arrangements. Couponing helps him stretch every last dollar.

“Last year, between my birthday in 2012 and 2013, I got one free thing every single day of the year,” he said. “It’s very time consuming to do and to prepare. It doesn’t really stop.”

To prepare for his birthday each year, Nelson starts by searching for and signing up for birthday freebie mailing lists at any retailer who offers them. He recommends typing ‘Free’ in a Facebook search and ‘liking’ groups that continuously post free coupon offerings. He’s also a fan of Shopkick, an app that lets you rack up points that can be applied to future purchases.

He’s already prepping for next year’s freebie hunt.

“The end goal would be to make an impact on the world around me as much as possible,” he said. “Even if it’s a small impact, I’d like just to try to make people happier and their lives a little better.”

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