If you find treasure where others see trash, take a few minutes consider trash picking laws. Are you breaking the law when scavenging, dumpster diving, curb surfing, free-cycling, or trash picking? Maybe. It depends on where you are picking, what you are taking, and your methods.
You are breaking no federal laws by trash picking garbage that was left in a public space. However, you may be breaking local laws that exist in a some areas. Furthermore, some locales prevent the taking of certain types of garbage (like recyclables).
When you are trash picking, it is much more likely that you will get in trouble for breaking other laws, like laws about trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, health and safety, or parking.
It is always good to know where you stand legally, so here is an explanation of trash picking laws.
Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big
Trash picking and the law
Trash picking is legal (federally)
If you are a trash picker or dumpster diver, you will be pleased to learn that the Supreme Court has defended your right to go through and even take other people’s trash (sort of.)
While there have been no cases about trash picking directly, there have been cases on the legal standing of garbage. The most important case in this regard has been California v. Greenwood. In this 1988 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the police had the right to pick through and take from trash left on public space.
In the 1984 the Laguna Beach police department picked through Billy Greenwood’s garbage to find evidence of drug trafficking which they consequently used to gain a search warrant. After searching the home, the police found lots of marijuana and cocaine. Greenwood’s defense argued all the way to the Supreme Court that searching his garbage violated the fourth amendment as illegal search and seizure.
The court decided that that garbage left for collection is in the public realm and loses all rights of privacy and property.
Criminals take note, this view has been upheld in subsequent cases. Your garbage may not remain silent and may be used against you.
Local trash picking laws
While the Greenwood case tangentially protects trash picking on a federal level, some areas have local prohibitions on trash picking. You might think that everyone wins when something useful stays out of the landfill or recycling center, but policy makers may not share that view.
Recyclable materials may be off limits
For some municipalities, recycling means big money. When scrappers, can collectors, or passers by take the intended recycling, the city or its contracted service loses money. Even though the value of recyclable materials has fallen in recent years, these materials may be jealously guarded.
Some municipalities have ordinances that make intended recycling the property of the city. In one extreme 2010 case, a New York City man and his aunt were each fined $2000 for taking a discarded air conditioner from the curb.
It is unlikely that law enforcement will take the time to pursue people taking recycling. Nevertheless, if you want to obey the law, check your local laws or just skip taking recyclables all together.
Undesirable behaviors and identity thieves
Some locales have laws to prevent trash picking in any form. Even if the item is not recycling or protected by privacy or property laws, trash picking may be off limits. The laws are mainly in place to prevent nuisance behaviors and identity theft.
These laws can be controversial. Nobody wants someone “salvaging” their personal documents. Furthermore, nobody wants a bunch of noise in the middle of the night, strangers hanging out on the sidewalk, or a mess to clean up. On the other hand, it seems sinful to prevent the salvaging of serviceable items that are destined for the landfill.
Whether or not you personally feel that these trash picking laws go too far, they are on the books in many places.
Related laws that you might be breaking
Even if trash picking is technically fair game where you are, there are many other laws to consider. People who get in trouble for trash picking are usually fined for one of the following issues.
Garbage on or in private property remains the private property of the resident or entity. Even if you are a 90-year-old grandma grabbing cans from the garbage at the car wash, that garbage is protected by privacy and property laws.
As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, garbage in the public realm is fair game, but how do you know if the items are in the public realm? If the garbage is by the side of the house, in a garage, behind a fence, or in a locked container, it is clear that you will be trespassing. But what about when garbage placement gets vague?
Public or private space?
We can talk about tree lawns, road verge, alleys, easements, and curbs, but the key legal term to understand here is curtilage:
“Curtilage includes the area immediately surrounding a dwelling, and it counts as part of the home for many legal purposes, including searches and many self-defense laws. When considering whether something is in a dwelling’s curtilage, courts consider four factors:
- The proximity of the thing to the dwelling;
- Whether the thing is within an enclosure surrounding the home;
- What the thing is used for.
- What steps, if any, the resident took to protect the thing from observation/ access by people passing by.”
Our physical spaces are complex and varied, and different cities have different rules regarding spaces like sidewalks. When it comes to curtilage (the protected private space), both the physical space and the intentions of the owner are factors.
To avoid trespassing, simply ask yourself two questions:
- Do I have a clear, legal right to walk there generally?
- Are the items clearly being left for disposal?
Invasion of privacy
I have already noted that some municipalities have laws preventing all forms of garbage picking over privacy concerns. Even if such laws are not in place, a resident or entity retains privacy rights for any garbage within the curtilage of the property.
Privacy rights and property rights go hand-in-hand when it comes to trash picking laws. If the previous owner has placed the items in public space (beyond their legal curtilage) for intended disposal, they have no legal expectation of privacy.
People may not want you to know that they still read Boy’s Life magazine, eat six cans of spam a week, or never dust their dresser drawers, but privacy rights do not extend to garbage on the curb.
I may not like it when someone takes my picture in public, but their is nothing that I can do about it. Similarly, I may not like it when someone looks at my old furniture on curb, but I have waved my privacy rights and any expectation of privacy.
Health and Safety violations
In rare cases, trash pickers have been fined for health and safety violations.
In Birmingham, Alabama, several men were fined after collecting trash for disposal when the neighborhood trash was piling up (due to unpaid sanitation bills.) The officials argued that the men did not have the required training or equipment for the disposal. Even though the trash had been sitting around for weeks, the officials claimed that the men were creating a health hazard.
This unusual case aside, if you are salvaging items, make sure that you are not inadvertently creating physical or biological hazards. If you are leaving dangerous debris or potentially spreading pathogens, a fine is justified.
Some people think that you must take possession of an offending item before you can be guilty of littering. Based on most littering laws, this is simply not the case.
One example (California)
“374. (a) Littering means the willful or negligent throwing, dropping, placing, depositing, or sweeping, or causing any such acts, of any waste matter on land or water in other than appropriate storage containers or areas designated for such purposes.”
Ownership or possession has nothing to do with it. If I pick up a piece of garbage in the park to read the label and then put it back where I found it, I am still littering. If you are physically leaving, placing, or scattering garbage when seeking trashy treasures, you are littering.
Let’s say I break apart an old desk to salvage the drawers for another purpose. If I do not properly dispose of the remaining debris, I am littering.
Disorderly conduct / disturbing the peace
There are many reasons not to pick trash in the dead of night. One reason is that you might be breaking laws regarding disorderly conduct and/or disturbing the peace. In one extreme case, an actual garbage collector was sentenced to jail time for doing his job too early in the morning.
Disturbing the peace is a legal catch-all that is defined as “infringing upon or frustrating someone else’s right to peace and tranquility.” As you can tell, this is a very vague definition. (My neighbor’s Dallas Cowboys flag frustrates my tranquility on a daily basis.) Laws regarding disturbing the peace and the degree their enforcement vary widely from place to place.
The most important thing to remember is to be considerate. Make minimal noise, do not stay long, and do not leave a mess.
Loitering laws are controversial because they generally target the less fortunate. A poor person and a rich person can do the exact same thing with very different reactions from shop owners, police, etc. If you are picking trash, you will not get the benefit of preference.
Some loitering laws focus on the absence of activity (hanging around) whereas other laws focus on undesirable activities. (“But officer, I do have a purpose. I am begging for money and then gambling with it.”) Most accusations of loitering are baseless as the offense is hard to prove.
Even though you may be within your rights to be where you are, why invite a hassle? The easiest way to avoid any concerns about loitering is by going about your business expeditiously.
Related link: A Guide to Legal Loitering
Illegal parking / loading
No matter how great the prospective find, do not commit moving or parking violations. The money you were trying to save will disappear in a flurry of carbon paper and bureaucracy. Take your time, park legally, and load responsibly.
Conclusions on trash picking laws
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is my understanding based on my experience and research. You are responsible for checking your local laws.
The take-away here is that much of the time scavenging, dumpster diving, curb surfing, free-cycling, and trash picking is perfectly legal. You must make sure that there are no local laws prohibiting your activity and that items that you are taking are in the public realm and intended for disposal.
On the other hand, you must keep other laws pertaining to trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, health and safety, parking, etc. in the front of your mind. It is easy to imagine law enforcement officials using these other laws as a way to curb a legal behavior (trash picking) that has been causing complaints in the area.
For my part, I love finding cool, free stuff, and I feel that it is important to battle our society’s wasteful tendencies whenever possible. However, I do not want to break any laws nor upset anyone in my community. The solution is for me to get my free stuff while obeying trash picking laws and acting conscientiously.
I decided to do a deep dive on this trashy subject after writing a post on curb surfing. If you would like to get my tips, please check out my other post:
Did my post on trash picking laws help you out? Did I miss the mark? Do you want to share your experience? Please, leave a comment.
Scoring free stuff on the curb is a great way to beat the system. You are keeping stuff out of the landfill, finding unusual items, and keeping money in your pocket. In some cases, the found items are better than what you would have purchased in a big box store.
If you are reading this, you probably do not have a psycho-social hangup with taking home something that someone else discarded. People who can go beyond illogical pressures can save some real money. Since you are willing to think for yourself, here are 27 tips for scoring great free stuff on the curb.
Approaches to scoring free stuff on the curb
1) Target affluent neighborhoods and big houses.
This is like how trick-or-treat-ers swarm to the rich side of town. If you go to the rich side of town, you get the best stuff.
People with disposable income dispose of a lot of property. Many will not take the time to post items on craigslist or even to take items to a donation center. Whatever their reasons may be, high-income people put out high-quality curbside finds. Familiarize yourself with the trash schedules in the well-to-do neighborhoods in your area.
In addition, grabbing the good stuff in high-income neighborhoods is easy; it is less likely that someone who lives there wants to be seen trash picking.
It is important to note that some of the best finds come from large, older homes that are continually purging their contents. The larger and older the home, the more likely that the stuff I am interested will end up on the curb.
2) Think seasonally.
Spring is often the best time to find great free stuff on the curb. Many people are moving, spring cleaning is under way, colleges and universities are wrapping up, and the divorce rate reaches its yearly peak. This is a perfect time for you to get your own home organized and upgraded with some free stuff from the curb.
Spring is not the only season to consider. The holiday season, the end of a particular sports seasons, garage cleaning season, yard-sale season, and so on might offer what you seek.
3) Note trash schedules.
Your own trash schedule is not the only one to keep in mind. Think about the neighborhoods that you want to target and get to know their schedules. Taking a different route home on a certain day of the week might double your chances of discovering curbside gold.
4) Cruise colleges and universities.
Here in Philadelphia we celebrate Penn Christmas in May. When the students move away, they toss tons of useful stuff.
Even when the students are not moving away, colleges and universities have great potential for garbage picking. When offices are being renovated or reorganized, schools throw away great furniture, filing cabinets, office supplies, and more. Oftentimes these items are institution quality and built to last.
Drive around the back of the building to see what is there. Just make sure that it really is trash and not waiting to be picked up and moved.
5) Check other institutions and businesses.
Retirement homes, office buildings, factories, libraries, etc. throw away some great stuff. They may not have a plan in place to dispose of, re-purpose, or donate perfectly serviceable items.
Look around these targets, but make sure that you are not trespassing or stealing.
6) Go off the beaten path.
To find the best curbside gold, you may have to travel the road less traveled. Service roads, alley ways, and loading zones are where the curb treasure awaits. The next time you leave a commercial park, shopping center, or school, exit by driving around the back of the buildings.
Do not forget to stay safe. Do not go anywhere where you do not feel comfortable. Pay attention to lighting, entrances and exits, and visibility.
7) Follow yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, etc.
If you want to get the best stuff at a yard sale, go early. If you want free stuff from the yard sale, go late. Many neighborhood yard sales occur before garbage day because they know that many people will trash things that do not sell. Consider hitting the yard sales after everyone has closed up shop.
8) Use apps, websites, and alerts.
There are many apps and websites helping people find free stuff on the curb. This is the best way to go if you are looking for specific items. The drawback of this approach is that you need to be ready to act quickly. Sometimes listings are not kept current or you arrive two seconds too late.
- Craigslist free section
- Nextdoor app
- Facebook (local groups)
9) Travel on foot.
No matter how slowly you drive past, you will never get the best view. You will see more stuff and avoid wasting time on items that are truly garbage by taking the ol’ shoe leather express. Most of the cool things I have found have been while walking my dogs. Get some exercise, check things out, and come back later if something big is worth picking.
Free stuff on the curb best practices
10) Inspect finds.
If thoroughly checking out a trashed item causes you embarrassment, get over it. It is better to spend the time making sure items are what you want than to waste your time and energy. Make sure all of the parts are there, look for irreparable damage, move any moving parts, and look for maker’s marks and labels. Even if something is free, check it thoroughly before investing your time and energy.
11) Avoid bed-bugs and other pests.
Bed bugs and other pests are hard to detect and hard to kill. Bed bugs are resistant to heat, cold, and starvation. They can even hide in the folds of lampshades or inside electronics. Upholstered furniture, pillows, and stuffed animals are out of the question. When in doubt, leave it out.
You can treat large items with pesticides, but it is easier to avoid all upholstered items completely. Any kind of textile that cannot be treated with serious heat easily (washer and dryer heat) is a no go.
12) Be prepared and safe.
There are a few things that you should keep in your vehicle to make sure that your curb surfing is practical and safe.
- Work gloves
- Closed-toe shoes
- Eye protection
- Straps and tie-downs
- Basic tool kit (screw drivers, utility knife, hammer, pliers, etc.)
Be safe with your body. Do not try to manage heavy or awkward items alone, be aware of your surroundings, and carefully secure items for transport.
13) Learn how to disassemble.
Depending on what you are looking for, you may need to do some disassembly. A few well-placed swings of a hatchet or the ability to locate mounting screws makes all the difference.
I have smashed IKEA bookcases to re-purpose the melanin, removed table and desk tops, pulled drawers for new storage, and snatched hinges, casters, and hardware. Just because you do not want the entire item as it sits, doesn’t mean there is nothing of worth.
14) Get handy.
Many people are completely intimidated by minor repairs and modifications. As a result, some quality items with minor defects are free for the taking.
Finding free stuff on the curb gives you a no-risk way to increase your skills. You might be amazed by what you can accomplish with a few screws, a little glue, and some paint.
If you would like to learn more about how I made this cart from discarded pallets, check out my post “Get Started Turning Pallets into Stuff“.
15) Think creatively.
Open your mind to re-purposing. A small dresser can become a bathroom vanity. A shoe rack might help you organize your art supplies. A desktop can become a work bench. Just because an item is no longer serviceable for it’s intended use, doesn’t mean it needs to go to the landfill.
16) Know garbage picking laws.
You do not want to end up paying a hefty fine for trying to save a few bucks. You also want to avoid unpleasant arguments. Check your local regulations so that you do not end up in hot water. Here are some basics for understanding garbage picking laws:
- Pay attention to signs and notices; they have legal bearing.
- You are more likely to get in trouble for trespassing than taking garbage. If the garbage is on private space, it is subject to privacy protection.
- Garbage left on public space is no longer private property (Greenwood vs. California). The contents of garbage bins in public space (the curb) are not protected by law.
- If you are going through garbage on private property, you are trespassing and invading privacy.
- Some cities (like New York) prohibit the taking of items that are intended for recycling. This recycling makes the city or the city’s subcontractor serious money, so they do not want people grabbing it.
- There are no federal laws preventing people from taking other peoples’ trash.
- Some local laws prohibit trash picking. A municipality may decide that people are being inconvenienced or generally put-off by scavenging and establish ordinances and fines.
“My wife is always trying to get rid of me. The other day she told me to put the garbage out. I said to her I already did. She told me to go and keep an eye on it.”
For more in-depth information on this topic, check out my related post: Trash Picking Laws
17) Consider reselling.
I was surprised to learn that many people make real money from what they find in the trash. If you are so inclined, look for items that might be valuable to someone else.
Related website: Garbagefinds.com
Top things to to target
18) Building materials
If you take on little projects from time to time, keep an eye out for free building materials. (Demolition dumpsters are especially good for this.) If you have the storage space, grab extra 2 x 4s, leftover plywood, random boards, etc. whenever you can. Your stash might save you a trip to the home store on your next project or even provide inspiration for an unanticipated project.
19) Wooden Furniture (non-upholstered)
I am shocked at the beautiful pieces of furniture that people throw away. People trash this furniture due to a minor defect or because their tastes have changed. I often find that this furniture is better quality than the particle-board monstrosities that you find in Target or on Way-fair.
Pay special attention to wooden pieces even if they need some TLC. Wood is a very forgiving material to work. With some basic tools and supplies, you might turn a piece of trash into a unique showpiece.
20) Outdoor furniture
During the summer months, home stores offer a wide selection of replacement pillows and pads for outdoor furniture. Nevertheless, many people throw away an entire outdoor set as soon as the cushions have been damaged by the elements.
You are the winner in this situation. Snatch up that patio furniture, take a couple of measurements, and buy replacement cushions that match your style. Now you have a new set for pennies on the dollar.
21) Vintage curios
If you live in an area with some older homes or institutions, you might discover people throwing away unusual, vintage items. I am always on the lookout for strange little curios that add nostalgia to my home office.
Basic shelves are one of those things that you should never buy. Why pay money for something that is only going to hold laundry detergent, winter boots, or sporting goods? If you can exercise a bit of patience, the shelves that you need will show up for free.
23) Bins and containers
Unless you really need all of your containers to be uniform, you can find all of the storage that you need for free. People seem to consider plastic bins disposable even though they are pretty durable, so hose them off and get your stuff organized for free.
If you are not sure if the bins are meant to be trash, leave them be. Your image will not be improved by having retired people chasing you down the block.
24) Plastic coolers
I don’t think that I have ever paid money for a cooler. People are always throwing them away. Maybe some people’s days of picnicking or tailgating are behind them, or maybe they are too lazy to clean them out. Whatever the case may be, a bit of soapy water means a new cooler for you.
25) Picture frames
When people throw away artwork, posters, and framed documents, they also throw away the frame. This is really a waste as many of the frames are really nice.
If a frame is close to the size you need, the framing store can perfect the framing by cutting a new mat. If you are crafty, you can cut the new mat yourself.
26) Kitchen wares
High quality kitchen ware is expensive, yet people toss these durable goods to the curb just because they are dirty. Some steel wool or some Bar Keepers Friend will polish up them up to look like new. You will often discover that the saved item is very high quality.
Note: Avoid damaged non-stick cookware because the chemicals released by the scratches can be harmful.
Tools do have no expiration date. When people clean out their garages and basements, they often throw away hundreds of dollars in tools. Where they see a worthless metal thingy, I see a $100-dollar sawyer’s vice. They may not know what it’s for, but I do.
You do not have to know about obscure tools to benefit. People are always tossing perfectly good hedge clippers, wrenches, hammers, saws, rakes, shovels, etc. A new handle or some time with the sharpening stone can make all the difference. Again, older is sometimes better as grandpa’s band saw is probably better made than what you will find in most stores.
28) Hobby materials
When it comes to hobbies, sometimes we just lose interest. Other times the person who had the hobby has moved or passed away. If you like a particular hobby, you might discover a huge bin of “garbage” that will keep you busy indefinitely.
29) Fitness and sporting goods
As with hobbies, fitness and sporting interests tend to come and go. You will see everything from elliptical machines to fishing poles. If you have a particular interest or keep a home gym, be on the look-out.
“Free Stuff on the Curb” conclusion
You may call it curb surfing, trash picking, dumpster diving, or free-cycling. I call it fun, and I am not afraid to brag about the great stuff I have found. I feel that it signifies an ability to think creatively and scoff at convention.
Although many of these approaches have merit, my approach to finding free stuff on the curb is pretty simple. I do not look for curb alerts, search postings, or do extra driving. I basically adjust where I walk my dogs and the route that I drive if I am on the prowl.
At this point in my life, I pretty much have everything that I need, so I can very selective. Lately I have only been keeping an eye out for cool wooden furniture and project materials.
If you have a fondness for second-hand items, I wrote and in-depth post about shopping in thrift stores: Thrift Store Tips for Becoming a Jedi Master of Resale.
Were my free stuff on the curb tips helpful? Is one of my tips erroneous? Did I miss an important tip? What is your best find ever? Please leave a comment.
Whether you live in Philadelphia or plan to visit, there is a lot to see and do. You probably have some must-do-at-any-price activities on your Philadelphia list, but round-out your excursions with some of the top free things to do in Philadelphia.
Many great free things to do in Philadelphia are seasonal (like free yoga classes at the Race Street Pier, hanging out at Winterfest, or free recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music), but my list focuses on year-round offerings.
= Old City area
= Ben Franklin Parkway area
= Center City
Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia overview
- Independence National Historic Park
- Reading Terminal Market
- The Rocky Steps
- Elfreth’s Alley and Old City
- Macy’s Center City and the Wanamaker Organ
- Free First Sunday at the Barnes Foundation
- Philadelphia Museum of Art (pay what you wish at certain times)
- Institute of Contemporary Art
- U.S. Mint
- Christ Church
- Science History Institute
- Rodin Museum
- Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
- Hike Philadelphia
- Play tennis
- Free at noon concerts with WXPN
- Free at the Kimmel Center
- Tour a brewery
- The Mural Mile
- 30th Street Station
20) 30th Street Station
I am starting with an underappreciated gem. 30th street station (completed in 1933) is one of the few remaining grand stations of America’s rail system. The Neoclassical exterior and Art Deco interior designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White are breathtaking. The main concourse is 95 feet tall and almost 1000 feet wide. There is some public art to view, like Karl Bitter’s sculpted panel The Spirit of Transportation.
This is a great place to sit and think about the past. The nostalgia-inspiring clicks of the Solari board will have you wondering why Lauren Bacall is running late and looking over your shoulder for the hotel detective.
19) The Mural Mile
Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nations largest public art program, has helped to make a Philadelphia a must-visit destination for mural lovers. You can pay for a tour on foot, trolley, or segway or simply print out the self-guided tour. I suggest printing the map and reading about the works on your phone as you progress.
There are actually two mural miles to choose from (north and south), but they could be combined if you are feeling extra peppy.
18) Tour a brewery
Professional brewing has been a part of Philadelphia since 1685. John Adams told his wife Abigail, “I drink no cider, but feast on Philadelphia beer.” Before prohibition there were more than 100 breweries within the city limits.
Even if you do not drink beer, learning about the process is pretty neat.
There are many local beers to sample and many breweries to tour. (Don’t forget closed-toe shoes for brewery tours!) You can get an excellent tour of the The Philadelphia Brewing Company for free, just check the schedule.
PBC is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, but do not be discouraged. The Kensington neighborhood is rough around the edged but not without its charms. If you want to stay on the beaten path, Yards Brewery has an excellent tour for $5.
17) Free at the Kimmel Center
From kids programs to world music to organ demonstrations, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts does an amazing job making live music accessible. As a bonus, they also offer free tours of the building. (The Kimmel center is a beautiful facility including public art, a glass-and-steel barrel vault roof, and massive atrium.)
16) Free at Noon Concerts with WXPN
Public radio station WXPN plays a wide variety of new music. Every Friday the station in partnership with World Cafe Live offers a free concert. It is usually an up-and-coming act promoting a new album and the concert is broadcast live. All you have to do is RSVP for your free tickets.
15) Play tennis
In a world where you pay to careen down a snow bank and need a permit to swim in the ocean, it is nice that some outdoor activities are still free. For some reason (Arthur Ashe, perhaps?), it is easy to play outdoor tennis for free in Philadelphia, so don’t forget your paddle or whatever.
I live in the northwest region of the city, and I can tell you that the Pleasant Playground courts and the Water Tower courts are well maintained and almost never fully occupied. The website Tennis Philly can help you find a court and a partner.
14) Hike (or bike) Philadelphia
You probably do not think of any of the ten largest U.S. cities as a place do do some hiking, but Philadelphia should be an exception. Philadelphia has the largest municipally managed park system in the U.S. and more park space per resident than any other major U.S. city.
This is actually many free things to do in Philadelphia, but I have selected two hikes to highlight.
Schuylkill River Trail (flat and urban)
I recommend a short hike starting at the Girard Avenue trail head and heading down river. You will be sharing the path with bikers, joggers, roller-bladers, etc. This path takes you past Kelly Drive (where Rocky jogs), boathouse row, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the historic Fairmount Water Works, and the Schuylkill Banks.
Wissahickon Valley (natural beauty)
Within the city limits is a verdant 1,800 acre gorge with 57 miles of trails. If the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia is getting to you, the Wissahickon Valley is the remedy. Hike, bike, ride horseback, or even fish. The combination of geological diversity and the meandering of the Wissahickon Creek have made a wonderland. Check out the Friends of the Wissahickon website to learn more.
Note: Philadelphia Parks and Recreation requires bikers to get a trail permit for all natural surface trails (although this stipulation is ignored by many.) The permit is $35 for non-residents and the fine for biking without a permit is $25 (Whaaaah?).
13) Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
It should come as no surprise to Baltimorons that the six happiest years of Edgar Allen Poe’s life were spent in Philadelphia (Sick burn!). The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is a must for any fan of Gothic literature looking for free things to do in Philadelphia. (It also happens to be near Yard’s Brewing.)
If your tastes are a bit off-beat, check out Atlas Obscura for more weird things to do in Philadelphia.
12) Rodin Museum sculpture gardens
The Rodin Museum is a gorgeous oasis on the Ben Franklin Parkway. The 150 works of the collection span Rodin’s career.
The inside of the museum is pay-what-you-wish, but the the sculpture gardens are free to all. Many of the most spectacular works are outside. You are not going to find a more pleasant way to view “The Gates of Hell”.
It is a great free things to do in Philadelphia add-on as it is located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, The Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more.
11) Science History Institute Museum
The Science History Institute Museum offers “…a journey through the weird and wonderful world of matter and materials.” The collection ranges from antiquated instruments to informative displays to fine art. Check out their website for a list of current exhibits.
The Science History Institute Museum is not a whole-day affair. However, it is in the heart of Old City and located near Independence Hall, The Museum of the American Revolution, Elfreth’s Alley, etc. Even if you are a not wild about science, it makes a great free things to do in Philadelphia add-on.
10) Christ Church
This is a must-visit site for both history-lovers and Christians. This is the first Episcopal Church as the sentiments of the American Revolution induced American Anglicans to reorganize its connection to the Church of England.
Attendees to Christ Church included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross.
Christ Church is open for visitors daily for free (not during services). You will have to pay a fee to visit the burial grounds or take a guided tour.
9) The U.S. Mint
I love to see how things as made. The Philadelphia Mint is the largest coin factory in the world. The self-guided, 45-minute tour shows you how America’s first mint makes circulating coins and commemorative coins and shows how the sculptor-engravers find inspiration to apply their craft.
The self-guided tour is free, but you may have to wait in line during busy times. Adults must present photo ID.
8) Institute of Contemporary Art
The ICA has a special place in the history of cutting-edge and controversial art. It hosted the first museum shows of artists like Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, and Andy Warhol. It is located on the University of Pennsylvania Campus and is free to all. Open your mind and check out the avant garde.
7) Pay what you wish at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is normally $20 and is worth every penny. The collection is extensive and includes everything from a complete Hindu temple to Picasso to Rubens to O’Keefe to Van Gogh to a Japanese tea house to Renoir to Saint-Gaudins, to arms and armor, to Cassatt, to colonial furniture to…you get the point.
So how did the museum make it on to the list of free things to do in Philadelphia? The first Sunday of the month (10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.) and every Wednesday evening (5:00–8:45 p.m.) is pay what you wish. Do not forget to check out the museum’s events calendar as some of the events are free.
6) Pay what you wish at the Barnes
The new Barnes museum created quite a controversy here in Philadelphia when it was moved to the city from Lower Merion, but you can’t argue that the new location is shabby. The Barnes offers a world-class collection of impressionism, post-impressionism, modernist, Native American, and African works.
Do not forget to check out their calendar of events as many of the events are free to all.
5) Macy’s and the Wanamaker organ
Macy’s Center City is housed in the Wanamaker building and is a national historic landmark. John Wanamaker was a pioneer in department store retail and built this temple of consumerism in 1877. Check out the breathtaking spaces, the grand court organ (the largest functioning musical instrument in the world), and the bronze Wanamaker eagle. (Paid tours are available.)
4) Elfreth’s Alley and Old City
One of the top free things to do in Philadelphia is simply walk around Old City. Elfreth’s Alley is the nation’s oldest continuously occupied residential street. It is like stepping into a time warp without the bother of smallpox.
As you walk around Old City, you will see horse-drawn carriages, historical figures, and buildings like Carpenter’s Hall (site of the first Continental Congress), the First Bank of the United States, the Betsy Ross house, and the Declaration House (where Jefferson completed the most important homework assignment in U.S. history).
3) The Rocky Steps
Climbing the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is obligatory. You can sheepishly jog up the steps with your hat pulled down over your eyes like you are too cool for school, or you can own the moment. (Do not claim that you are just excited to see the new exhibit. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they climb the Rocky steps.)
Don’t forget to take your picture with the Rocky statue. (If the prop-masters from Rocky III had known that this prop would have such a legacy, I think they would have tried harder.)
2) Reading Terminal Market
The Reading Terminal Market is not named for the number of people who have terminally clogged their arteries here but due to the site’s former use as a terminal for the Reading Railroad. Philadelphians have been arguing about the price of cheese in this building since 1893.
Whether you are looking for Pennsylvania Dutch confections, an amazing lunch, or the city’s best prosciutto, the Reading Terminal is the place. Reading Terminal Market volunteers can help you find your way (look for the green aprons).
1) Independence National Historical Park
If I do not put this as number one on the top free things to do in Philadelphia, I risk being tarred, feathered, and left in New Jersey. See the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, reflect on the hypocrisy of revolution-era slavery at the President’s House Site, and take a “bellfie” with America’s most beloved piece of defective junk.
Almost everything in the park is free. (The Constitution Center and the Benjamin Franklin Museum are the exceptions).
- Be prepared for crowds during touristy times.
- Stop by the visitor center to get a map and info.
- Independence Hall gets very busy, and you need timed tickets. Stop in to the visitor center early to get your ticket or reserve in advance. (Reserving in advance has a $1.50 fee.)
- Be ready for security screenings.
- Do not forget about Carpenters’ Hall (the site of the first Continental Congress).
- The portrait gallery in the Second Bank is a must-see for art lovers.
Free things to do in Philadelphia honorable mentions
This is a great place for reflection, observation, rejuvenation, and recreation. Learn about medicinal plants, native species, tidal environments, and more. Bartram’s invites you to bring a picnic, your bird-watching gear, or even your sled.
The grounds at Bartram’s Garden are free to the public all year long. A guided tour will cost you $12.
The Woodmere Art Museum, dedicated to the art and artists of Philadelphia, has free admission on Sundays. The museum often hosts fascinating photography exhibits.
The Woodmere is located in the charming and well-heeled neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, so leave time to sip lattes on Germantown Avenue.
Philadelphia was the birthplace of America’s volunteer fire companies (the first in 1736). This renovated 1902 firehouse houses cool equipment and displays.
According to the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery, the national historic landmark is “an outdoor sculptural garden, a horticultural gem, and a truly unique historical resource.” You are encouraged to picnic, bike, walk your dog, sketch, visit graves of note, etc. The cemetery hosts neat events, but they are rarely free.
Philadelphia has a rich skating history. Check out SkatePhilly.org if that’s your jam.
Visit the largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania (also the largest brownstone structure in Philadelphia) which opened its doors in 1864. Cathedral ambassadors are available to give tours, but they also offer self-guided and audio tours.
Art lovers should stop in to the Curtis Building and see Maxfield Parrish’s masterpiece “Dream Garden”. Designed by Parrish and executed by Louis Tiffany, the work is a stunning glass mosaic fifty feet wide.
Chinatown is a bit of a misnomer, this vibrant community is very diverse. Check out some Asian cultures, and don’t forget the bubble tea.
On the first Friday (evening) of every month, Old City galleries and shops go all out. Check out the works, people watch, and enjoy free goodies.
This is a cute little museum of Wells Fargo history stuff. The main thing is an authentic Wells Fargo stagecoach. It is a nice free things to do in Philadelphia Center City add-on.
Organizing your excursion
Many of top free things to do in Philadelphia do not take much time (after all, they’re free). So you will probably want to group sites geographically. Sites like Free Tours by Foot, GPS My City, and The Constitutional can help.
Consider an audio tour
I love using audio tours; you get all of the info and are in complete control. (The time I went to Gettysburg and couldn’t find anything that they were talking about is an exception. Based on my visit, Picket’s Charge occurred in a 7-11.)
- Museum Without Walls (free)
- The Constitutional Walking Tour ($14.99)
- Voice Map (3 tours available)
- A Walk Through Old City from Guidigo ($3.99)
Finding free events
Related Post: Reducing the Costs of Fun
Conclusion on “Top 20 Free Things to do in Philadelphia”
I am not suggesting that you should limit your experiences to free attractions and events. Some of my favorite things to see and do in Philadelphia are well worth the price of admission. On the other hand, one should not assume that free attractions are without merit. Include free things to do in Philadelphia to round out your itinerary.
How did I do? Did my top 20 miss the mark? Did I forget your favorite? Leave a comment, and let me know.
Discovering the Tao of Cheap
I recently came across the concept of the three jewels of Taoism accidentally. The monk training “Grasshopper” in season 1, episode 8 of Kung-Fu (1973) refers to the three jewels, the second of which is “…frugality, that I might show generosity to others.” This allusion encouraged me to investigate Taoism as I consider my own Tao of cheap.
I had a vague concept of Taoism as a sort of minimalist, ascetic, transcendental philosophy, but I had never taken the time to investigate further. After reading the Tao Te Ching, “The Way of Virtue Book” written by the sage Loazi in the 6th century BCE and visiting some helpful websites, I realized that the text offers great insights on the philosophy of being cheap.
It is true, as “Grasshopper’s” master teaches, that frugality enables generosity, but the value of the Tao Te Ching regarding simplicity, avoiding materialism, and seeking contentedness goes beyond this principle.
What is Taoism, and what does it have to do with getting me what I want?
The Tao Te Ching has been translated into a gobzillian languages and has influenced artists, scholars, and leaders for millennia. Although Taoism is considered a religion as well as a philosophy, the Tao Te Ching barely refers to matters of faith or the supernatural. It is more of a playbook for a life of contentedness.
It is kind of like the opposite of The Secret endorsed by Oprah, Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, and others. The Secret is basically the concept of bringing your desires into reality through visualization and positive vibes. The Tao, on the other hand, suggests that you eliminate desires to reach a state of naturalness that enables true contentedness (and, ironically, leads to what you might have desired in the first place).
The Tao teaches that striving not to strive will deliver that for which you would have been striving. (Say what now?)
The Tao and frugality
Since we are striving not to strive, what will we attain? The idea is that attaining respect, money, happiness, etc., comes from not seeking respect, money, happiness, etc. It is an appealing contradiction.
So if I want to be rich, all I have to do is strive not to be rich? Exactly. Eliminating the desire to “be rich” ultimately facilitates the accumulation of wealth. I would argue that possessing means is not exactly what our society means by “being rich.” For many of us, “being rich” is more about image, materialism, and lifestyle than net worth.
Relate post: Reducing the Costs of Fun
Quotes from the Tao Te Ching regarding money
The Tao of cheap and materialism
“Not to desire material things is to know the freedom of spirituality; and to desire them is to suffer the limitations of matter.”
If you are always looking for the better car, clothes, house, etc., when will you find contentment? You are training yourself to be in a state of perpetual want. Practice taking joy in what you have rather than focusing on what you lack. If you practice seeking the attainment of joy rather than practicing the experience of joy, you will rarely find it.
“Here are the four fundamentals of true spirituality: recognize simplicity, cherish purity, reduce your possessions, diminish your desires.”
Enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Spend your life enjoying what you have rather than focusing on what you desire. You may find that your desires diminish, or even realize that your desires were misplaced from the start.
Related link: Living well, spending less
“Trifles and dainties attract the passing people, while the Tao goes unnoticed.
When looked at, it is not much to see; when listened for, it can scarcely be heard; but when put into practice, it is inexhaustible.
The world will go to those who seek the Tao; they will find contentment, peace, and rest.”
“The way of Tao is simple – stop striving, defeat desire. In the absence of striving, there is peace; in the absence of desire, there is satisfaction.”
Contentment, unlike material possession, is limitless. You can easily spend your life lusting for material possessions or luxurious experiences. If you do so, you will experience a life of want rather than a life of plenty. Not only will you misplace your focus on passing fancies, you may ultimately lead to your own anxiety and deprivation.
Imagine a man who always seeks the best for himself. He finances the best car, gadgets, house, and vacations. He works at a job he hates in order to attain fleeting moments of satisfaction. He ends up paying a great monetary and emotional cost. Not only must he live with the anxiety of his debts, he fails to fully experience the luxury of his life as he continually turns his mind to what is next.
“Overindulgence creates waste. Hoarding invites loss.
The man who is content with what he has is not in danger of loss.
The great Way is very plain, so the proud prefer the bypaths.
When the palace is splendid, the fields are likely to be weedy and the granaries empty.
To wear jewels and silks, to flash your weapons, to eat and drink excessively, to store up wealth and treasure – this is the way of robbers.
Pomp is contrary to the Tao.”
As the Notorious B.I.G said, “More money, more problems.” As Tyler Durden says in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” Once you have the biggest house, sweetest ride, and freshest threads, they bring you anxiety. You must protect what you have or compete for whatever is next.
Our society does not celebrate modesty. You must decide for yourself that modesty and frugality (being cheap) are virtues. Modesty is not a crime. Your worth is not defined by what you have or what others think of you. Concentrate on doing what you love and enjoying what you have, especially the joys of life that are available to all.
Taoism and generosity
“The Tao has three treasures which the wise guard and cherish; The first is compassion, the second is economy, and the third is humility.
…if you are economical, you can be truly generous…”
When people think of those who are economical, cheap, or frugal they imagine miserly (from the same root at miserable) figures like Scrooge McDuck, Shylock, or Silas Marner, but being cheap, as the Tao suggests, is not in opposition to generosity.
In what ways can economy (being cheap and not having much) lead to generosity?
If you have spent less on yourself, you can spend more on others. Will it bring you more joy to have the most luxurious car on the block or to show generosity and charity?
If you spend less time and energy striving, you have the time and energy to be generous with your time and care. For example, the parent who spends less time at work can spend more time with their children. Is the money or the time the greater gift? Is it your concern for your child or your own ego that is really motivating you?
Related post: Best Homemade Gifts for Adults
“This is the Tao – it diminishes those who have abundance, and nourishes those who lack.
The human way is just the opposite – creditors take from those who lack and lavishes those who already abound!
Where are the wealthy who will use their riches to save the world?
The wise earn much, but claim it not for themselves. They accomplish much, but are not attached to their accomplishments.
They succeed abundantly, yet make no show of their success.”
The Tao is the great equalizer. The Tao Te Ching suggests that you can feel rich without having to attain wealth or deal with its complications. Would you rather live a cheap lifestyle and be happy or live in luxury and be miserable? One who relishes in the simple joys of life has more than that rich person doggedly striving in opulence.
Applying the Tao of Cheap
I am not some kind of contended Buddha sitting in a pile of cherry blossoms writing haiku (although I do look the part). I love stuff. I love luxurious foods, neat experiences, tools, gadgets, and modern conveniences. This is why I think Taoism is important for me to remember as I explore the Tao of Cheap.
Greed and materialism are innate. I am no exception, but keeping these desires in check is healthy for my state of mind. We could all benefit from learning to be happier with less, striving for simplicity, and limiting our materialism.
The irony of the Tao of Cheap is that by striving not to strive and practicing frugality you find abundance. You find abundance not only in the spiritual or mental sense but in the very real material sense. You spend less on stuff and realize over time that you can buy whatever you want. Further, your practice has diminished your desires to the point where what you want is quite minimal.
By combating your material desires and developing your Tao of Cheap, you have effectively increased your spending power in two directions. You have more to spend but have less that you want to buy. The Tao of cheap creates an affluence of frugality.
We are surrounded by useful and often attractive glass bottles and jars; it is a shame to waste them. You may want to reuse bottles and jars simply for storage or re-purpose the glass for a neat Pinterest idea, but first you must think about getting the labels off bottles.
The best way of getting labels off bottles and jars:
- Save a bunch of glass bottles and jars to process at once.
- Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaning powder (5-7 scoops for a large sink).
- Soak all of the bottles and jars for several hours.
- Check on the bottles to see if the solution is dissolving the glue.
- Some bottles and jars will be stubborn; give the label surface a scrub with steel wool or even a blade so the solution can soak in. Let them soak some more.
- Scrub off all of the labels and glue with the steel wool.
- Give the bottles and jars a final rinse.
Reasons for getting the labels off bottles
I am a homebrewer. I am always getting the labels off bottles because having to buy bottles all the time is a drag. It was important to me that I find an effective way to get the labels off bottles on a large scale. I tried many different methods, but when I started using oxygen-based cleanser, I stopped experimenting. This method is by far the easiest way I have found.
Saving these bottles will save me $25 at the homebrew store.
Related post: Cheap and Easy Homebrewing
Once I found an easy method to get the labels off bottles, I started saving all kinds of glass containers to reuse and re-purpose. I use them to store food, office supplies, and garage stuff. I also learned how to cut the bottles and jars to use in little decoration projects.
I made three of these hurricane lantern candle deals for my friends with some glass jugs and some scraps from installing a butcher block counter top. I thought they would use them on the garden walkway, but, to my delight, they are using them in their dining room. Of course, for this project, I had to also cut off the bottom off the jugs. The best way for cutting bottles is a topic for another time.
These yard-sale candles were giving me fits. They floated around the house for ages since we had nothing that could hold them safely. I decided to embed them in plaster inside some pickle jars. The solution is not very elegant, but it worked.
Detailed instructions for getting the labels off bottles and jars
Collect a bunch of glass containers to process at once.
This method of getting labels off bottles is pretty easy, but the solution takes a while to work. You will also create a bit off a mess with all of the soggy, disintegrating labels, so it makes sense to do a bunch at a time. Start stashing all of the glass containers that you might want to reuse.
Gather your supplies for getting the labels off bottles and jars.
Once you have enough glass containers for a batch, make sure that you have steel wool, oxygen-based cleaner, and a sharp blade. It is also a good idea to have a couple of boxes and towels to keep things neat and organized.
I like to clamp a razor blade into a pair of vise-grips for scrapping the more stubborn labels. I find that this tool is more comfortable and effective than those little razor blade holders that you can buy.
In getting the labels off bottles, know your enemy.
There are many different types of labels and glues. Most labels will come off easily after soaking for a while. However, foils and glossy papers will prevent the solution from penetrating into the glue. Bottles with foil or glossy paper labels will need some extra abuse with steel wool or even a blade so that solution can start to soak through.
Plastic labels present unique problems.
Plastic labels can only be removed mechanically. Also, the glues used with plastic labels do not dissolve easily. For these labels I recommend the following:
- Use a razor blade to start peeling back the label.
- Use pliers (or tough, stubby fingers as shown below) to grasp the label and pull it all the way off.
- Use a solvent (like paint thinner) to dissolve the glue.
Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaner and let them soak.
For getting the labels off bottles and jars, you simply need to make sure that the oxygen-based cleanser solution can access and dissolve the glue. You may even realize that some of the labels are floating to the surface on their own, leaving only a bit of softened glue on the bottle.
As you can see, this sink it totally full. If I am going to go through the trouble of getting the labels off bottles and jars, I am going to do a lot of them at once. As I go though the process, I may decide that some bottles are being too stubborn to bother with and toss them into the recycling.
This bottle was not being stubborn at all. The label basically floated away on its own. This is a win-win since Victory beer is excellent, and the bottles are cooperative. I don’t buy beer based on the label and glue, but there are worse ideas.
Scrub the labels with steel wool.
Once the labels and glue have softened enough to make your job easy, start scrubbing the bottles with the steel wool. The steel wool will not leave any noticeable damage on the surface of the glass. You will also notice that pesky dates and numbers printed on some bottles scrub away easily.
As you get the labels off the bottles and jars, set them aside neatly. I like to use a milk crate for this so that I don’t create a big mess that can fall over easily. If you tilt the box the right way, the remaining solution can drip out of the bottle. Dispose of all of the labels and label remnants before draining the sink; you don’t want to put all that crap down the drain.
When the bottles are stacked neatly, they will not roll around, get knocked over, or fall on the floor. For you homebrewers out there, it is good to know that 25 twelve-ounce bottles fit perfectly inside a standard milk crate. You can even put another milk crate on top and flip the whole thing upside-down so that the bottles can drip dry.
Give the glass containers a final rinse.
With fresh, clean water, rinse off all of the bottles and jars, and give them a final inspection. Run your hands around the bottle to feel if any glue residue remains. Stack the bottles so that they can drip dry.
Getting the Labels off Bottles conclusion
Whether you are making wine, organizing your garage, or storing food, you don’t need to go to the container store, brewing supply store, or Target. Be economical and sustainable by reusing bottles and jars that you already have or can find easily.
Below you can see the final result. I was able to get the labels off a lot of bottles and jars at one shot. Now I have the bottles I need for brewing and few odds and ends for storage and little projects.
Glass is a uniquely useful material. It is attractive, easy to clean and/or sterilize, and abundant. If you are faithful to one brand of pickles, you might have the solution that you need to finally organize all the random fasteners in your garage or junk drawer. Think twice before you chunk those bottles and jars into the recycling.
When did having fun become so expensive?
Many people equate the amount of fun they are having with the amount of money they are spending. Reducing the costs of fun does not limit your fun, just your spending.
Maybe I am just a product of my childhood. Nowadays parents drive kids from horse camp, to gymnastics, to sculpting, to a soccer tournament and back again. Back in my day, free time was spent bouncing a ball off the roof or finding novel ways to melt action figures (and snuff was only a nickel!)
Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. I actually did have more fun melting action figures than I did at horse camp. I challenge you to reevaluate your fun habits and think about reducing the costs of fun.
Ways of reducing the costs of fun
1) Go out mindfully.
After a tough day at work, it is tempting to go out and be entertained. After all, you’ve earned it. The last thing that you need is to make dinner and a pile of dirty dishes. Better still, maybe you can hire a sitter, take in some entertainment, and take your mind off your troubles.
Woah there, Spendy McSpenderson, think about the costs! Before you know it you have dropped a couple of Benjies on a week night and didn’t even get what you wanted. The next day you’re over-tired, your wallet hurts, you realize that your babysitter is a kleptomaniac, and all you can remember is that your steak tar-tar was under-cooked.
Reducing the costs of fun doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out; I am just saying that you shouldn’t go out on an impulse. Have a plan so that you will get what you want how and when you want it. Take advantage of any good deals that your planning might enable. For example, I know to look for an awesome pricks fixey deal that my favorite fancy restaurant offers occasionally.
A note on foodies: “Being a foodie” is not a hobby. (“Oh, you like to eat good food three times a day, how unique! I want to learn more about that.”) Despite your instagram feed, you are not doing anything. Going out to eat regularly is the absence of doing something.
2) Reducing the costs of fun at events
It is common for people drop a couple hundred dollars on tickets to a sporting event or concert. This is fine, so long as it is worth it to you, but when it comes to reducing the costs of fun, you have options.
Saving on big ticket events
If you are determined to see the Backstreet Boys reunion tour, think about how you can cut the costs.
Go to the box office and skip the service charges if possible.
Avoid the pricey parking. Take public transportation, carpool, or park far away and leave time for walking too and from the venue. Besides, the hectic parking lot exodus tends to give me rage blackouts.
Take pictures instead of buying souvenirs. They will last longer than a T shirt or foam finger.
Bring your own food and drink. I like outdoor orchestra performances – the program doesn’t matter so long as I can overeat and fall asleep in the grass. I also like Phillies games because I can bring in my own food and drink. Just make sure to read the rules carefully about what containers and items are welcome.
It is fun to be part of a crowd witnessing a spectacle, but are there any events that you would enjoy that are cheap or even free?
Parades: My wife and I love going to parades together. We have camped overnight before major parades, gone to weird esoteric parades, and participated in pet parades. Parades are as fun as demonstration marches without all the bothersome caring and more pizzazz!
Museums: When you are an old fart like me, museums are fun. Whatever your into, there is probably a museum for it. Most museums use neat events and performances to get people visiting, so join the email list for museums to keep track of neat events and promotions.
Minor league sports: My favorites are minor league baseball and hockey. You can see some great games for next to nothing. These smaller events usually involve less hassle. If you take your kids to a minor league game instead, you might be able to get them the glasses and braces they have been nagging you about.
Community events: Most of your neighbors don’t want to talk to you, but the ones who will can be found at free summer concerts, screenings, ice skating, chili cook-offs, etc.
Professional baseball: I can see four Phillies games for the price of one Eagles game. I love the Eagles, but I would still choose the four baseball games.
Opera: I had to put this in because I am an opera fan. The last performance I went to was the Philadelphia Opera Company’s production of Carmen, and I got tickets for $15 each. We went early to catch the brief lecture on Carmen‘s history. It was definitely more memorable than seeing a movie.
3) Make something.
Making stuff is, in my opinion, one of life’s great pleasures. Exploring your creative side is a great way of reducing the costs of fun.
I like to do little woodworking projects, but you might like photography, sketching, graphic design, sculpture, knitting, composing music, baking or whatever.
Related post: “Best Homemade Gifts for Adults”
Related post: “Get Started Turning Pallets into Stuff”
Related post: “Cheap and Easy Homebrew”
4) Be a joiner in reducing the costs of fun.
I am not saying that you should become a colonial-era furniture builder. (You should become a joiner, it is just off-topic right now.) I’m saying that you should get involved. Find like-minded people and join in. Think about volunteer groups, political organizations, recreation leagues, foundations, clubs, lodges, etc.
If you join a softball league, knitting circle, or Friends of the 18th Avenue Drain Inlet, you will probably have to pay some dues or help out it different ways, but think about all of the fun you can get out of it.
5) Re-think vacation.
People think about expensive vacations like they are buying memories – as if failure to take the entire extended family on a cruise will result in a one-week memory blackout for everyone in question.
Memories are not made by corporations, they are made by people and a costly vacation is not always better. You are not responsible for taking everyone somewhere pricey every year. In fact, if financial stability is questionable, you are being irresponsible in not reducing the costs of fun.
Take the family on a camping trip to a National Park instead, and spring for a zip-line or high-ropes course on the way there. Whether you are in an all-inclusive Caribbean resort or in a national forest wilderness area, the memories you make are up to you.
Reducing the costs of fun might mean having a stay-cation. Stay-cations need not be lame, explore things in your region that you have never experienced. Schedule something fun for every day of your stay-cation, so that you won’t feel like you are missing out.
Related Post: Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia
6) Spa yourself.
My wife loves spas. She leaves a spa bruised, scalded, and with an idiotic grin on her face. I don’t really get it, but I do get her ingenuity in bringing the spa experience home. When she can’t go to a real spa, she and her sister set up a spa at home with big tubs, gallons of ointments, mimosas, foot massagers, etc. They gripe about how cheap and useless I am and have a grand old time.
7) Reducing the costs of fun: exercise
Exercise can be fun in itself and increases your ability to do fun things generally.
If you feel like going to your expensive health-club is a drag, stop going, and cancel your membership. Bicycle, take hikes, join a basketball league, start a rowing club, or join those Tai Chi weirdos that meet in the rec. room of your building.
8) The world is your playground.
The world is still free (for a limited time only). Enjoy it. Take a nature hike or walk around a historic district. Play bocce ball in the park or take up disc golf. Go stargazing or visit natural wonders. Teach your dog to fetch or let her teach you. Learning to enjoy the world is essential in reducing the costs of fun.
9) Perform a Hobby transplant.
If you absolutely love an expensive hobby, don’t give it up unless you have to. On the other hand, performing a hobby transplant might mean reducing the costs of fun while keeping the fun itself:
Related link: “25 Most Expensive Hobbies to Have”
Skiing or snowboarding becomes snowshoeing: I love snowshoeing and I can do it any time there is snow on the ground for free. Snow shoes are really cheap and many recreation areas recommend free trails for snowshoeing.
Golf becomes hiking/photography or disc golf: If just walking around in natural beauty seems a bit listless, challenge yourself to take some great photos or to toss a piece of plastic into a net thingy.
Racquetball becomes free tennis or pickle ball: I have never seen a free racquetball court, but my area is lousy with free tennis courts. Maybe do racquetball only when the weather is poor.
Sailing your own boat becomes sailing a rented boat: Why not have all of the fun of sailing without all the costs of owning a boat? You can try different boats, skip the maintenance, and save a fortune on storage and transport.
Scuba diving becomes snorkeling
Ski diving becomes not ski diving: Just don’t do it, psycho.
Polo becomes lawnmower lacrosse: Admit it, lacrosse on a riding lawn mower makes as much sense as playing field hockey on a horse.
10) Turn your home into a…
Your home should be a place for fun. Game nights and dinner parties are great, but don’t be afraid to think bigger.
Think about that guy you know who turned his garage into a sports bar. Sure he spent a lot initially, but how much is he saving? (Nothing! Because his dirt-bag friends drink all the craft beer and leave him with Schlitz!) Ok, bad example.
Think about where you like to go and spend money. Why not occasionally turn your home into a casino, restaurant, movie theater, concert venue, night club, ping-pong league, underground stick-fighting arena, karaoke bar, etc. If your guests reciprocate, you will all be saving big.
Reducing the costs of fun conclusion
In reducing the costs of fun, you are not limiting your experience. By reducing the costs of fun you are improving your financial health, or maybe spending the same amount on fun and just having more of it. Cutting back in one category might mean that you can spend more on the activities that really excite you.
Any great tips for reducing the costs of fun?
Turning pallets into stuff overview
Perhaps nothing is as satisfying as using your own hands and creativity to make something useful from worthless junk. In many professions the results of our efforts are often longitudinal or indistinct. I love turning pallets into stuff because the gratification is immediate and concrete.
In turning pallets into stuff, you save money on materials, reduce society’s waste, and create something that can serve for a lifetime. Some pallet projects could intimidate even an accomplished woodworker, but don’t let that stop you. You can build something useful with minimal tools and minimal skills. If it doesn’t work out, the pallet was garbage to begin with.
SAFETY NOTICE: Working with any tools, even hand tools, can be dangerous. If you are uncomfortable with a task or it feels awkward or unsafe, stop what you are doing, and find a better way. There is a smart and safe way to accomplish every task. Always protect your hearing, lungs, and body.
Turning pallets into stuff: basics
Finding pallets to turn into stuff
Pallets are easy to find, just look behind the businesses in your area. If a business has a big pile of pallets next to their dumpster, ask an employee if they are trash. Stealing pallets that are part of a pallet return program is dishonest and unnecessary; there are plenty of discarded pallets to go around.
Most pallets are made of hardwood; this is what you usually want. The most common woods used are oak and maple, which are expensive to buy at a lumber yard. Softwoods are less desirable for most projects and are more likely to fall apart during pallet disassembly. If you are unsure about wood species, press your thumbnail into the wood and see if it dents easily.
SAFETY NOTICE: Many pallets are treated with chemicals. Make sure that your application will not expose anyone (including yourself) to toxins. For example, do not use treated lumber to build an herb garden.
Cut, smash, and grab
Basic tools for pallet disassembly:
- Hammers (claw hammer and perhaps an engineer’s hammer)
- Pry bars
- Saws (handsaw and circular saw)
- Vise grips
- Nail set
There are as many ways to disassemble pallets as their are DIYers. There are even special tools that you can buy, like the Pallet Pal. For most of us, some basic tools will suffice.
Using a reciprocating saw to cut through all of the fasteners is a mistake. You will leave nail remnants in the stringers, the beefiest and most useful part of the pallet. I prefer to cut the ends of the slats with a circular saw and leave a bit of the waste protruding from the stringer. The ends of the slats are often split or riddled with nails anyway.
When I disassembling pallets and turning pallets into stuff, the following method works best for me.
1) Cut the slats on both ends leaving the waste a bit proud of the stringers.
2) Wiggle the slats hither and thither to loosen the center fasteners.
3) Pry the slat free of the center rail.
4) Repeat this step for the slats on the opposite side.
5) Now that the stringers are free, smash the overhang connected to the stringers to leave the protruding nail heads. This will enable you to easily remove the nails completely.
6) Remove the nails from the slats with a vise-grips, nail set, hammer, etc. Strike the nails on the pointy side so that they will be easy to pull out on the other side using the vise-grips. If you are using the nail set, they might just shoot out without any prying.
7) Pry the nails from the stringers. As you can see, the nails left in the stringer will be easy to pull once the ends of the slates have been smashed. You have saved the most useful part of the part of the pallet and (hopefully) removed all the metal from your stock.
Turning pallets into stuff: rough projects
If you only need some rough material, you are ready to build. There are a lot of projects that don’t require your stock to be well-surfaced on all sides. If you are just getting started turning pallets into stuff, make some basic, rough projects before thinking about jointing or planing your stock.
Be advised that your stock may still have some metal inside. This metal (even a tiny piece) can damage your tools or blades. To learn about removing all metal from your stock, read the intermediate section.
I needed to build a tool wall to organize my yard stuff. The pallet slats are good enough as they are for this application.
A friend of mine wanted to turn an extra large pallet and some random garage lumber into a “mud sink” for her kids to play with. I think it came out pretty great since we only spent a few hours on it. With a few alterations, this design could be used for a garden dry bar or a potting shelf. As you can see, the pallet forms the back of the mud sink which you can build on. The hardest part is dropping in and supporting the container that will be the mud sink.
Turning pallets into stuff: intermediate
If you will be using your pallet wood for some finer or more complicated projects, You will have to do some additional work to prepare your stock. For these types of projects, it is essential that your wood be surfaced on four sides so that your joints will be strong and align properly.
WARNING: Machinery is dangerous! Protect your hearing, lungs, and body. Never where loose clothing or jewelry when operating machinery. Never use machinery in ways that contradict the operating instructions.
Removing all of the metal
When you will be machining your stock in turning pallets into stuff, it must be completely free of metal. Any metal at all will damage cutting knives and blades and could pose a danger. Luckily, a cheap metal detector is the solution. The metal detector shown works beautifully and cost about $20.
Quickly run the metal detector on all four sides of the stock. If you find metal, pry out the offending object or cut out the section. This should go pretty fast.
Planing one side
You need to start by getting one side of the stock perfectly flat. You don’t need to have a big, expensive jointer to accomplish this. All you need is a sharp plane and some effort. Sight down the work-piece to decide which side you want to make perfectly flat. The hardest part of this process is learning how to properly sharpen the plane iron.
Sometimes a piece is so warped that is pointless to try to flatten it into a perfect plane. You can either discard the piece or cut it into smaller pieces that can be flattened.
I am using this old-timey jointer plane, but a shorter plane will do. The work-piece is held in place by a nail-head sticking out of the workbench. Once you are getting a nice, full shaving all the way down and removed any twist, the surface is flat. Mark the side that has been planed with pencil, so there will be no mistake.
Plane the opposite side.
If you simply flip the piece over and use the hand plane on the opposite side, it may look nice, but it will not be co-planer. It may be a wedge shape with two flat sides. You can make it co-planer by using hand planes, but it is much easier to use a thickness planer. Thickness planers are powerful tools, and they are fairly small, easy to use, and relatively affordable. The one shown cost less than $300.
I marked the flat side that I planed by hand with pencil squiggles because the flat side needs to go face down in the planer. The uneven top side will be shaved down until it is uniform and co-planer to the bottom. Once this is accomplished and all of my boards are close to the thickness I want, I will flip the pieces over for a final pass to remove the pencil marks and ensure that my hand-worked side is perfect.
TIP: Start running the thickest boards through first and add the thinner boards to the process as you go. Once the thinnest boards are getting shaved, all of you boards are the same thickness.
Why not skip the the hand tools and start with the thickness planer? You can do this if your project allows for some irregularities, but the planer will follow the shape of the bottom side of the board to a certain extent. If you don’t start with one flat registration face, the sides of the board could follow the same wavy profile.
Joint the edges of your boards
Now you have boards that are surfaced on the top and bottom but not on the edges. Jointing the edges is easily done with a table saw (or even a circular saw).
There are many methods and jigs for edge jointing, but I like to joint one edge with a hand plane and then put this edge against the table saw fence. This edge will be straight, and it is OK if it is not at a perfect right angle to the other sides. After cutting off the un-jointed edge on the table saw, flip the board to cut off the edge that you planed by hand; it will now be perfectly perpendicular.
To sum up, I planed one side by hand, ran the the other side through the surface planer, and jointed the boards’ edges. My boards are now S4F, or surfaced on four sides. They are ready to use in turning pallets into stuff projects where tolerances are unforgiving.
Turning pallets into stuff: making a custom dog cart
There are approximately six bagillion ideas to try, but I am making a custom dog cart. My in-laws have a young Bernese Mountain Dog, and they want to train it for one of the breed’s traditional occupations: pulling stuff.
I decided that pallet wood would be perfect for this custom dog cart application. It is the right size, durable, and free. If the project is a complete fail, I have only spent my time.
I will use a sled on my table saw to make sure that my crosscuts are precise. This is important when doing any type of joinery.
I used some purchased hardware and some old bicycle tires, but all of the wood for this custom dog cart came from the pallets. That’s what I call turning pallets into stuff. I like this pipe and flanges solution because you can just twist the pipes out to remove them for transport. A few minor details (sanding, stain, etc.) and this custom dog cart is ready for action.
Conclusions on turning pallets into stuff
I love the fact that so many people are excited about salvaging pallets. The projects can be as simple as using whole pallets to make a compost bin or as complicated as fine woodworking. Using free materials gives you the freedom to experiment, learn, and make mistakes. The challenge of dealing with problems inherent in reclaiming lumber is chance to hone your skills.
Aldi is worth an extra shopping stop.
Philosophers and pundits have pondered the question “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?” since time immemorial. There are lot of expenses in your life that you cannot control. However, The cost of groceries is not one of them. Even though Americans are very fortunate in that we spend a very small fraction of our income on food, there is no reason that you cannot save by shopping around. I know which stores in my area have the best deals and best departments. At Trader Joe’s you can bet that I am stocking up on cheese. At Wegman’s I am definitely getting some steak and probably some fresh fish. If I am at the Co-op, I am getting nuts in the bulk section. At the Dollar Tree I am getting personal care stuff. (After all, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.) The Fresh Market in Cheltenham has the best produce. Why not get the best values your area has to offer?
If you you ever shop around, you should definitely add Aldi to your rotation. Aldi is a bit out of the way for me, but there are several examples that prove that Aldi is worth an extra trip.
Related post: “Top 15 Grocery Store Rip-offs”
Aldi is worth an extra trip if you are stocking up.
I am not saying you need to drive for hours, but there are several reasons why Aldi is worth an extra trip if it is available to you. Fortunately, most of these reasons are shelf stable, so you will be stocking up.
You don’t have to be an extreme coupon-er to take a page from the extreme couponing handbook. I tried extreme couponing for a while, but decided it wasn’t a good use of my time. The main way that coupon-ers save is by stockpiling shelf-stable products. Therefore, Obsessing over clippings, codes, apps, and combining offers is not required.
You can get similar savings buy stocking up on good deals when you find them; you just need to figure out a storage solution.
NOTE: I am not saying that you should to have a doomsday bunker full of deodorant (and I am not saying that you shouldn’t.) You might start your stash with a few extra boxes of pasta, cereal, or olive oil – you don’t have to go crazy. In the olden days a stockpile was simply known as a pantry.
I use this ugly, old hutch for my stash. (Hey, it came with the house.) Whatever you decide to use, make sure it is convenient and comfortable to access and organize or you won’t use it. Boxing stuff up is a mistake. If you are using open shelving, consider putting only cans on the bottom so that you don’t attract vermin.
As a bonus, you will be amazed how often your stash will bail you out when you are under-the-gun to come up with a dinner.
Top 11 buys at Aldi:
11) Random non-grocery stuff
I don’t know why, but Aldi always has a random selection of household goods. Sometimes they have tools, plumbing fixtures, patio furniture, slippers, small appliances – you name it. Just be aware that these items rotate quickly. I wanted to get a second step-stool one time, but I acted too late.
10) Gluten free products at Aldi
I like my food to be gluten-captive, but I am not prejudiced – some of my best friends are gluten free. I was pleased to see that Aldi has some cheap, gluten-free products now, so I picked some up for company. In fact, Aldi has a lot of products for people with different food concerns.
9) Dressings and marinades
A large bottle of salad dressing for 89 cents! What else can I say? These things are usually three bucks.
8) Whey protein powder
I exercise religiously – every January 2nd, without fail.
When I do exercise, I like to be able to function the next day. I find that a protein smoothie soon after exercise makes a huge difference, but protein powder ain’t cheap. If you ever buy whey protein, you know that a huge jug for 14 bucks is a great deal. This would be my number one answer for “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?” but not everyone needs it.
7) Flour (and other baking staples)
My wife is a serious baker and will only use King Arthur flour. I am not so picky, so getting a sack of flour for $1.39 is right up my alley. I can save the three bucks and get some fancier toppings for my homemade pizza.
Related post: “Gourmet pizza for the kneady”
6) Cooking oils and sprays
Whether it is cooking spray, olive oil, or regular corn oil, Aldi is the place to stock up.
“Is Aldi worth an extra trip?” Is a bear Catholic?
5) Anything in a can
I generally need a lot of canned beans, canned tomatoes, olives, and the like. I would rather make a trip to Aldi than waste my time trying to find coupons for this type of thing.
4) Breakfast cereal
If I buy the store-brand cereal at ACME on sale, I will pay $2.50 a box. Aldi has them beat buy a good sight, and I actually like their shredded wheat cereal better.
Pickles are literally 1/3 the price at Aldi. I can’t taste the difference. If I buy five jars for my stash, I am saving ten bucks in the long run. Maybe more as pickles appreciate. I bet Warren Buffet has a whole basement full of pickles.
Salsa is a rip-off at most grocery stores. Making it yourself is a great option, but sometimes you are just too lazy. I refuse to pay five bucks for a jar of tomatoes and onions.
1) And the winner is… CRACKERS!
My household goes through a lot of woven wheat crackers When you think about all of those tiny looms, it is no wonder that they are usually three dollars a box. Aldi has a larger box than Triscuits and at a fraction of the costs. This deal alone answers the question, “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?”
Before heading to Aldi for the best buys, know that Aldi is different.
- There are no employees in the aisles to answer your questions.
- The food is stacked in a utilitarian fashion – no fancy displays.
- You will have bag or box your own stuff after you leave the checkout. Make sure to bring some bags or boxes.
- They do not carry multiple brands of the same product. If you really like a particular brand, you will have to go somewhere else.
- There is no bakery, deli, or butcher shop. Whatever is packaged is what they have.
- You even have to return your own cart. They ensure this by making you deposit a quarter to receive your cart, so put one in your pocket before leaving your car.
I actually find that this simplicity makes shopping better. If you can live with their set-up, Aldi is worth an extra trip in your shopping. If I can save $50 from one extra trip, it is worth it to me. Thank you for reading “Is Aldi worth an extra trip?”
Related post: Money-saving Grocery List
Disclosure: This post is not for people who love cars. If driving, admiring, or massaging your ride is one of life’s great pleasures, bounce now. Nor is this post for people who are concerned with using their car to project an image of success. This post is for people who feel that car ownership is a necessary evil, like flossing or making eye contact.
AAA reports that in 2017 the average annual cost of owning and operating a new vehicle was $8,469. The average for sedan owners was the lowest, coming in at $6,354. Owning a car does to your budget what working in a pizzeria does to your waste line. (I speak from experience).
Are you stuck in a hellish maelstrom of car costs? Lenders are glad to hear it. You start a new job, you get a new car (small down payment!), you spend five years paying it off, then you want to trade it in before it loses any more value, becomes unreliable, or damages your fragile image. The auto industry, insurers, and state budget office are excited you will be starting the new car buying process again.
Newer post: Cheapest Car Ownership Strategy
Buying a new car: Example X using calculator.net
- Car price: $34,000 (paying $1000 down and $300 in fees)
- Sales tax: $2,380 (PA 7%)
- Total loan interest: 3,464.71 (5 years at 4%)
- After five years you have paid: 40,144.71 (not including insurance, registration, maintenance, etc.) and the trade in value is now $15,640 (if the dealer is willing to give full value to get you into a new deal).
- Five-year loss= $24,504.71
How can you get off the merry-go-round of interest, taxes, fees, and depreciation? What if you could cut your car costs in half? What could you do with an extra $4000 dollars a year? Rethink your car ownership habits and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars.
Big ways to save on car ownership:
Buy a used car: example Y using calculator.net
According to Consumer Reports, the average vehicle loses 64% of it’s resale value after five years. Do you think that a 2013 civic is 64% less useful than a 2018 civic? Let’s say you are on the other side of the equation in example X (shown above). You buy a car that is five years old at a cost of $15,640 plus taxes and fees. You give the same down payment and have similar loan terms (higher interest on used vehicles). Do you think that you can drive this vehicle for five years? (Of course you can; don’t be a weenie.)
- The value of this car at 10 years old is about $6,940
- Five-year loss= 11,830.83 (as compared to loss of $24,504.71 in example X)
True, the maintenance costs are likely to be higher, but will they be more than twelve grand higher? No. In addition, you will be spending less to ensure a car with a lower worth. If you put the amount you are saving on your car payment every month into a car savings account, you will really be starting to break the cycle.
Follow these steps and break the car buying cycle.
- Buy your next car used (as in example Y).
- Put aside the hundreds that you are saving every month into an automatic savings account – a “car savings account.” (I use a Capital One 360 Savings account). The interest rate is negligible, but you will be amazed how it adds up. This money is for unexpected repairs and, ultimately, buying your next car in cash. If you save $250 a month for five years you will have $15,000 (not including interest).
- Buy your next car in cash. Let’s say you spend an additional $6,000 (from your car savings account) maintaining your used car from example Y. (Hopefully, you will spend less). Take the $9,000 remaining in your car savings account and add it to the 6-7 grand the car is still worth. Now you can buy a five-year old car in cash.
- Live the dream. You are now saving all of the interest on a loan and you can move up to slightly better used car every five years. Your payment (car savings account) will always be low. Instead of paying interest, you are earning interest.
Own fewer cars.
Is there any way you can be a one care household? I am fortunate to live in a city with an excellent public transit system. My wife takes the train every day and her SEPTA pass costs about $150 a month. Her employer has even opted-in to a program where she can pay before taxes. Switching from two cars to one will cut your costs (almost) in half.
- Worst case: two new cars
- 2nd worst case: one new car and one beater
- 2nd best case: two beaters
- Best case: one beater (You, my friend, are living the dream.)
- Ultra: Being car-free
Buy a reliable car.
Consumer Reports is a must-use tool when it comes to buying a used car. A lemon could turn your car savings account into a Chinese take-out savings account. You can join CR for one month for $6.95 and access several used car tools and guides based on extensive data from repair shops and owners. Once you have bought the car, cancel your subscription. Seven bucks could save you thousands and give you piece of mind.
Buy a car with a low cost of ownership.
My doctor is telling me that if it tastes good, I should spit it out. Well, if you think a car is sexy, spit on it. Fully-loaded pickup? Sexy. Monstrous SUV? Spit on it. Classic muscle car? Hello, lovely. V-12 sports car? That’s hot. Elon Musk’s new vehicle that runs on rotten banana peels and emits only positive vibes? Damn sexy. Consumer reports, Edmunds, and AAA can all help you identify the car that fits your monthly budget and keeps your sex appeal at a manageable level. (Please, think of your neighbors.)
Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money
Minimize car insurance
Be proud of your piece of crap car. Smile every time that you look at, and think about the money you are saving. Shake your head bemusedly at the vanity of your neighbors. My car is compensating (for the fact that I am superior to all other mortals). Feel good about yourself when your crap car helps others feel good about themselves. After all, what would Jesus drive? Think about it. (My car is so humble it makes a donkey look like a Lotus Esprit!)
You still win because driving a crap car lowers your insurance. Furthermore, if your car is worth six grand, and you have fifteen grand in your car savings account, how much insurance do you really need? You might decide to pay for liability insurance only and pass the savings into that car savings account.
Cars and longevity
Car commercials want you to reach your full potential and have a car that is worthy of your majesty. (I have news for them; my full potential is represented by an ’89 Ford Escort hatchback.) Car dealers will tell you that your current car is a death-trap, and it is a miracle that anyone in your family can still hold a sloppy Joe. Are old cars really shameful or even unsafe? Do I really need a car that will start talking to me when the lid to my coffee drifts into the wrong cup holder?
Cars are lasting longer than ever before. You can get even the most temperamental models to reach 200,000 miles. Since the late 80’s, modern alloys have made engines almost supernatural. Stop looking at your older car like a ticking time-bomb, that’s what THEY (the gov’ment and the bourgeois pigs) want you to think.
Small ways to save on car ownership
Everyone knows that you should “protect your investment,” but as I learned from Rich Dad Poor Dad, a car is not an investment but a liability. Poor people think that their car is an investment whereas rich people know that it is an unfortunate liability. What you really want to do is minimize your liability. Keep up with you car’s maintenance schedule, check the tire pressure (which also improves fuel economy), change the filters, etc.
Think about the 30,000-mile mark. For many makes and models, the 30,000-mile mark is when you get some important components serviced. I confess that I really only think about the oil changes and the 30,000-mile marks. If you are faithful about the multiples of 30,000 miles (which is easy to remember), you will be doing better than most used car owners.
You can save money by doing some things yourself. I do not want to mess around with borrowing specialty tools or wasting a Saturday, but there are some things for which I will not pay:
- Changing air filters
- Putting in a new battery
- Rotating tires
- Replacing wiper blades
Love your piece-of-crap car. When you start to feel down on “Ol’ Bessie,” give her some love. Maybe car spa can coincide with your 30,000-mile maintenance. Quality time together may get you through the “my-car-gives-me-feelings-of-inadequacy blues.” Some polishing and fancy accessories may be just what the doctor ordered.
Best products for car spa
- Armor-all: Old plastic looks like, well, old plastic. Think of all the UV rays it has absorbed! Armor-all is cheap and will make the interior gleam (for a while).
- Turtle wax: Once your car’s exterior is clean, put on some paste wax. When the wax has dried, polish it with a clean terrycloth towel. You will be amazed at the difference.
- Upholstery cleaner: I always keep this on hand, since I have dogs. You can’t unzip the covers and clean them, so this is the best you can do. It actually works pretty well.
- Accessories: Roof racks, dog grills, flood lights, inverters, floor mats, leopard print seat covers – it’s all fair game. They are a tiny expense compared to a new vehicle.
Arguing with insurance people
Unfortunately, I have a yearly appointment at State Farm when I go in to the office and make a scene. I think I may get a Tony Award for this year’s performance (#mantradesdignityforlowerrate). If you can visit an office for twenty minutes and save $200, isn’t it worth it? Every time I go in and make everyone feel ashamed of belonging to the human race, I save a nice chunk of cabbage.
Do not own a truck unless you need to. A truck with a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine will get significantly lower gas mileage than a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder car. They are heavier and geared differently. Furthermore, most states charge truck owners more for the privilege of registration.
That’s it. Cars suck (money from your life). Since I can’t get by without one, I want to spend as little as possible. I could argue that I want to help the environment, but who would believe me? Get from point A to point B without spending too many C-notes.
There are also un-quantifiable benefits to owning a piece-of-s#&t car. I am reminded of when I used to blaze my abused ’91 Geo Metro (3-cylinder) down the Los Angeles freeway. I would giggle with glee as the Benzo’s and Lexuses (Lexi?) cleared a path; they knew I had nothing to lose. When I park my piece-of-crap car at the end of the subway line to go see a Phillies game, I do everything but leave the keys in the ignition. (The opossum living in the spare tire well is your problem now, sucker! PS. She answers to Irving.) I think it was Kris Kristofferson who wrote, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”
Lastly, I used to (accidentally) live in a well-to-do neighborhood in Los Angeles. I was struck (literally and figuratively) by the rich people who drove crap cars and careened recklessly though the canyons with their bathrobe belts flapping in the breeze. They didn’t pin their worth to their mode of transportation and neither should you.
Am I way off base?
Did I miss something in my calculations?
Do you have any tips for spending less on transportation?
Please leave a comment.
Get started making cheap and easy homebrew.
If you think that you might like brewing your own beer, do it. You don’t have to be some kind of gastronomic genius or chemistry nerd to make great tasting beer from scratch. Don’t go overboard with cost or complexity. This article will help you get started making cheap and easy homebrew of which you can be proud.
My philosophy on homebrewing is that it should be simple, fun, and cheap. I don’t want to get a PHD in how enzymes work or spend a fortune on some stainless steel monstrosity that I will have to clean.
After all, beer originated by making itself. Millennia ago some idiot left a grain bucket out in the rain and few weeks later some other idiot dared a third idiot to drink out of it. The rest is history. If beer can happen essentially by accident, you can make delicious, cheap, and easy homebrew.
Assumptions on making cheap and easy homebrew
You have to enjoy some level of effort. No matter how elegant your set-up is, there is always some organizing, cleaning, and lifting involved.
You have to be patient. This applies to the agonizing weeks that you will have to wait before trying your cheap and easy homebrew and to the waiting entailed in the brewing itself. You spend a lot of time waiting for things to soak, heat up, cool down, etc.
The main brewing day is kind of like tailgating. Plan for some good company, music, food, beer, or other diversions to make the experience even more fun. I like to listen to baseball or mess around in my garage while keeping an eye on the homebrew.
You will be brewing ales. There is a reason why most small breweries and homebrewers make ales. Making lagers adds complexity related to the yeast strains and the required refrigeration. Fear not, there are thousands of awesome ale recipes for cheap and easy homebrew.
You will be brewing five gallons of beer. This is the standard for most homebrewers. It makes about two cases, so you will have plenty to share. You can easily cut a recipe in half, but the effort of brewing is the same.
Your cheap and easy homebrew should focus on styles that are expensive to buy. If you are spending all of this time trying to make Old Milwaukee, what is the point? Think about the pricey beers that you love to drink, these are the styles to emulate in making cheap and easy homebrew. I will be making a Belgian Dubbel based on a recipe from Keystone Homebrew.
You will need to spend a bit of money. Even if you make all of your own equipment from found objects, you will still need to buy ingredients. I can make two cases of a Belgian Dubbel from $40 of ingredients, so that’s a great deal.
You want to quickly advance to all-grain brewing. Most beginners start by brewing from extract, a syrupy concentrate that adds the fermentables (think carbs). You can make some great beers this way and customize your recipes, but, to me, it seems a bit lame. All-grain brewing is not difficult, and the ingredients are cheaper. If you do start with extract brewing, try to progress quickly to brewing with grains.
You will need a bit of space. I have successfully brewed all-grain beers in the kitchen of a one-bedroom apartment, but you still need a place to store your buckets and things.
Steps to making cheap and easy homebrew.
Note: If you are brewing with extract, you will skip many of the early steps.
1) Ingredients and gear for cheap and easy homebrew
You will need: Water, fermentables (malted barley or malt extract), hop flowers (whole-leaf or pelleted), and yeast. That is all you really need. Technically, you don’t even need the hops, they weren’t generally used in beer until the twelfth century.
There are so many great resources for homebrewers these days. You can find a recipe or start with a recipe kit. You can order online or visit your nearest homebrew shop. I like to frequent Keystone Homebrew because they are awesome. I use their kits frequently because it gives me a low-risk way to try different malts, hop varieties, yeasts, and adjuncts (weird additions like berries, honey, etc.) that I can incorporate into my original creations.
I have ordered custom recipes and/or kits from all of these online suppliers:
They have all done a fine job, but make sure you are getting a good deal on the shipping. The only concern here is with the health of the yeast. Liquid yeasts give better results (generally), but need to be kept cold with an ice-pack during shipping, and this can be a bit iffy.
NOTE: Don’t forget to request that your grains be crushed! Investing in a grain mill is unnecessary for cheap and easy homebrew.
You will also need some buckets, lids, tubes, capper, and stuff like that. You can buy an inexpensive kit that has what you need to get started.
2) Water for cheap and easy homebrew
Water is an important factor in your beer. Water that is too hard, too soft, too chlorinated, or has a bad taste might be a problem depending on what you are brewing. Distilled water is not recommended as the beneficial minerals have been removed. If your water is pretty OK, don’t worry about it.
3) Heat up the water for mashing.
How are you going to boil large volumes of liquid? You will need at least a six-gallon pot. If you are doing extract brewing, you can do a partial boil and add clean water to make up the difference. However, your hop optimization will be reduced.
If your kitchen stove has a high-output burner, it might be able to get the job done, but it will take a long time. Most people go ahead and buy a high-output burner that attaches to a propane tank.
Heat up six gallons or so to your mash temperature. The recipe that I am making calls for mashing the grains for one hour at 152 degrees (pretty typical). However, the resting temp. of the mashing vessel and the grains themselves will cause the temp. of the mix to drop 10-15 degrees, so I want my water to be about 166 degrees when I add it.
Warning: Do not heat an empty pot, it could melt!
4) Put the heated water and your crushed grains together.
You need a method to soak the grains in the heated water for a while and then remove the sweet liquid known as wort. This step is called mashing and the device is known as the mash tun. The mash tun is able to hold the mushy mixture at temperature and then separate the liquid from the spent grains. It is kind of like a giant teabag.
You can make a mash tun from an old cooler, but it will need the addition of a valve and a false bottom to release the liquid without getting clogged. You can buy an adapter kit for this modification or spend some time with some plumbing supplies. Make sure that whatever you buy is food safe at hot temps.
You don’t need to get elective surgery in Brazil to have a false bottom. I made the false bottoms above out of some CPVC pipe, but you can also buy them. You just need away to drain out the sweet goodness and leave behind the grain husks.
Use a spoon to mix up the mash and break up any “dough balls.” Be careful not to displace your false bottom when stirring. Then close the lid and wait for the enzymes to do their work in turning the complex sugars into the simple sugars that yeast likes to turn into alcohol.
5) Get the sweet goodness into the boil pot.
After the hour has passed, you need to get all the good stuff out of there. This process is called sparging. You gently add hot water (170 degrees, any hotter will start to leach nasty tannins from the grain husks) to the mash tun while slowly draining the good stuff into the pot. Keep an inch or two of water above the grain bed.
You want to add the water gently so that it doesn’t create channels leading to the exit. Otherwise, you will leave a lot of the good stuff behind. There are many ways to add the hot water gently: You can buy a sparge arm, sprinkle the water through a pie pan with holes in it, or use a tube with a bunch of holes (as shown).
This should take at least an hour. Slow and gentle is the key. Collect the first quart or so in a smaller vessel and then add this back to the mash (gently). This removes any nasty stuff from when the mash bed wasn’t filtering well.
6) Boil the wort and add the hops etc.
Once you have collected six or so gallons from the mash tun, start boiling the stuff. Dump the remaining contents of the mash tun on your neighbor’s lawn when he isn’t looking.
Watch the boil carefully as a boil-over is a real mess. You might want to skim off some of the foaming proteins from the top of the boil to calm things down. Don’t worry if you wort is full of globs, this is normal for cheap and easy homebrew.
This particular recipe calls for some Belgian rock candy (yum!) Whenever adding anything like this to the boil, it tends to fall to the bottom and form a burned-up mess. When adding candy, syrup, etc. stir it faithfully until it has all dissolved.
Add your hops according the schedule shown in the recipe. You put the hop leaves or pellets in muslin bags so that you can pull all the debris out at the end.
7) Retrieve your hop bags, cool the wort, and start sanitizing.
After the boil is complete (typically one hour), retrieve your hop bags and cool the wort as quickly as possible. You can put the whole pot in an ice bath (like a storage tote filled with ice and water), or purchase a wort chiller that runs cold water through a tube. If you are simply going to wait for it to cool off enough to add the yeast, you will be waiting a long time.
Cooling the wort quickly is ideal as it clarifies the beer with what is called a “cold-break” and reduces the chance that something other than your chosen yeast will take over the brew. Once it starts cooling, your cheap and easy homebrew is in danger of contamination.
While your wort is chilling, mix the sanitizing solution and sanitize the fermenter (bucket), airlock, lid, and thermometer. You want your yeast to be the only thing living in the fermenter. I use sanitizing solution that doesn’t require rinsing as it is easier.
For the fermenting vessel, I use the “bottling bucket” that has a spigot; it makes transferring the beer easier later on. Some brewers consider this a bad practice as they think it increases contamination risk. Clean and sanitize the spigot parts carefully, and you shouldn’t have any trouble. Make sure that the spigot assembly is water tight before adding the wort.
TIP: After mixing up the sanitizing solution, keep some handy in a spray bottle.
8) Get yeasty.
Once the wort temp has fallen into the range dictated by the directions on your yeast (typically around 70 degrees), transfer the wort from the pot to the sanitized fermenter. Your yeast likes to have some oxygen in the mix when it is doing its thing. I like to pour the wort from the pot into the fermenter, then back again, then back again. The splashing adds some oxygen. There are also fancier ways to introduce oxygen (e.g. “It is my supreme privilege to announce the arrival of a most illustrious molecule etc…”)
9) Let the magic of cheap and easy homebrew begin.
Now your brewing day is complete. Your wort and yeast are safely in their sanitized environment, so you can relax a bit. Soon (in a few days) the airlock will start to bubble and you can giggle with glee. Put your fermenter in a safe place for a week or more. The next time you mess with it, it will contain alcohol and be in less risk of contamination.
10) Secondary fermentation
Most homebrewers choose to employ a secondary fermentation. This simply means that you move the beer to another vessel (after a week or two) during fermentation. This is desirable because you are getting the beer off of the dead yeast cells (at the bottom) which may cause off flavors. I also find that the agitation renews the efforts of the remaining yeast. Don’t forget to sanitize the second fermenter.
NOTE: Once fermentation is started, oxygen is the enemy. Avoid introducing any oxygen (splashing) when transferring or bottling the beer or you risk oxidizing the beer and making it taste stale.
11) Bottle your cheap and easy homebrew.
Even though I have a keg system, I still bottle frequently as I like to give away beer. Bottling is no big deal. You can bottle strait from the spigot on the barrel, and most of the sediment will be left behind.
- Make sure you have enough bottles. Five gallons means you should plan for 52 bottles.
- Use only pry-top bottles. Don’t try to cap a twist-type bottle.
- Make sure the bottles are clean before bottling. You can get the labels off of saved bottles by soaking them in warm water and oxyclean (a couple scoops) for an hour and then scrubbing them with steel wool. They will clean right up.
TIP: Get in the habit of rinsing out beer bottles before saving them. The beer left in the bottom dries into a hard crust that is difficult to remove.
- A standard milk-crate holds 25 bottles perfectly. This is helpful for cleaning, drying, stacking, and storing. Stack the bottles upside down after cleaning so that they will drip dry.
- Create an assembly line. I like to start with clean bottles and then have several stations: sanitizing dunk station, dripping out station, priming sugar station, capping station, and stacking area.
- Sanitize the valve on the bucket (use a spray bottle) and fill the sanitized bottles carefully to avoid spilling or splashing. Leave about an inch of head-space.
- Put a priming tab in each bottle (this allows the remaining yeast to carbonate the bottle). Be organized so that you don’t mess up this step or you could have flat or explosive beer.
- Crimp on the cap. If you are worried about oxygen in the bottle damaging your beer, you can use bottle caps that have a oxygen absorbing pad in them.
Enjoy your cheap and easy homebrew.
After two weeks in the bottle, your cheap and easy homebrew is ready to enjoy. Some styles will benefit from aging, but most are best consumed young. If you think that you might like making cheap and easy homebrew, you should give it a shot.
For an initial investment of about $200, you can enjoy brewing for a lifetime. You will be drinking better beer and people will think you are magical. Once you have your all-grain system figured out, there is no end to the recipes, ingredients, and methods you can explore.
LEGAL NOTICE: Homebrew has alcohol in it. It can be bad for you. There are some laws about homebrew in your state, and you should obey those laws. Don’t drink too much or you will feel bad and do stupid things. Home brewing involves hot things and heavy things. Don’t burn yourself or give yourself a hernia.