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How To Live On Less Money (And Still Have a Great Life!) - Part 1

Updated on June 7, 2019
Li Galo profile image

Li Galo is a hobby writer, a published poet, and former columnist. Li moved from print publication to online publication several years ago.

The New Times Mean Less Dollar Value

It used to be that you could easily feed the whole family of four for less than ten dollars, you could fill up your tank for $30, you could enjoy a night at the movies with a date for $20 (including the popcorn and sodas). But the dollar value is lower now and that that changes everything. The value of the dollar measures it's buying power. What you can buy now with one dollar is very different from what you could buy with that one dollar only ten years ago. Something happened about ten years ago... the Great Recession. For most of America, we never recovered and are still as down as we were when we hit that low.

For most people, the Great Recession has meant a new way of life - a more frugal way of life. Gone is the daily Frappucino, weekend trips to ski, and just taking drives for an hour or two for no apparent reason other than to look at the trees.

Or is that truly the case? Does that mean that gone are the old comforts and indulgences of before? Are the good old days over? Well, that's not entirely true. However, how you go about achieving those same comforts and indulgences is like taking a detour instead of the expressway. You are on a whole new stretch of road but you will still arrive at the same destination.

In part one of this two part article, we will explore options to pay utilities and to enjoy dining at low or no cost.

Utilities Paid By Others?

After a bit of research, I found out that there are agencies (which ones vary state to state and county by county) that will actually pay in full or partially the electric bills of financially challenged people. There is some paperwork to complete but it is insignificant to the savings. Where I researched, some paid bills were as high as $700! While almost all agencies had a policy of one time or only a few times a year, this type of utility assistance was unheard of to me until I researched it. In California, where I write, the name of two organizations are LHeap and Cares and you can contact PG&E for more information on them. Each program is for a certain type of utility consumer. Many churches will also assist with utility payments by writing a direct check from the bank to the utility company.

There is an option for opting out of electrical use that we have all heard of: solar power. In the past, this was prohibitively expensive and not available widely. However, as the solar movement continues to grow, so too does the affordability and available of this choice. Putting up solar panels can be an upfront cost but once paid off means you'll never have another electrical bill. The other good news to the growing industry is that now, in some parts of the USA, solar panel companies will install your panels and allow you to pay them off in monthly payments instead of having to pay for it all upfront. A few select states even offer a rebate program for homeowners that elect to go solar, which is generated at tax time. You will need to seek out your local providers.

If you are challenged to pay your phone bill, AT&T offers a land line that is approximately $15 a month (depends on your state) for basic emergency phone line service.

Some internet providers also provide a low-income option of $15-20 per month. In California, one of the companies offering this option is Comcast. This way, your family can stay connected to hunt for new job openings, conduct research for your daughter's school paper due, or seek out the discounts and deals below for free or discounted dining and slashed prices on retail items.

Free Groceries For The Needy

I once had a payroll glitch at my workplace and I wasn't paid for four weeks! Since I didn't want to touch my little savings or take a payday loan, I went with a friend to a food bank. I thought I would see many homeless people or addicts but that wasn't the case. Most of the people in the lines were people who were hard-working and came from the middle class. I also thought the food would be of poor quality. I was surprised to receive organic food from Trader Joe's and pastries from Starbucks. This was exactly the kind of food I purchased when my payroll department wasn't trying to conduct a starvation test on me.

After that experience, I realized that, while it may not be a necessity for me, those who are suffering financially need not be troubled about going to a food bank. The people running the places that give out free food are generally kind. The food is often top quality. When I received my back pay, I gladly purchased food to donate to the same food bank that had helped me out when I was in a pinch. This is a viable option for people who are struggling to make payments or rent and find themselves forced to choose between food and bills.

Free Dining Does Exist But Low Cost Options Abound

There are free meals for you on your birthday at major restaurants. Sometimes, instead of a free meal, a discounted meal is offered instead. For families, children eat free at participating restaurants on certain nights of the week, during certain hours, with one adult meal purchased. This can allow a family to enjoy eating out without the expense that would stop them from trying. So, instead of paying for six people, two parents can take our their four young children for a family meal for the price of only themselves. Four free entrees is a deal!

To participate in these programs, all you have to do is sign up online or in person. However, there are some cases where all you have to do is show up. The dates can change for major food chains but they regularly offer free promotionals. Here are some budget-friendly restaurants offering these services:

  • Denny's
  • Applebee's
  • Carrow's

You can also "like" a restaurant on Facebook and receive a free item or meal for "liking" them. Some participating restaurants include:

  • Wendy's
  • Arby's

Happy Birthday to You! (free items)

  • Starbucks

Of course, the least expensive way to dine is to eat in or potluck with friends and family. In the story of Stone Soup, a peddler offers a group of poor villagers (so poor that they don't want to share the last of their food supplies with the stranger) the most fantastic soup ever - just from a stone. Every so often, when a curious villager passes by, he mentions how much better his soup would taste if it had a potato, a carrot, onions, etc. Little by little, each villager contributes a small amount and collectively, they make a fantastic meal for all to share.

So, if it's your son's birthday and you don't think you can afford that birthday party, make it a potluck with family and bake that cake from scratch! With a little effort and determination, you can all have the same amount of fun, without breaking the bank. I recently threw a party at a playground for two dozen people and baked two cakes from box mixes. Each person who came to the party brought a small amount of food (about $5 worth). We set it all up on the park table and set up our own fold up chairs in the shade with a few blankets for the kids. Total cost for the party food? $20! The entertainment: a playground and our own conversation. End result: a great time by all.

Printable Coupons For Grocery Items Saves You Ten to Twenty Dollars Each Visit... Or More!

Have you heard of the amazing grocery shoppers who save hundreds of dollars per visit? That is not fake. You can do some great savings while shopping if you also seek out coupons for your items. Some grocery stores offer double couponing (doubling the value of the coupon). Some grocery stores accept any other grocery store's coupons. Some grocery stores only offer specials to people who sign up for them on their online website.

Dumpster Diving Is Legal In Most Cities - But Check Your Laws!

Free Groceries

There's a whole new breed of grocery shopper that gets almost all food for free from dumpster diving. This trend is more common in some parts of the nation than others. The grocery stores often must throw away very good quality food due to health laws. Even if they donate some food to homeless shelters and food banks, they often still throw away other food that they do not want to donate. The dumpster divers rise at about 2am and seek out these dumpsters to get their food. However, other dumpster divers, like the one in the bottom video below, go dumpster diving in the daytime and just leave if a big truck pulls up to the grocery store. Though managers of these stores do not want dumpster divers, for insurance liability reasons and due to worry of injuries, they generally do not call the police but rather ask the dumpster divers to move on. These dumpster divers are not always impoverished people. Many of them are from the middle class. While not appealing as an option for most people, it is a practice some participate in and it's part of a growing movement. There are even organized dumpster-diving groups that meet and visit these dumpsters collectively. There is usually so much food thrown away that there is enough food available to all of the group members.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Li Galo


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