Whether you are a cheapskate, flat broke, or just like spending your hard-earned money wisely, this article will serve you. For many years, one reason or another has kept me low on funds, whether it was the cost of receiving a university education, losing a job, or traveling for months at a time without working. During these “tough” times, I’ve learned a lot of useful strategies for living frugally, and I would like to share them in this article.
Just because you are low on funds does not mean you have to eat at McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants everyday. There are a number of ways to eat a well-balanced diet for free or inexpensively.
1) Dumpster Divin’ & Simply Asking for Food
The first, and probably most extreme method, is dumpster divin’. Its not as gross as it sounds lol. I’ve only assisted in such ventures, but there have been times when we secured hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly fine, healthy food using this method. The idea is that many stores, such as Whole Foods Market and other health food stores, will not keep expired food on their shelves. If the food’s expiration date matches the current date, the store will throw away the food. But, more often than not, the food, no matter what it is, fruit platters, cheese, salad, tea, is perfectly fine, and will not go bad for at least another few days. Dumpster divers can capitalize by waiting until the store closes, and then checking the dumpsters in the back. Again, I’m not an expert, and I have not done this enough to provide any great tips. Depending on the store, you may also be able to avoid the whole dumpster business by just asking a manger if you can take food they are throwing out. This will not work everywhere, but its worth a shot if you are hungry.
2) Farmer’s Markets – Asking for the Old Food and Volunteering
A second method is to show up to farmer’s markets when they are closing; there is a chance that they are throwing out excess food that they have, and a chance they will reduce the price or just give it to you for free. You can also volunteer at a market, with a farm in your area, or a CSA. A few years back I spent about two hours volunteering on a local farm; the manager gave me about 5 pounds of produce we just picked out of the ground!
3) Replant Roots and Seeds
A third method is to take the seeds or roots of the vegetables you consume and simply plant them. They may or may not grow, depending on the soil and how well they are cared for. But, there is always a chance for growth even if you throw it in a pile on the side of your house. Scallions, if put in water or planted in soil, will almost always grow back within a week or two. You can do this with the seeds of fruits as well, but it will likely take many years to bare fruit if they sprouts at all.
4) Pick Fruit Falling of Trees in Your Neighborhood & Other Wild Edibles
Another easy method of obtaining free food is to simply become knowledgable about the native plants in your neighborhood. Last summer while I was living in Fort Lauderdale, I was able to harvest about 150 mangos from a tree next to my house. While in Tampa, my friend and I harvested hundreds of oranges form an abandoned grove. There are also a number of edible herbs that are likely growing around your residence waiting to be harvested and eaten. If you practice this method, it is essential to consult with an expert in your area first, as poisonous plants can look very similar to edible ones and have varying levels of toxicity; some can even kill you!
5) Strategic Dietary Actions
There are also methods to stabilize your blood sugar and keep hunger pangs at bay, minimizing the need for excessive calories and the frequency of meals which you eat. I cannot comment on these yet as I am not an expert in these fields or even well-versed, but they are ketogenic diets, intermittent fasting, and pranayama (breath control).
1) Take Advantage of Free Trials at Gyms
A few years ago, after graduating from college, my employee status at USF changed from student OPS to regular OPS. For about a month, I was locked out of the university’s gym while the paperwork was being authorized. Instead of not lifting weights, I got creative! I researched all of the gyms within a few miles of my residence, and there were many, each offering 1, 3, and even 14 days of free gym access. I was in heaven! I was able to workout in gyms for free for over a month using this method. Most gyms did not bug me about joining, only LA Fitness. I just kept my head low, said hi as I walked in, completed my workout, and sprinted to my car before they could harass me with a sales pitch. Furthermore, if you use this method, and you end up eventually paying for gym membership, your ability to lower the price increases tremendously. I learned this while a sales agent with LA Fitness was attempting to get me to join; I was able to tell him all the prices of the gyms in the area and what they offered. He offered to lower the monthly rate $20 and to waive all sign-up fees.
2) Take Advantage of Free Trials and Groupons at Yoga Studios, PT Studios, etc…
If you do not join a gym, continue to research personal training studios, personal trainers, yoga studios, yoga instructors, Orange Theory classes, barre fitness studios, and so forth. You can likely find more free classes and instruction, or at least a significantly reduced rate through Living Social or Groupon deals.
3) Utilize the Services of Personal Trainers at Gyms without Signing Up For Training
If you end up joining a gym, which may only cost $10 or $20 a month, and need some help with exercise, just walk up to a trainer and ask if they can take you through a workout. There may be a trainer walking around, waiting for the opportunity to sell their services, and will gladly spend some time with you. You just got a $70+ workout for free!
4) Utilize the Outdoors, Random Stuff Around your House, and Your Children
There are also a ton of free or very cheap ways to exercise. Nature is my playground and gym of choice: there is always an ocean or river to swim and a tree to climb. You can put sand in gallon water jugs, weigh them for accuracy, and do squats, push-press, and other intense exercises with them. Or, just grab some cinderblocks or large objects around your house and lift them. You can grab your toddler under the armpits, squat down as low as you can, toss them into the air, and catch them! (The key to this exercise is to catch them lol). They serve as a good 30-40 lb weight, and if you toss them enough, you’ll feel the burn. Plus, they’ll love it!
Living a healthy lifestyle does not always have to be expensive. These are nine simple strategies to highlight that a bit of creativity that can reduce the expenses of eating and exercise, two essential components of living a healthy lifestyle. I’m sure there are many more: share your strategies in the comments!
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*Originally posted on my old website which no longer exists, riverbearfitness.com.