Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alternatives to Shopping

Our consumer culture is fixated on going to the mall or shopping online. For those with limited funds or a desire for a less financially precarious life, there are many ways to get things that will enrich your life without spending money or stepping foot in a store.

PaperBackSwap. If you love to read, this really should be your go-to source for reading material. I have hundreds of books that I bought years ago and will never read again. I listed them on the site, and now I'm getting more books to read at no cost (besides shipping my books to other readers). A lot of the books that I've requested were impossible to find at used book stores and expensive on Amazon. Add to this the rich community among swappers and this site has my official recommendation.

Dumpster diving. This isn't for everyone; I know that. For those of you who aren't queasy, jump right in. There are all sorts of goodies waiting for you. Of course, you can't expect to find exactly what you're looking for; you are subject to the whims of those cleaning house. However, sometimes you do find exactly what you're looking for. One night after a concert, Trucker and I were taking a walk around the neighborhood. I decided right then and there to godiving and reached in to a dumpster. I pulled out a lovely, working lamp with lampshade. This was just a few days after I had decided to find another lamp for the living room.  Another time I found a copy of a novel that I had loved as a kid, and enjoyed reading it again.

Library. Get your books, movies and magazines for free instead of paying for them. My public library system is so amazing that I cancelled Netflix and rarely rent movies anymore.

Freecycle. Join your local branch of Freecycle. You can clear out stuff that you no longer want or need and ask for things that you do need. Some of the items I've seen offered are quite generous, such as pianos, bikes and office chairs. Added benefits are the environmental impact of less waste and fewer items being produced and that wonderful community feeling.

Crackle offers a rotation of movies that you can watch for free. You don't have unlimited selection, but I often find something that I'd enjoy watching. I don't have to pay for the DVD, rental fees or the outrageous prices for a movie theater ticket.

Project Gutenberg is a great source of free ebooks either to read on your PC or portable reading device. 38,000 free books in the public domain are waiting for you; you're sure to find something you'll enjoy reading.

Free boxes. Anytime I'm at a coffeehouse or a yard sale and I see a free box, I check it out. I've found good magazines and books, silly little kitchen gadgets and even clothes in my size in these free boxes. Once I found a Marc Jacobs jacket that was my size, in a color that looked great on me. It was missing a button, but I had some buttons at home and easily swapped them out.

Swaps. Have similar friends over for a swap meet. If many of your friends are film buffs, bring DVDs. If they are science fiction readers, bring novels. If you have several friends of roughly the same size, bring clothes to try on and trade; if your friends are all different sizes, swap accessories or jewelry. Make sure you each bring some booze or chocolate to really make it a party.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saving Your Cell Phone

 Twice I've dropped my phone in water.

The first time it was into a toilet. The second time it was in a pair of pants that went into the wash. It went through an entire wash cycle and banged around in the dryer for a bit before I got it out. I still use the phone.

Each time, as soon as possible, I took the phone apart and placed it into an ice cream tub (you can use any resealable container) and poured white rice over it to completely cover it. I left it for 24 hours. Each time, it started back up and I could continue to use it (after, of course, thoroughly sanitizing!).

I buy my rice in bulk for around $.75 a pound. I use about a pound of rice each time. I use a crappy cheap phone that costs $50. My cell carrier charges $20 to switch phones. So I saved $140 for the cost of $1.50 of rice. I've heard that more pricey phones rarely recover from water damage (I don't have personal experience as my $50 phone is the most expensive one I've ever owned), but the payoff would be greater if it does work. It's worth a shot.

Happy living!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Doing Good When You Don't Have Extra Cash

We all want to make the world a better place. There are no shortage of causes in need of support, but throwing money at the problem isn't always the best option. If you have barely enough money to make rent, you can't make a big cash donation to any cause, regardless of it's merit. But even if you don't have an extra $20, you can still make a difference.

* Volunteer at a soup kitchen. It takes a lot of work to feed several hundred people in an afternoon. Stop in for a few hours to help cook, serve or clean up. An added bonus is that they usually serve you lunch as well.

* Make it social. Years ago, I met every Tuesday with a group of wonderful women in Chicago. We crocheted, knitted and sewed all sorts of items to donate to organizations in our neighborhood. Baby items went to the hospital down the street for low income mothers. Lapghans went to the nursing home. Clothes, afghans and toys went to the neighborhood "free store". We had a wealthy sponsor who supplied us with any materials and tools we needed, and many people in the community would bring in crafting materials from family members' estates or leftover from their own projects. We would look online for patterns to print out and share. It was one of the highlights of each week to meet with these wonderful women and make things that would help the people in our community.

* Aid free access to knowledge. Project Gutenberg offers free downloads of over 38,000 eBooks that are in the public domain. Volunteers through Distributed Proofreaders ( check over pages that are scanned to make sure each character matches the original page. It can take as little as a few minutes of time to contribute to free access to learning.

* Extreme coupon. If you have a knack for combining sales, manufacturer's coupons, store coupons, rebates and clearance items to get free or almost free items, you can donate items to those in need. Food pantries, homeless shelters, free stores and women's shelters need a variety of goods and you can provide them. This can be a very time-effective way to donate, as you can shop for donation items as you do your regular shopping.

Update 5/5/2013
* If you have friends and family members who are struggling, offer to help them stretch their dollars. For example, look out for really good prices on items they use and scoop them up. Once I found cereal on sale for $.25 a box; I bought 50 boxes and distributed it among many families. They can repay you the purchase price. You don't lose any money, but they get a steep discount that can help to make ends meet.

* Invite someone over for dinner. If you know someone who is struggling to make ends meet, or is lonely (perhaps someone recently widowed or divorced or on their own for the first time), or doesn't know how to cook, invite them over for a great home cooked meal. Make it a nice one, but it doesn't have to be costly. Grill out bargain purchased sausages (we sometimes find a sale at Meijer: Buy 7 items get 7 off, and the sausages end up being $.79-1.29 a package) and some seasonal produce along with a pitcher of lemonade or iced tea. Or make pasta with garlic bread or stir fry with home made fried rice.

* Sometimes when someone is really poor and just establishing themselves, they are stuck eating fast food (which is more costly and far less nutritious than cooking at home) because they don't have basic kitchen wares. While at thrift stores and yard sales, keep an eye out for decent quality skillets, pots, slow cookers, spatulas, etc. I keep a large box of such items to distribute whenever I hear of a need. I also look out for beginner's cookbooks. It doesn't cost much at all if you only scoop up items when you find them at an amazing bargain (I sometimes find skillets for $1-2).

* Teach someone frugality. Many people weren't raised to be frugal and it can be hard to figure it all out. Teach someone valuable skills to help them manage their money better or to stretch a tiny budget. Skills such as gardening, mending clothing, cooking from scratch, or basic car maintenance can really save a lot of money. You can also take someone thrifting for the first time and show them how to really shop so they get what they need at a bargain, but don't spend a ton of money just because it's cheap. If someone really trusts you, you can even go over their budget with them and help them make a financial plan.

* Use bag sales for others benefit. If you are at a yard sale or thrift store during a bag sale (Fill a bag for $X), but have room left in the bag after you pick out what you want/need, fill it the rest of the way with items to give away. You can put winter hats and scarves in the bag to donate to a homeless shelter. If you know of something a friend/coworker/family member needs, put it in the bag.

What are your ideas? How do you help others when you don't have extra cash?

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