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Live Wisely, Live Cheaply, Self Sufficiency

Updated on January 26, 2012

Self Sufficiency For The Beginner

When I purchased an unfinished cabin with no electricity or water on 5 acres in New Mexico, I intended to live as self sufficiently as possible having never lived that way before. I had always dreamed of living the simplest life I could to not only reduce my bills and obligations but to reduce my impact on the Earth. And I did it on an income of only $6,000 a year.

I have researched many ideas and techniques for living wisely and experimented with a few inventions of my own. While I am still learning and open to anything that will achieve my goals, I believe I am almost there. Here are a few things I do to save money, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

1) Use your local library for free Internet access, books, videos, and CDs. Try to trade books, DVDs, CDs and more.

2) Use a pay-as-you-go cell phone like TracPhone to purchase as many minutes as you want which eliminates monthly bills and unused minutes.

3) Since I don't have a refrigerator, I don't buy expensive condiments. Instead, I grab a handful of small, prepackaged ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce packets whenever I go to a fast food restaurant. Who says you can't use 20 ketchup packets on your French fries? I do. Seriously.

4) Cook outside with wood on a campfire or BBQ if you can.

5) Take advantage of anything that is free such as magazine, food, or product trial offers and wooden pallets from newspaper publishers for firewood or lumber. Even if you don't think you can use it, take it because you never know. Also, you may be able to trade it for something you can use later.

6) "Dumpster Diving" is a stretch for most of us but it doesn't have to be taken literally. Sometimes, someone leaves something next to his trash with the hopes that someone will take it. Be careful about this because it's often illegal to scavenge from trash.

7) Purchase items from thrift shops, flea markets, and garage sales. Most items don't have to be new.

8) Enter as many sweepstakes as you can. I won 3 yards of gravel that I needed for my driveway.

9) Decorate your house with meaningful found and natural objects such as pinecones, antlers, fossils, artifacts (obtained legally), shells, beans, and so on.

10) Forage for food. Treats that can be found in nature include pine nuts; mushrooms, berries, and onions (know what you're eating, get a guidebook at the library); herbs; edible flowers; and prickly pear cacti. I make a nice tea by brewing pine needles in a solar tea jar.

11) Forage for medicine. Natural remedies include Mormon tea for a stuffy nose; yarrow for a laxative, and juniper berries for the urinary tract (get a guidebook at the library).

12) Ride your bike or walk when possible to save gas money. Carpool if you can.

13) Save electricity. Turn off lights and power to appliances not in use.

14) Heat and cook with wood.

15) Wear weather appropriate clothing. Short sleeves in a snowstorm won't cut it.

16) Create an energy efficient home:

A. Install insulated glass windows that will open for ventilation.

B. Insulate walls, floors, and ceilings.

C. Install skylights for natural light.

D. Use ceiling fans.

E. Get a wood stove with a blower to make it more efficient.

F. Seal cracks to prevent drafts.

G. Tint windows that receive direct sun and/or cover with awnings.

H. Skirt the foundation of your house.

I. Use LED and halogen light bulbs.

J. Be creative. Instead of using an electric coffee maker, I place a funnel

over a cup, put a filter in the funnel, fill the filter with coffee, and pour

boiling water over it.

K. Place an EcoFan on your wood stove to direct heat.

L. If you are building a house in a cold climate, make it a passive solar

house that uses the sun to naturally heat your home.

M. If you are building a house in a hot climate, make it an "earth-ship" and

consider building some of the house underground for cooling.

N. Use a wind up clock and other manual gadgets such as coffee grinders and hand- crank blenders.

17) Sweep instead of vacuum.

18) Use the sun to dry your laundry on a clothesline. Consider buying a horizontal axis washing machine. The brave might want to consider hand-washing clothes.

19) Consider a tankless water heater that uses less gas.

20) Live without a refrigerator. Many items such as peanut butter, soy sauce, and coffee don't have to be refrigerated. Buy items that don't need refrigerating such as dry, powdered, canned, or dehydrated.

21) Use solar powered outdoor lighting, battery chargers, and other electricity munchers.

22) Use a solar shower to heat water or a solar water heating system.

23) Use rechargeable batteries.

24) Use your cat as a pest exterminator instead of expensive, toxic poisons.

25) Use natural ingredients to exterminate pests that the cat can't like cayenne pepper for ants and diatomaceous earth for slugs and grasshoppers. Place cedar in closets to control moths.

26) Allow beneficial bugs, bats, and lizards to exterminate pests.

27) If you have a talent or hobby that can make money for you, do it.

28) Harvest seeds and cuttings from your garden to sow next spring instead of buying new every year.

29) If you're inclined, make your own clothes.

30) Beg, borrow, but don't steal. If your neighbor has something you need, ask to borrow it so that you don't have to buy it.

31) Donate your car for a tax write off.

32) Grow your own fruits and vegetables.

33) Become a vegetarian. Vegetarian foods tend to cost less than meat based foods.

34) Hunt your own meat. Catch your own fish.

35) Purchase gadgets and gizmos that are eco-friendly and save money such as solar ovens/showers and push lawn mowers. Research companies that sell items like these such as Real Goods. Look at magazines such as "Mother Earth News."

36) Trade items.

37) Consider using a human powered generator that uses bicycle pedals.

38) Hand wash and dry your dishes.

39) Consider edible landscaping by using fruit trees and other edible plants such as strawberry, peppers, and beans.

40) Make lifestyle changes that eliminate the need for too much car travel which burns gas and money.

41) Buy food and household items in bulk to reduce packaging waste and costs.

42) Buy recyclable items to reduce waste.

43) Use cloth instead of paper towels.

44) Use canvas shopping bags to reduce the need for plastic an paper.

45) Save and filter gray water to sustain your garden and plants. Use biodegradable products such a toothpaste, shampoos, and soaps that will break down quickly.

46) Compost green, vegetative land and kitchen waste for added garden nutrients. Place fireplace ashes in your garden to raise the pH level. Dilute sterile urine with water and pour onto soil to add nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

47) Consider using a composting or incinerating toilet, which will also save water.

48) Harvest and store rainwater for washing.

49) Plastic Containers:

A. Plastic food bags can be washed and reused. Make a bag dryer by sticking three sticks in to a block of wood. Or use a plastic reusable container instead of bags, they last longer.

B. Use plastic grocery bags that you get stuck with at the checkout for trash bags or organizing recyclables. Somehow these bags reproduce faster than you can use them so return the excess to the store for recycling.

C. Use plastic soda bottles cleaned thoroughly as water bottles for hiking and biking.

D. Use film canisters as small seed containers or jewelry boxes.

E. Reuse plastic cups, plates, and utensils. They don't have to be used only once.

F. Reuse plastic containers to start seedlings or grow plants.

G. Use every drop of shampoo or other products left in bottles. Sometimes you can squeeze out a few more uses. Staying in a motel? Take and/or use the shampoo, soap, lotion,etc.. that is provided in the room. Why not? You paid for it.

50) Glass Containers:

A. Use glass jars for sturdy storage needs, mixing paints and stains, or storing anything caustic that can not be put in to plastic. Of course, any chemical, gas or oil that is used should be properly disposed. I never allow toxins to seep in to my soil or go to a landfill. You can also donate leftover paint to organizations that use it for low income housing or covering graffiti.

B. I use a large glass jar such as a pickle jar for making sun tea.

C. Use medium glass jars for canning fruits and vegetables.

D. Use small glass jars for storing herbs, spices, peppers, salt, and sugar.

E. I use interesting glass jars as lamp oil lanterns by poking a hole in the lid and sticking a wick through the hole in to the oil.

F. I purchase beer in recappable bottles for bottling my own beer.

G. I use wine bottles to store beans, rice, and pasta but they also make great candleholders.

51) Use metal cans for organizing nails, screws, or just about anything.

52) Styrofoam:

A. Reuse cups and plates after washing if you're not too picky about your dinnerware or use them as picnicware.

B. Reuse "Doggie bag" boxes after dinner parties to send food home with your guests.

C. Reuse packaging "peanuts."

D. With excellent insulating qualities, use Styrofoam for insulating small spaces. Be careful where you place Styrofoam because it can be flammable.

53) Paper:

A. Reuse paper that only has writing on one side as scratch paper.

B. Reuse Manilla envelopes and boxes by removing labels or turning them inside out. This can be done with boxes too.

C. Save the wire from old spiral notebooks for future projects.

D. My local library has a box where people can put unwanted magazines, books, and newspapers for other people to take and enjoy.

E. Donate used greeting cards to charities that reuse card fronts by attaching them to new backs.

F. Take newspaper and cardboard to recyclers.

G. Make your own pulp and paper from used notebooks, newspapers, or copy paper.

H. Save scrap lumber for future building projects or firewood (if safe from chemicals).

54) Donate unwanted items to charities. Find a home for everything!

55) Donate packaging "peanuts" and bubble wrap to places like Mail Boxes Etc.

56) Donate eyeglasses to Lions Clubs or eyeglass stores.

57) Donate cell phones to organizations that reactivate them and give them to victims of domestic violence.

58) Food:

A. Soft, black bananas or other over ripened fruit can be mashed and frozen for use in breads and puddings.

B. Freeze the juice from over ripened fruit for frozen treats.

C. Make and freeze a broth made from iffy vegetables or leftover bones and shells.

D. Stale bread coated with butter and garlic can be toasted in the oven for tasty croutons or breadcrumbs. Or put stale bread outside for wild birds and squirrels. They need a little help too.

E. Fry dry tortillas in vegetable oil and coat with cinnamon and sugar for scrumptious sopapillas. Or, dab with salt for tortilla chips.

F. Eat leftovers.

G. Eat from the cheap menu at a fast food restaurant. Taco Bell and McDonalds have them.

59) Reuse long matches. Just because you use it once doesn't mean throw it away.

60) Reuse aluminum foil or recycle it at the very least.

61) Buy items that can be recycled and do it. Remember, some items like aluminum and steel cans are cash back.

62) Use the sun to generate electricity for your appliances and lights with a solar system.

63) Use the wind to generate additional electricity at night.

64) Use rechargeable batteries and recycle when necessary.

65) Harvest firewood for heating and cooking.

66) I use a wood chipper to recycle chips in to compost, mulch, cat litter, and even a mud free walkway around my cabin.

67) Take your nonworking oven, washer, dryer, or other large steel appliances to a steel recycler.

68) Give working appliance to charities.

69) Take car batteries and used oil to recyclers like Autozone.

70) Buy products made from recyclables such as tires, plastic milk jugs, paper, and glass.

71) Buy towels made from cloth flour sacks.

72) Try websites like,,, and other reuse groups to search for items folks are giving away for free or wanting to barter.

73) Try websites like to find clothing for no or low cost.

74) Planning to travel but don't like high motel prices? Try couch surfing. Websites like provide lodging opportunities. Stay at a hostel.

75) Want free alcoholic drinks? Try websites like

76) Need a favor or have a skill to trade for something you need done? Try websites like

77) Sell unwanted items on websites like Ebay and craigslist. Do you really need all that stuff?

78) Be creative with old items. Example: Make a bird-bath from your old satellite dish.

79) Use coupons (newspaper and Internet) for nongeneric brands. Buy generic whenever possible. Coupons in some places can be doubled or tripled. Some people get coupons from websites that provide an abundance of them. Some people use coupons with in store discounts to get most of their items for free. Be diligent. I've seen a $1,000 grocery bill reduced to $50 with the use of coupons and store discounts.

80) Check out stores like Habitat For Humanity to find used building and home improvement materials. Try to salvage. Some folks will give away old barn wood and lumber for free like on

81) Adopt pets from the ASPCA or other agencies. Spending money on pure bred animals contributes to poor breeding with pets having expensive health problems and kills pets waiting for homes in shelters. So many animals are abandoned and can be adopted for little or no cost. There are even agencies that deal in the adoption of pure bred animals if you simply must have a specific breed. Search the Internet for these agencies. Pick a pet that is healthy and as a breed does not tend to have specific health problems. This will keep your vet bills low. Pick pets that require very little grooming which will keep grooming bills low. Groom the pet yourself, it's much cheaper.

82) Search public fields/open wild spaces for abandoned/lost items, useable "trash", valuable natural objects, and money making recycling items like metal cans.

83) Pick up items you find on streets and in parking lots. You may need it or can donate it plus you help make these places cleaner. Pick up that penny on the ground, no need for pride.

84) Never pay full price for anything! If you wait long enough, you will find it discounted. If not, wait for rebates. Or consider buying it used. Remember, patience is a virtue.

**Please see my other article, "Salvaging Unwanted Treasure," for more.

Bamboo mulch around a pear tree made from bamboo I cut from my yard.
Bamboo mulch around a pear tree made from bamboo I cut from my yard.


Submit a Comment

  • Tanja Wanderlust profile image

    Tanja Wanderlust 

    7 years ago from planet earth

    Rally good hub, however i disagree about Couchsurfing being a "lodging opportunity". Even tough the name contains couch and that you go and stay with people, it is really not about that at all...

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    Quite intersting.Great hub.

  • profile image 

    11 years ago

    You have great comments, here is another energy saving idea

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 

    11 years ago from San Francisco

    This is a fantastic list. Thanks!!!

    Have you heard of the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (in Missouri)? I saw an episode of "30 Days" where it was profiled.


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