Republished with permission from Vocations for Social Change.
Here are some hints on getting food, heat and other necessities for free or a fraction of their usual cost—not by forging off into the wilderness with guns and axes, but by taking advantage of the waste in our affluent economy. They may require some adjustments in attitude and taste if you have been conditioned into believing that everything you acquire should be new and shiny, but the savings and the satisfaction of creative consumption will soon win you over.
Creative Ways to Save Money
Eat garbage! Seriously, check out the bins in back of your neighborhood supermarket. You will find a steady supply of fruits and vegetables that have been discarded—some because they are truly rotten—but most because they have bruises and blemishes that make them "unattractive". Wash them off, cut out the bad parts, and you have perfectly wholesome food for free. In our last foray we bagged eleven artichokes, two pounds of zucchini squash, about one-half dozen each of apples, oranges, bananas, a very large sack of mushrooms, a head of cabbage, and all of the lettuce, celery and bell peppers we cared to haul away. If you can't quite stomach this form of procurement, go in with your friends and neighbors and buy your produce by the crate directly from the wholesalers. They do not care who they sell to, and you will be amazed at the difference in price.
If you are living in a large city, your heating bills may
not be very high, but where we live it costs about $35 per
month to heat a house with bottled butane gas. If you are
in a similar situation, you should be heating with wood. If
you are lucky, you may come across an old wood stove, but
they are fast becoming antiques, and new ones are quite
expensive. The best solution is to make a barrel stove from
a 50 gallon oil drum (which you can get for a few dollars
at scrap metal yards). With a little bit of work they make
excellent heaters that will warm very large areas. Try
locating an outlet that has army surplus kits with the
extra parts needed for conversion, (doors, grate, etc.)
Naturally, you get your wood free. Big pieces come from
timbers and poles that have been left to rot. Small ones
cut to length can be had from the scrap piles of companies
that make fences, packing crates, etc. (On the subject of
free heat, our friend Ray Mungo sent us an elaborate
description of a giant communal bed that he and his friends
in Vermont built. It stands four feet off the floor—the
principle being that heat rises, and the closer you are to
the ceiling, the warmer you'll be!)
Buy your clothes, household furnishings, etc. used at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, rummage sales, etc. If you do any of your own building or remodeling (you should— someone in your community can no doubt help you if you are inexperienced) try to salvage materials from buildings that are being demolished, or buy them used from wrecking companies.
These are some ways that we have found to stretch those subsistence dollars. If you have hit upon others, let us know!