The stereotype of dumpster diving is all wrong
Dumpster Diving with Panache
by Debra L. Karplus
Waste Not, Want Not
What You Can Learn from a Dumpster Diver
Dumpster diving always gets a bad rap. People envision a funky smelling, unshaven man in a way-too-large overcoat, pockets stuffed with who-knows-what, climbing inside a stinky dumpster behind the grocery in a rough neighborhood, lurking during the darkest night hours. But a person doesn't really require a dumpster, nor do they need any expertise in diving. One can discover some incredible finds while keeping both feet firmly on the ground. And the good news is that you can maintain your style and grace or panache, as the French call it, while collecting unexpected valuable treasures.
You've heard the expression "one person's trash is another person's treasure." Any astute bargain hunter knows that to stretch the dollar, you sometimes have to be a bit of a contrarian, going against the crowd. Keep this in mind because deals of all kinds await you in some unlikely places.
Know the law.
The first thing you need to know, before you delve into the dumpster diving arena, is your local laws, regarding what's okay to take. Different municipalities have their own way of defining what's public versus private property. You never want to be caught trespassing or, worse, stealing. Ignorance is never an excuse for being unlawful in anything you do. You must learn what your local ordinance defines as legal and, more important, illegal.
Be healthy to be wealthy.
As a scavenger, you never know when and where you might find discarded valuables that you want to bring home. Your own health and safety should always be the number one priority. Be sure to keep appropriate work gloves and hard thick-soled shoes for the unexpected collection stop. And don't even consider moving anything that's heavier or bulkier than your body can safely handle. A lifetime of back pain is simply not worth it!
Find free or cheap food.
Visit your local farmer's market near closing time. Most vendors are ready to pack up their truck or van and head back to the farm. Negotiate a deal on some of their leftovers, such as that tub of not-so-beautiful peaches. At home, cut them up and put them in yogurt, or bake them in a pie.
Your favorite supermarket may not be able to giveaway expired or discarded food so stay out of their outdoor garbage area; that's often considered to be illegal. But most stores have a section inside the produce department selling foods that are past their prime, such as brown bananas, which are great for making healthy milk shakes or banana bread, or vegetables that make tasty stir fry dishes. Bakeries are another place to find deals. Many people don't want day-old baked goods, but the reality is that if you're not planning to gobble down an entire loaf or pack of muffins on shopping day, then all bakery items essentially become day old or older.
Scavenge for other free stuff.
As you learn to scavenge for free stuff, you'll begin to see a pattern of specific places that have better-than-average discards. One woman found a nearly-new file cabinet, a functioning power lawn mower, and a backyard bench near the dumpster of the popular recreation center. The sign said "free," so she loaded them into back of her minivan.
Enjoy garage sale shopping? Often there's a bin near the street with some free stuff. Don't be a snob; some of this might be just what you're looking for. And when the sale is soon to end, stop back for reduced-price or additional free finds. Often, you'll find a pile or box of goodies on the parkway of someone's house. Probably it's free; if in doubt, always ask first.
There are other places worth mentioning that may have free stuff you can use. Neighborhoods with rental units, especially in college towns where students move in and out of apartments each semester, have perfectly good items in the trash. Need a small piece of wood or lumber for a project or home repair? Visit your home improvement store or lumber yard and ask if they can give you some wood scraps. Your nearby high school shop class may also have scraps to give away. The recycle bin at school or work may hold some finds such as notebooks, file folders, and scratch paper. If your community has a landscape recycling center, it's possible that they have wood chips or other usable scraps for you.
Keep a note pad, pencil, and tape measure with you always, in case you encounter a find that requires a larger vehicle for hauling or a second person to help with lifting. You might need to need to record the address or its dimensions. Treasures abound for those who pay attention. You just have to look.
Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.
Take the Next Step:
- Discover how to be frugal without looking poor.
- Looking to sell your new found treasures? Visit the TDS library to find out how to get the most for your used stuff.
- Join those who 'live better...for less' - Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, a weekly look at how to stretch both your day and your dollar! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.
Prices keep rising while my income remains stagnant and I worry I am heading for debt trouble. Tell us: Yes, I think I am heading for debt trouble and could use some help! or No, I am not in debt trouble but I am always looking for new ways to help keep my budget on track!
More Money-Saving Lifestyle Tips
- Why cheap shoes are a bad buy
- 5 ways timing can make a difference in your bottom line
- Barter your way to some of life's luxuries
- 4 steps to a simpler (and more frugal) life
- 6 tips for a fabulously free vacation
- Secrets to living luxuriously for less
- Saving-money secrets of the rich and frugal
- This week's Readers' Tips