Being cheap doesn’t have to be depressing.  In fact, it can be thrilling.

making arrest
Photo by Elvert Barnes

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 spaceHowever, 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)

trash picking and federal law

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

trash picking laws and recycling
Is this scrapper committing a crime?

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.

recyclable materials value chart

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

trash picking local laws
Photo by raymondclarkeimages

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.

Trespassing

trash picking and trespassing

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:

  1. The proximity of the thing to the dwelling;
  2. Whether the thing is within an enclosure surrounding the home;
  3. What the thing is used for.
  4. What steps, if any, the resident took to protect the thing from observation/ access by people passing by.”

-from The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law

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

identity theft
Identity thieves will try anything. Photo by Gale

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.

Littering

trash picking laws and littering

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

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:

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

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.

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free stuff on curb featured

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.

wealthy home

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.

trash day
Photo by Bob Mical

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.

free stuff on the the curb back alley

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.

garage sale glasses

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
  • Curbsurf.com
  • 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.

upholstered items and bedbugs
Don’t do it!

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
  • Flashlight
  • 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.

pallet wood garden cart
I built this garden cart with discarded pallet wood and bike tires.

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.

free stuff on the curb upcycling
I turned two old windows into neat cabinet doors.

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.

free stuff on the curb legality

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.”

-Rodney Dangerfield

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

free building materials
My garage is stocked with free project 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)

free stuff on the curb wooden furniture
This Danish side-table just needed a bit of glue and some polish.  The Cocker Spaniel is also salvaged.

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

free stuff on the curb patio furniture
This aluminum patio set was free and will never rust. I simply made the wooden tops and bought new cushions.

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

best free stuff on the curb old maps
I found this awesome set of old maps in a school dumpster.  I can skip Google whenever I have a question on the Louisiana Purchase (almost daily).

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.

22) Shelving

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

free stuff on the curb coolers
Coolers are versatile.  The red one has been converted for brewing beer, and the grey one has become a solar generator for camping trips.

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

Saving 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.

27) Tools

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.

free things to do in philadelphia skyline

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 Pierhanging out at Winterfest, or free recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music), but my list focuses on year-round offerings.

These free things to do in Philadelphia are within the city limits, so nearby attractions like the Valley Forge National Historic Park and The Scott Arboretum do not make the cut.

Location key

free things to do in philadelphia old city = Old City area

Ben Franklin Parkway = Ben Franklin Parkway area

center city Philadelphia= Center City

Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia overview

free things to do in philadelphia waterfront

  1. Independence National Historic Park
  2. Reading Terminal Market
  3. The Rocky Steps
  4. Elfreth’s Alley and Old City
  5. Macy’s Center City and the Wanamaker Organ
  6. Free First Sunday at the Barnes Foundation
  7. Philadelphia Museum of Art (pay what you wish at certain times)
  8. Institute of Contemporary Art
  9. U.S. Mint
  10. Christ Church
  11. Science History Institute
  12. Rodin Museum
  13. Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
  14. Hike Philadelphia
  15. Play tennis
  16. Free at noon concerts with WXPN
  17. Free at the Kimmel Center
  18. Tour a brewery
  19. The Mural Mile
  20. 30th Street Station

20) 30th Street Station

free things to do in philadelphia station
Photo by Dan Gaken

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 free things to do in philadelphia old citycenter city Philadelphia

free things to do in philadelphia mural mile
Photo by David Saddler

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

free things to do in Philadelphia 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 center city Philadelphia

The Kimmel Center
Photo by Timothy Vollmer

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

top free things to do in philadelphia hiking
Photo by TheTurducken

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) Ben Franklin Parkway

The Schuylkill River Trail is an ongoing project that will ultimately connect 130 miles of trail for recreation.  The Philadelphia section is ten miles long, but you can have a much shorter hike.

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 Ben Franklin Parkway

things to do in philadelphia rodin museum
Photo by Eric Dillalogue

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 free things to do in philadelphia old city

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 free things to do in philadelphia old city

Christ Church Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Miller

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 free things to do in philadelphia old city

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 Ben Franklin Parkway

free things to do in philadelphia rocky steps

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 Ben Franklin Parkway

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 center city Philadelphia

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 free things to do in philadelphia old city

free things to do in Philadelphia Old City
Photo by Stephen Downes

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 Ben Franklin Parkway

Free things to do in Philadelphia Rocky Steps
Photo by Ahd Photography (yarn bombing by Jessie Hemmons)

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 center city Philadelphia

Reading Terminal Market Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Miller

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 free things to do in philadelphia old city

free things to do in Philadelphia Liberty Bell

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).

Tips:

  • 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

Bartram’s Garden

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.

Woodmere Art Museum

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.

Fireman’s Hall Museum free things to do in philadelphia old city

Philadelphia was the birthplace of America’s volunteer fire companies (the first in 1736). This renovated 1902 firehouse houses cool equipment and displays.

Laurel Hill Cemetery

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.

Skateparks Ben Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia has a rich skating history.  Check out SkatePhilly.org if that’s your jam.

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul  Ben Franklin Parkwaycenter city Philadelphia

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.

Dream Garden free things to do in philadelphia old city

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 center city Philadelphia

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.

First Fridays free things to do in philadelphia old city

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.

Well’s Fargo Museum center city Philadelphia

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

free things to do in Philadelphia Ben Franklin Parkway

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 FootGPS 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.)

Finding free events

Do not forget to look for free events.  PhillyFunGuide, WXPN concert calendar (sort by price to see the free concerts), and Philly.com events calendar can point you in the right direction.

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.

thrift-store-jeans

There are many great reasons to be a thrift store shopper.  It is good for the environment, saves you money, can help a good cause, and is fun. Before you launch into hyperspace across the thrift store galaxy, here are some thrift store tips to start your training.

Thrift store tips summary

  • Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.  Know which stores carry what.
  • Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.  They range from vintage boutiques to random bin warehouses.
  • Thrift store tip 3: Top ten items to seek:  Weekend clothing, wooden furniture, and housewares top the list.
  • Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid: Items that can harbor bedbugs are no deal.
  • Thrift store tip 5: Process clothing: Keep items in a sealed bag until they can be treated.
  • Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.  Learn the promotion schedule or join the mailing list.
  • Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.  Be proud when your money goes to a worthy cause.
  • Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle. Return the favor by donating regularly.  Your closet and garage will thank you.

thrift store aisles

My experience

I started shopping in thrift stores because I had to.  Now I shop in thrift stores because I love to; you never know what you are going to find. I enjoy the challenge and knowing that I am shopping conscientiously.

Since I am so cheap and have no sense of style, it would be pretty natural for me to do all of my shopping at Costco, JCpenney, Target, etc.  However, I know that this type store and their short-lived products take a toll on the environment and the global community.  Thrift stores enable me to be cheap and responsible, which brings balance to the force.

Over the years I have completed my training by mastering thrift stores in Los Angeles, Vermont, and the Philadelphia area. My thrift store tips can take you from errant young-ling to the resale Jedi council.

Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.

When you pull up to a unfamiliar thrift store, you have no way of knowing if your are headed to the dark side.  This can be fun unless there are really some items that you need.

Spend some time getting to know the thrift stores in your area.  Reach out with your feelings (or use google maps.) Spend some time visiting the stores when you don’t need anything in particular.  You will discover that some stores emphasize furniture, tools, housewares, clothing, media, and so on.  This will save you time and frustration later.

thrift store books

Scouting thrift stores general rules:

  • Stores in low-income areas may not have the droids you seek.  This makes sense.  People in these areas are highly motivated to take the best items quickly.  Additionally, stores near affluent areas tend to get some pretty sweet donations.
  • Keep travel to a minimum by avoiding the outer rim and frequenting stores near places you go anyway.  If thrift shopping is hassle, you probably won’t do it.  If your interests or occupation take you to an area often, check out the thrift store landscape as it may offer better options than where you live.
  • Know thy self.  Do you expect everything to be processed carefully and organized or are you OK with sorting through a mess?

Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.

You may think thrift stores are not for you, but hold on my very young apprentice; a key thrift store tip is that there is a thrift store for every shopper.  After scouting the stores, decide which type works best for you.

1) Fancy Boutique

These stores are generally small, selective, and located in an area with a lot of foot-traffic.  They only accept items that are appropriate for their discriminating clientele.  They are very clean and well-staffed, but this care is reflected in the prices.  If you seek designer brands or stylish jewelry, these are the shops for you.  Examples include Green Street and The Cinema Glamour Shop.

2) Epic planet of savings

awesome thrift store 130

Every once in a while you find a huge thrift store that is also clean, organized, and loaded with kyber crystals.  They seem to show up in buildings that were formerly grocery stores. This is my favorite type of thrift store. Examples include 2nd Avenue Value Stores and Heaven’s Treasures.

Note: Some Goodwill Stores, Salvation Army Stores, and St. Vincent De Paul Society stores meet the criteria of an Epic Planet of Savings.

3) Run-of-the-mill thrift stores

Most Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul Society, and church basement stores are like the mines of Kessel.  They tend to smell a bit like a Ton-ton and be a bit scruffy looking.  They may have just what you are looking for, but patience you must have.

4) Bin warehouse

thrift store bins 120

As cheap as I am, my thrift store tip is to skip these options.  They usually take the refuse from another thrift store.  There is little-to-no organization and much of the inventory has missing parts or a defective motivator. I am sure many have had success in these thrift stores, but it is like trying to hit a womp rat in a T-16.

Many of these stores sell goods by-the-pound based on category. Examples include Goodwill Outlet and the Salvation Army by-the-pound program.

Thrift store tip 3: Top 10 items to seek

Once you become a resale padawan learner, you will discover that there are some things that are almost never worth buying retail.

1) Weekend clothing

Why pay retail for clothes you are going to wear playing softball or milking thala-sirens?  I am pretty rough on my clothes generally, so I expect them to get ruined in short order.  A thrift store shirt can catch a glob of mustard just as well.  If you find something that actually deserves some care, consider it a bonus.

2) Wooden furniture

We are not really looking for another set of IKEA bookcases. You will be amazed how many neat pieces from the past you will find. Old furniture is often better made, and wood furniture is easy to refresh or repair and won’t bring unexpected house guests (more about bedbugs later).  For this thrift store tip, remember that a couple of screws, some polish, stain, or paint can go a long way.

Thrift store furniture 120
Plywood dressers at particle-board prices

3) Housewares

Some people take amazing care of their plates, utensils, glassware, etc.  When these people die, their kids donate these items, and I reap the benefits.  Again, some this stuff is of much higher quality than you will find in Target.  When I found the potato masher of my dreams for a dollar, I knew that I had brought balance to the force.

thrift store housewares

4) Tools

Like heirloom light-sabers, good tools are hard to find and easy to lose.  Most thrift stores do not carry tools, but, when they do, I am on it like a Wookie in a butcher shop.  These tools are often better quality than you will find at the Home Cheapo.

thrift store tools 120
Even this tiny assortment of tools is worthy of my attention.
thrift store clippers
I got this hedge trimmer for seven bucks. Don’t be afraid to plug things in before you buy them.

5) Sporting goods

People tend to give up sports over the years.  For example, I had to stop throwing my shot-put in the park after “the incident.”

Before going to Dick’s or Modell’s, look for that baseball glove, bike helmet, or Tae Kwon Do target at the thrift store.  This is especially true if you have kids who are trying out different sports through the years.

6) Media

Books and records are my main targets. It is nice take a book on vacation and not have to bring it back. I also love finding weird kitschy albums to add to my very strange collection.

thrift store records 120
Rendezvous Polka.  What else is there to say?

Related post: Collecting Vintage Vinyl for Cheap Beginners

7) Kids Toys

You know that your kids can make any toy look used in about five seconds.  You also know that they are going to lose interest in it faster than you can say, “That thing’s operational!”  Follow this thrift store tip so that you can tell them to pick out whatever they want and abuse it however they like.

8) Jewelry

This is my wife’s addition to the list.  After scouting the stores, you will find that some have great selections of jewelry, especially if your tastes are a bit playful or eccentric.  You probably will not find anything with a hidden monetary value, but who knows?

9) Gag gifts

Every year I have to find a ridiculous item to serve as the trophy for my fantasy football league.  The thrift store is great for this type of thing. One year I found a massive, novelty stein (probably holds 3-4 gallons) to present.  Another year I found a huge trophy where the figurine appeared to be having a gastrointestinal episode. (Don’t ask me what sport it was signifying.)

Related post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

10) Vintage curios

I like to fill my home office with esoteric scientific instruments and antiquated instructional aids.  These are things that you are not going to find at Home Goods.

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid

This is predominantly a list of things that might contain bed bugs or other unwanted guests.  Bed bugs are the number one reason why people avoid thrift stores.  Heat treatment is the key.  Anything that cannot be easily put into a hot wash and dry or otherwise heat-treated is not worth the risk.

Link: Thrift stores and bed bugs

Stores may give items a visual inspection, but they do not treat for pests.

  1. Upholstered furniture

  2. Pillows

  3. Comforters

  4. Mattresses

  5. Things with many parts

    You may find a cool camping tent or a fancy cappuccino maker, but beware.  Even if the item was donated in complete and working order, the parts may now be lost in an asteroid field.  The odds of finding the right replacement parts at a reasonable price are approximately 3,720 to 1.

Thrift store tip 5: Handling clothing

I had a chat today with the manager of one of my favorite thrift stores.  I told her that I was a bit worried about bedbugs even though I had never had a bad experience.  She said that when she gets home from work, her clothes go straight into the hot cycle, and she has never had a problem.

Keep your newly acquired thrift store clothes in a sealed bag until they can be heat-treated in a washer and dryer or taken to the dry cleaner.

Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.

thrift shop entry 120

This can be a hard thrift store tip to follow.  Many stores do not have updated websites or clear schedules.  Most stores rely on posted notices and handouts at the register, so pay attention.  If the store has a newsletter or email list, sign up.

Case study: I went to one store today because they sell records for 97 cents on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I didn’t realize that they also had a one-day, store-wide discount of %35.  I proclaimed, “Coatee-cha tu yub nub!” (“Celebrate the freedom!”)

Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.

Many stores use your money to do good.  I love that Goodwill Stores make an effort to hire people with special needs and that shopping at Salvation Army stores helps people recovering from addiction.  Whether you are helping a charity, church, or cause, feel good about where your money is going.

Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle.

This last thrift store tip isn’t about shopping.  Complete the cycle by donating often.  After all, who wants to bother with craigslist, clothing swaps, or selling on consignment? Furthermore, if you are sending items that are worthy of resale to the landfill, shame on you.

Keep a donation box in some out-of-the-way location, and make sure that everyone in the household knows about it.  If you itemize deductions on you income taxes, don’t forget to ask for a receipt when you drop off your goodies.

Conclusions on Thrift Store Tips

Whether you need or want to spend less, thrift stores are a great option.  You can help the environment and a worthy cause. Join me in following these thrift store tips, and together we will rule the galaxy (of thrift stores.)

Note: National thrift shop day is August 17

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

reducing the costs of fun clowns

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!)

reducing the costs of fun
Bullying with flare or old-timey fun? You make the call.

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.reducing the costs of fun eating out

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.

reducing the costs of fun food picture
This pat of butter is going viral.

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.

Shop around.  Check the primary market and the secondary market. Searching services like SeatGeek.com or SeatHound.com can help in reducing the costs of fun.

Go to the box office and skip the service charges if possible.

reducing the costs of fun concerts

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.reducing the costs of fun outdoors

Cheaper events

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!reducing the costs of fun parade

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.

bigfoot museum

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.

minor league hockey
Intermission fun at the Philadelphia Rebels

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.

reducing the costs of fun making stuff

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.

reducing the costs of fun cruise
RAMMING SPEED!

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.reducing the costs of fun hiking

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.

me hiking in yosemite
Me hiking in Yosemite

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.

reducing the costs of fun snow shoes

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.

reducing the costs of fun sailboat

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 dancing

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?

dumpster diving season

“Spring time and garbage pickin’ is easy / dumps are jumping and the garbage is high.”

-from Porgy and Bess

When people look at my body, they are surprised to learn that I am a competitive diver.  However, if they watched me on Fridays (garbage day), they would see me moving pretty fast and flexing my lifting muscles in some world-class dumpster diving.

Trash-picking saves money, helps the environment, gives the thrill of victory, and offers some cool old stuff that may be better quality than what you will find at Target, IKEA, or the rest.  If it helps you sleep at night, you can call yourself a free-cycler, up-cycler, or curb surfer.  Not me, I’m a old-school trash-picker / dumpster-diver, and there is no shame in my game.

In the competitive world of dumpster diving, Spring is playoff season. Everyone in your neighborhood has spent the winter reading Marie Condo and watching episodes of Hording: Buried Alive, the real-estate market is starting the Spring thaw, and divorce filings reach their yearly peak.

Do some calisthenics and put on your game-face, ’cause it’s time to score.

Note: I had so much fun writing this post that I decided to go deeper with this topic.  Check out my newer post, Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big.

Top 5 Dumpster Diving Targets

5) Plastic containers

Paying for storage containers sucks, but people throw them away just because they are dirty.  Utility shelves, milk crates, storage totes, and old coolers are all fair game.  Just make sure you are not taking your neighbor’s trash receptacle.

uses for old coolers
All of these coolers were free.  The red one has been retrofitted for brewing beer.  The grey one is now a solar generator that I take camping.  The blue one is, well, for keeping things cool.

4) Vintage curios

If you live in or near an area with some old houses, you can find some really neat, old stuff.  I have an affinity for older stuff made made from “real” materials.  Some of these finds might even be eligible for resale.

freecycling vintage
I ordered an LED bulb to replace the florescent bulb in the lamp.  The stapler from the 60’s weighs eight pounds and is bullet-proof.
vintage maps
This awesome map set was in a school dumpster, but I had to make the brackets.

3) Patio furniture

People throw away patio sets just because they have ripped cushions or a damaged top.  Replacement cushions (fitting most designs) can be found in the home center, and you can pick a design that you like.  For many bases a different top can be attached.

replacing cushions on patio furniture
I made wooden tops for the stools since I wanted them to double as stands.

2) Construction materials

Even if you only do one or two projects a year, materials from the home center can really add up.  If you have a place to store these materials, you can save a lot of money.  Even a couple of 2x4s makes a difference.  As a bonus, you might save yourself a trip to the Home Cheapo.

salvaged construction materials

using old windows
I made this cabinet with two old window that I liked.  It now houses my wife’s knitting stuff.

1) Older furniture (nothing upholstered)

They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Old dressers, chairs, tables, etc. are almost always better made with better materials.  Wooden furniture is easy to spruce up.  A little wood glue, an added screw, some sanding, or some lemon oil can go a long way.  If you are going to give a piece some TLC, just be wary of lead or other toxins.

curb furniture
This stand from Denmark only needed some reinforcing and some lemon oil.  The cocker spaniel was salvaged also, but he has been much more trouble.

Top 5 Trash-picking Strategies

5) Think about bed-bugs.

If I brought pests into my house, my marriage would be over faster than you can say, “No, you cannot crash at my place you cheap bastard.”  Anything with stuffing, upholstery, or fabric is a non-starter.

4) Know the schedule, but don’t change yours.

I don’t make special trips around to look for scores.  It isn’t necessary.  I know the trash schedules for the neighborhoods around me, and when I walk the dogs or run errands, I peep the goods.  Taking a different street on the right day can make all the difference.

3) Institutions / huge houses.

Some buildings just give it up again and again.  It’s like being a home-run hitter and choosing to play for the Rockies at Coors Field.  Huge, old buildings have decades of goodies that need annual culling.

CASE STUDY: A young couple decided to fix up a massive house near me.  They were throwing out good stuff every Friday for years.  When we finally had them over for dinner, they realized that all of my furnishings came from their house.  They left early and now cross the street when they see me coming. OK, but it could have happened.

2) Prep. your kit.

Keep an extra hammer (the bigger the better), some screwdrivers, a saw, straps, etc. in the car.  One time a saw a desk with a beautiful top, but the base was ruined.  A few swings with the engineer’s hammer and the top was mine.  Another time I smashed some damaged Ikea bookcases since I wanted the melamine to make some closet shelves.  It’s a good idea to keep some tools in the car anyway.

1) Hit well-to-do areas.

It’s kind of like how poor kids go trick-or-treating on the nice side of town.  I am usually shocked at what rich people throw away.  (Couldn’t they even bother to call the donation center for a pick-up?)  The rewards are high and the competition low.  I think it was Socrates who said,  “One treasurer’s trash is a trashy man’s treasure.”

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Do you have any great moments in free-cycling to share? Any good tips that I can add to my repertoire? Please leave a comment.

reducing coffee habit costs featured
“I buy lattes every day and have no emergency fund. #YOLO!”

Let’s think about the “latte factor” of our budgets.

Are your coffee habit costs worth it?  Is watching other people on their laptops the highlight of your day?  Does scoring the big, comfy seat with the least repulsive stains make you feel like a winner? Do you curate a collection of cups with your name misspelled? Perhaps the mere thought of giving up extra-caffeinated Starbucks favorites leaves you whimpering for hours in the fetal position.

If the convenience and/or experience of your cafe visit truly improves your life, don’t worry about reducing coffee habit costs.  Perhaps your daily coffee stop really is a special place, or you use the opportunity to meet with someone special.

starbucks factor espresso

On the other hand, if your daily cafe visit feels like an “I’m still alive tax,” and you just want your caffeinated treat, think about how you can reduce coffee habit costs.  This post explores your cumulative coffee habit costs and offers solutions for trimming coffee costs by making great coffee, espresso, cappuccino, etc. at home.

Cumulative coffee habit costs

Some personal finance gurus use the term “latte factor” in reference to recurring, trivial, voluntary expenses.  This is an apt term, since cafe spending is habitual and seemingly low cost.  These coffee habit costs are not trivial when examined closely.

trimming coffee costs making your own
Spilling the beans on your latte factor.

Crunching the numbers of coffee habit costs

According to ABC news, the average American worker spends $14.40 on coffee outside the home. For younger workers, the average is even higher.

Let’s follow a hypothetical example where an individual spends an average of $20 a week ($2.86 a day) on their coffee habit.  This is slightly less than the price of one Starbucks latte per day (the smallest size).

In this example the person switches to making their own caffeinated treat at a cost of $5 a week, for a net savings of $15 a week.  This is quite conservative since the cost of the ingredients (coffee beans, milk, sugar, cinnamon, ice, etc.) is extremely low.

How much might this person amass after ten years of reducing coffee habit costs?

Burying saved coffee habit costs in the back yard: $7,800

reducing coffee habit costs dog
“Find the money, Sparky!” Photo by Eselsmann

Simply stashing the money away for ten years would result in $7,800.  Since you are not earning any interest and the purchasing power of your money is falling due to inflation, you might be better off spending the money as you go. Fancy weekend getaways, concerts, generous gifts, etc. are more memorable than convenient lattes.

Putting your saved coffee habit costs in a savings account (Barclay Online 1.15%): $8,216.28

You are not quit keeping pace with historical inflation (so the purchasing power is falling), but your $15 a week has grown to over eight grand in ten years.

Investing saved coffee habit costs in a low-fee index fund (9%): $11,850.49

trimming coffee costs graph

Note: 9% is slightly lower than the S&P 500 historical average since its inception in 1928.  This chart does not account for fees or capital gains tax. On the other hand, it does not include dividend payments offered by many companies.

Investing is always a risk, but index funds diversify your investment so that you are essentially investing in the economy as a whole. They also have minuscule fees since no highfalutin, “market-beating” managers are taking a cut.

Just by reducing coffee habit costs to five dollars a week, our hypothetical coffee lover has amassed almost twelve grand.  This really shows the power of investing as little as $15 a week.

Now, let’s see what reducing coffee habit costs could do in the long term.

If you saved the same $15 a week by reducing coffee habit costs for thirty years, it is likely that you will have about $106,319.88 (according to historical averages). The chart below illustrates just how much of this total comes from the interest.   Of course, this projection is based on historical averages, and investing always includes risk.

reducing coffee habit costs

If you are planning to put away money for the long (as per our example) consider starting an IRA to minimize tax liability.  I bet that you will enjoy watching your money grow more than you will dislike making your own caffeinated treats.

Related link: “Many millennials spend more on coffee than they save for retirement” from Business Insider

Reducing coffee habit costs without sacrifice.

Cutting your latte factor does not mean accepting sub-par coffee (Heaven forbid!). To make great tasting cafe treats at home, look to the past.  Forget about big, expensive machines; you don’t even need electricity.  With a little practice, you may discover that you are your favorite barista.

Freshly-ground is better

I can taste the difference when I grind the beans fresh.  As an added bonus, you can save by buying in bulk. Whole bean coffee does not oxidize (and become stale) nearly as fast as grounds, so you can stock up.

I keep it old-school by using a manual mill; I just like it. A manual mill really doesn’t take too long if it is properly adjusted.

reducing coffee habit costs grinder.jpg
This old, cast iron mill will outlive us all.

Whatever type of grinder you are using, make sure that the grind is adjusted for the brewing method that you employ.  For example, espresso beans should be very fine whereas a French press works better with a courser grind.

Use a French press to keep standards high when reducing coffee habit costs.

French presses are fast (4 minutes of heating and 4 minutes of brewing), cheap, small, easy, durable, and make great coffee.  I microwave the water in a big Pyrex cup for speed.  I keep a larger French press around for company and Sunday mornings.

Since there is no heating element (like on a drip coffee maker), I recommend getting French presses that are vacuum insulated.  The presses shown (one glass and one steel) are both vacuum insulated and keep coffee hot for an hour or so without scorching the precious contents.

reducing coffee habit costs french press

insulated french press trimming coffee costs
Weekday size
large insulated french press
Weekend / company size

Reduce coffee habit costs by making espresso / cappuccino the way Nonna did.

Stove-top espresso makers are great; they take up very little space and come in a variety of sizes. Make sure that you are using beans that are roasted specifically for espresso to get the authentic taste.

If you want to make cappuccino, heat up some milk while the espresso maker is working.  Put the milk in the microwave until it starts to bubble.  Hit the milk with an inexpensive whipper thingy, and spoon on the foamy goodness.  You can add all of the steamed milk to make it latte style.

filling stove top espresso
The grounds shown are way too course for true espresso, but I was just making a regular coffee for the photo.
espresso maker working
You shouldn’t leave the top open, but I wanted to show the action.
reducing coffee habit costs milk whipper
This little, battery-operated whipper thing does a fine job and only cost $5.

stove top cappucino starbuck factor

Making it to go

If you need your treat to go, you can’t beat vacuum insulated containers.  Pre-treat your container with cold or hot water for best results.  Also, the larger the volume the longer it will maintain temperature, so you have a good excuse for over-caffeinating.

Using your own travel cups means that you are not paying for disposable.  It also means that you are reducing your impact on the environment.  If the person in our hypothetical example switched to reusable containers, they would eliminate the environmental impact of 3,650 cups, lids, and stirrers.

reducing coffee habit costs thermos

Conclusion on reducing coffee habit costs

There is nothing at Starbucks that you cannot make cheaply at home.  You may need ice, syrups, spices, etc. to make your favorites, but a little research and experimentation go a long way.  There are many websites explaining how to make all the cafe treats that you crave.

Reducing coffee habit costs takes a bit of time and effort. However, it is fun to engage in this culinary alchemy and the savings can literally change your life.

Related post:“Is Aldi Worth an Extra Trip?”

Related post: “Top 7 Grocery Store Rip-offs”

Any hot Starbucks hacks to share?

What is your coffee system?

getting the most from your public library featured

Stop wasting money and get the most from your public library.

I am not sure what causes many of us to ignore our public libraries. Perhaps it is because marketers have done a wonderful job convincing us to pay for books, media, and downloads.  Public libraries offer the same opportunities for free but without the marketing.

I mainly get audio books for dog walking and driving and Ebooks for evenings, but there are many ways to get the most from your public library.

14 ways to get the most from your public library:

  1. Ebooks
  2. Audio books
  3. Virtual research libraries
  4. Hanging out
  5. Programs for adults
  6. Programs for kids
  7. Social services
  8. Meeting space
  9. Periodicals
  10. Events and exhibitions
  11. Downloadable movies, music, and comic books
  12. Free WiFi
  13. Borrowing movies and music
  14. Old-fashioned book borrowing

1) Ebooks

get the most from your public library ebook

Ebooks are a wonderful way to get the most from your public library.  This is especially true if you can be a bit flexible in your selections.  Do not be surprised if you cannot access every book by your favorite author.  You can sort by what is currently available or add yourself to a wait list (you simply get an email when your loan is ready).

Do not risk wasting money on something you won’t like or even finish.  Even if you are buying cheaper Ebooks, there is always a risk that you might not like it, and you cannot get a refund.

Life is too short to read books that you are not enjoying.  There are too many great books out there to waste any time.  When I am reading a book and decide to give up on it, I chuck it across the room (scaring my wife and the dogs.)  I had to stop doing this when I switched to Ebooks, so I keep a sacrificial physcial book that I hate to throw across the room (A Walk in the Woods) when needs must.

Now that I download books for free, I can chuck A Walk in the Woods across the room at will and have no qualms about it.  Three minutes later,  I am reading something that I enjoy.

I recommend having a dedicated e reader.  Reading on even a largish phone is simply not the same.  Additionally, there are two many distractions on your phone.  When I sit down with my e reader it puts me in the right frame of mind.

2) Audio books

get the most from your public library audio books

Most of us wish we had more time for reading, so audio books are great help.

I have always loved audio books, even in the olden days when we had to keep big stack of scratched CDs on the passenger seat.   Get the most out of your public library by downloading audio books to enjoy while driving, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or pretending to watch your kid’s soccer game.

3) Virtual research libraries

Whether you are working on your master’s thesis or supporting your conspiracy theory on how big oil got Friends cancelled, virtual research libraries can help.  You do not need to be at university to conduct scholarly research.  You might be surprised to learn that even small libraries provide access to excellent virtual research libraries.

4) Hanging out (get the most from your public library space)

hanging out at the library

Sometimes you just want a calm, comfortable place to hang out and read a magazine. Maybe your home is not an ideal environment for quiet introspection.  Think about your local library as a cozy coffee shop where you are not expected to buy anything.

Related post: Trimming Your “Starbucks Factor”

With the growth of online access, library branches have adapted their mission.  Libraries are less about borrowing and leaving.  Many libraries offer meeting areas, study zones, comfy couches, and little parks. It is a nice way to meet people in your neighborhood that you might not run into in another setting.

5) Programs for adults

Get the most out of your public library by thinking about your library as a senior center for people of all ages.  Whether you are trying to explore your creative side, meet interesting people, or engage in a favorite activity your public library might have a perfect program for you.

Related link: Free Library of Philadelphia programs

6) Programs for kids

get the most from your public library kid reading

Programming your kid’s time can get expensive in a hurry, before you sign them up for interpretive Tae Kwon Do, get the most from your public library.  I just checked on my branch’s page and they offer everything from homework help, to science labs, to culinary arts.  Kids programs have gone way beyond story hour.

7) Social services

More and more libraries are serving their communities with social programs.  They are helping people access healthcare, find jobs, learn languages, transition from incarceration, gain citizenship, and on and on.

Get the most out of your public library by learning about how programs like these can help you improve your life.

8) Meeting space

Many branches provide meeting space.  You simply sign up for a time and the space is yours.  Now your Living with Kleptomania support group can stop meeting at your house.

9) Periodicals

I love killing time at the library reading magazines to which I would never subscribe.  Let’s face it, the bass fishing news cycle does not require monthly updates.

10) Events and exhibitions

Get the most out of your public library by joining the email list and keeping tabs on upcoming events.  Meet filmmakers, experts, policy makers, artists, and authors.  See performances and exhibits.  The kinds of things you miss after leaving college can often be found at your public library.

11) Downloadable movies, music, and comic books

You might be surprised by the downloadable media access your library provides.  My library subscribes to Hoopla which offers music, movies, shows, and even comic books for download.

12) Free WiFi

If you watch your data usage like a hawk, take advantage of the free WiFi at your local library.  I have been known to sit on a bench near the library while I take a lunch break and watch cat videos or horror movies (depending on what kind of day I am having).

13) Borrowing movies and music

Many branches still offer media loans allowing you to cut down on the number of kid movies you have to buy or expand your musical tastes.

14) Good, old-fashioned book borrowing

When you invest money in a book, you might resolve to force yourself to finish the whole book before starting anything else.  Then you will procrastinate and watch re-runs of Bonanza instead.  Before you know it, you are illiterate, you can’t watch any movies with subtitles, you lose your job, and your spouse leaves you. (I’ve seen it a hundred times.) All of this because you didn’t want to take the time to get a library card?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Get the most from your public library by broadening your horizons.

Since you are paying nothing, you are more likely to try new things. You might investigate an activity even if you are not sure you will enjoy it. You might try books that you normally wouldn’t.

I confess that I have been listening to self-help books more than I used to (don’t judge me).  They don’t require the same level of concentration when walking the dogs as, say, War and Peace.

Video link: George Carlin on self-help books (Viewer discretion is advised.)

If you are not using your public library, you might fail to discover something that you really enjoy.

“Get the Most from Your Public Library” conclusion

Do you pay any taxes? I thought that you might.  Why would you not take advantage of a resource that you paid for?  Libraries have so much more to offer than physical lending. Give it a try, you might like it.

There are seven billion people on this world and many of them are creating fascinating content.  Much of this content is available through your public library; you don’t need to spend much on media if you do not want to.

Related post: Spending less on TV: How to survive cutting the cord

homemade pizza simplicity

Want to toss pizza night up to new heights but your budget is stretched thin? Gourmet pizzeria prices leaving you cheesed off?  Is there a way to stretch your dough and still raise your pizza expectations?

Pizza at home is a slice above when you make your own dough and sauce and experiment with toppings.  This method for homemade pizza simplicity is cheap, easy, and fast.

homemade pizza simplicity ingredients
Save some scratch by starting from scratch.

Make your own dough for homemade pizza simplicity

Making a delicious dough that can even be accomplished on a weeknight is the key to homemade pizza simplicity.  You can make pizza dough that is ready for the oven in less than an hour.  Of course, yeast, water, salt, sugar, and flour cost next to nothing.  I often get my basic staples at Aldi where they are even cheaper.

Related post: Is Aldi Worth an Extra Trip?

To a large bowl add…

  1. 1.25 cups warm water
  2. 1.5 teaspoons sugar (dissolve by stirring)
  3. .25 ounces (2.25 teaspoons) active dry yeast (give a gentle stir to moisten the yeast cells)
  4. Allow the mix to rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Then add 3 cups flour (you can add some whole wheat etc. for texture)
  6. 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  7. Mix together for 2 minutes (I use a stand mixer with a dough hook, but kneading works).
  8. Then add 1 teaspoon olive oil (lubricating the mixing a bit)
  9. Mix or knead for another 6 minutes or so.
  10. Place the dough in an oily bowl and cover it.  A warm spot will speed rising.
  11. Allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes or so.
homemade pizza simplicity dough
Ready to mix in the flour
homemade pizza simplicity rising dough
Rising dough; The dough on the left is %50 whole wheat.

Homemade pizza simplicity: pizza sauce

Making your own sauce is easy and yields a healthier product. You have complete control over sugar, salt, and additives.  Even if you only used uncooked, crushed tomato as your sauce, it would still tastes pretty good, so don’t worry about messing it up.  You can decide the amount of oregano, basil, garlic, etc.  If you want to get adventurous, there are a lot of unconventional sauce ideas to try.

pizza toppings

Recipe

  1. Add the tomatoes. I like to use canned, crushed tomatoes with no salt added when tomatoes are out of season. You can add tomato paste if you like a thicker sauce.  The large can in the picture will make sauce for two pizzas.  If you are watching your sodium intake, pay attention when buy canned tomatoes.
  2. Olive oil (a couple table spoons)
  3. Seasoning (basil, fresh garlic, oregano, etc… to taste)
  4. Simmer for a while and taste it a couple of times.  Simmer the sauce while your dough is rising so the flavors can meld and some moisture can evaporate.
simmering pizza sauce for homemade pizza
I use a garlic press. Cut off the extruded garlic as you press.

If you really want homemade pizza simplicity, you don’t even have to make a true sauce.  Slice some tomatoes (thin) and allow some of the moisture to drip out of the slices.  Then spread them out on the pizza dough with some olive oil and Italian seasonings – very fresh and tasty.

You could also make a pesto sauce that is ready in thirty minutes.

Put it all together

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (a little lower for thicker crust).

Oil your pan. Almost any kind of cooking tray or pan will work; you don’t need to go out and buy something just for pizza.

Spread the dough. Decide if you want thin, hand-tossed, thick, whatever.  Sprinkle some flour on your prep. surface and hands.  Stretch the dough out from the center with your finger tips and the heels of your palms.  Flip the dough over once or twice while you do this.  Once the dough is close to your desired shape, flop it onto the cookware and give a final shaping.

pizza tossing for homemade pizza simplicity
Don’t try this at home unless you have extra doughs.

Chop all your desired ingredients. This is my favorite part and works best with a glass of wine and good company.  I always keep some marinated veggies, canned olives, red onions, anchovies, etc. on hand.  Remember that a large quantity of fresh veggies will release a lot of moisture and could make your pizza soggy.

Add the sauce, cheese, and toppings. Go easy on the cheese and sauce; you don’t need too much.  When the cheese melts, it will seem like more and you can always put extra sauce in the freezer.

Put the pizza in the oven.  If you have convection, use it.

chopping pizza toppings

cleaning up a kitchen mess
Keep a cocker spaniel handy to clean up and mishaps.
homemade pizza simplicity pans
Any pan will do. I used a broiler pan for the thin crust and a skillet for the deep dish.  These pizzas are ready for the oven.

How do you know when your homemade pizza simplicity is ready to eat? When the pizza looks done (top and bottom) it is done.

NOTE: No matter how great your oven is, cooking two pizzas at the same time can cause them to cook unevenly.  If they are side-by-side, it is not so bad, but if they are on different racks at the same time, it can cause problems (e.g., the top is burned and the bottom is doughy).

finished homemade pizza
These pizzas are ready to party.

Homemade pizza simplicity conclusion

If you call a gourmet pizzeria when you want to have a fancier pizza night, you could end up dropping a nice chunk of cash.  Bargain pizza tends to be bit gross.  Pizza is supposed to be cheap but also good.  When you take the time to make your own pizza from scratch, the difference is easy to taste.  You have complete control over the ingredients, the recipe, and the costs.

Homemade pizza simplicity means that you can get creative.  I recommend trying eggs and bacon pizza.  Fry the bacon first and then plop three or four eggs on the top of the pizza when it is about half-way done – I love it.

How do you like your pizza? Any bizarre combinations that I should try? Please leave a comment.

 

eagles parade on broad street

A free event for a priceless memory

Perhaps you wondered how I would find a way to brag about the world champion Philadelphia Eagles in my blog about being cheap.  Well, wonder no more.

While I spent a tidy sum hosting a Superbowl LII party, the total cost of attending the parade was only $10.  (My wife was kind enough to attain a one-day public transportation pass for me on her lunch break.) That’s it.  We didn’t spend any other money as she was able to use her monthly pass.  My buddy was willing to walk the dogs for me (Thanks, Tony!) We packed lunches and were able to visit some friends downtown to get warm for a while.

We did spend many hours waiting in line and standing in the cold, but it was well worth it to party for 15 minutes with my world champion Philadelphia Eagles and a million of my closest friends.

Cheapist Hall of Shame: I did not get my free Bud Light.  The bars, as you can imagine, were totally bonkers, even when they opened at nine AM.

jason kelce on broad street
Center Jason Kelce was the parade MVP in his snazzy mummer outfit.  Check out his epic, WWE-worthy celebration speech.

What does this mean for you?

If your city or region is having an incredible event, find a way to participate.  Just walking about can be immensely entertaining.  Another example comes to mind, my wife decided our thanksgiving party should go to the Philadelphia Christmas tree lighting with live music and holiday goodies; it was great.  The best parts of these events are the people watching, excitement, and positive vibes.  You don’t have to pay for a cruise, concert, resort, theme park, etc. to be included in a joyous crowd.

eagles parade float
Look at the spectators on the building.  No, the building on 13th street, in the far upper right of this picture.
doug pederson holding trophy
Doug Pederson looks pretty comfortable holding the Lombardi trophy aloft for a few hours.
spectators at eagles parade
“Let’s do this again next year.”