i pride myself on being a good scavenger and i think it's an important skill to have if you, like me, want to get out of debt and/or live simply. if i can find it for free, and actually enjoy the process, then that saves me two times--once for the price of whatever it is i was going to buy, and twice by giving me something productive to do that doesn't cost any money.
one of my favorite methods is dumpster diving. in the city the easiest finds are furniture, building supplies, firewood, and clothing. it's harder to find good food because many places lock up their dumpsters or use compactors. i have to drive out of town a bit to get a good food dumpster. in smaller towns the easiest find is food. most little grocery stores don't think to lock up their dumpsters because they can't imagine someone would want their garbage, and you are therefore likely to be the only one that does. trader joe's is famous for having a prolific dumpster with all the food packaged neatly and easy to extract. whatever you are diving for, be courteous and leave the area cleaner then you found it. also, don't take more than you need, there may be others who will come after you.
another method is just keeping my eyes open for what i need as i go about my day. i often do this with food, i just wait until it's presesnted to me. in the restaurant biz, this is very easy, though it happens outside of work too. people in this country throw away tons of food and if you don't subscribe to germ paranoia, then eating off of a strangers plate makes perfect sense. discretion is required, at least for me, because i don't want to arouse discomfort in other's sense of order and i also don't want someone to offer to buy me food. i'm not starving or penniless, i just don't think food that i want to eat should go to the garbage instead. its a way of reducing the waste, people in other countries where food is more scarce view this as logical and normal--so do i.
another method that i love is thrifting. it's not free, but it's pretty cheap. goodwill is too expensive for the most part these days, i go to smaller independant thrift stores and there's a chain here called the arc that has 50% off sales all the time. here is where i buy the majority of my clothes, kitchen stuff, furniture, and sometimes books. now, there are times when i'll spend a chunk of cash on new shoes, or the occaisional $100 pair of jeans, but when money is an issue, it makes no sense to do that when comperable things are at the thrift store for under 5 bucks. and i should mention that i look great, all my clothes are unique and fit into my personal style. that's the beauty of thrifting, there's only one of everything in the store, perfect fun for the person who likes to dig for treasure.
as much fun as free stuff is, i've definately had to reign myself in as a van-dweller. it's easy to start aquiring too much stuff this way, after all it's free! this is where a sense of simplicity and streamlined economy are essential. i've found that this plus a love of scavenging produces a lifestyle of abundance. there are always more goodies to find, more food to eat, more adventures to have, so i don't need to hoard them.
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