Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Legit free stuff part 3: get a job...with benefits

If you're reading this, you probably aren't pulling down a great deal of cash, even if you are working. The paradox of being poor is that you can quite literally work your ass off and at the end of the day, still not have enough for groceries.

Most students work part-time, so getting stuff like health benefits and sick pay are pretty unlikely. But there are plenty of places to work that might give you an increase in your quality of life by providing other random benefits.

restaurants, cafes and food shops
...will usually at least give you a discount, or one free meal per shift. Many places like bakeries and cafes often have a lot of unsellable food left over at the end of the day. This can be a great source of food (whether they let you take it, or you fish it out of the dumpster later.)

warehouses (or the offices connected to them)
Especially if they're dealing with perishables, stuff past its "freshness date" or anything with damaged packaging often gets hucked, or left out for employees to take. I worked for a tea retailer for 2 years, and my closets are still overflowing with unopened packages of high quality loose tea (plus some random chipped teaware and other goodies.) I may not be able to live on tea, but I do drink it all the time, and it can also be swapped to friends for more useful things.

Have a cup on me.

office jobs
Okay, don't be that guy that steals office supplies, but you can often find useful stuff that's being tossed out, especially at places that turn over electronics like it's their religion. An office job can also be a decent source of free food; even if they aren't providing free donuts or whatnot, people often leave extra stuff for anyone to take in break rooms.

These are just my experiences, I know people who get free clothes, free catered food, free travel... Has anyone gotten anything totally amazing for free from their job?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spend less part 2: Learn some new skills

It always saddens me when I see people without what I consider to be very basic life skills. Sewing buttons or tears in clothing. Cooking a simple meal. Doing laundry. (I once had a friend ask if I would help her put her dirty clothes in the dryer. Not only did she not know how to do her own laundry, I don't think she even understood the concept.)

Got those skills down, you say? Awesome. It's time to go to a more advanced level. One of the most useful things you could learn is how to cut hair—specifically your own. I have never paid for a haircut in my entire life. It's far easier to cut long hair than it is short, but if you're feeling adventurous, get a buzzer and start messing around. Mohawks, Chelseas, and just plain old buzzcuts are totally sweet, and garner a great deal of attention (if you can handle that.)

You too could look this awesome.

If you don't trust yourself with scissors, make friends with a beauty student, or call around salons asking if they need hair models—a lot of apprentice hair stylists will cut and style (and even color) your hair for free to get practise. I got an awesome free haircut from Vidal Sassoon this way.

Other skills that have the potential to save you money include:
  • electronic building and repair (you most likely have a computer—start by figuring out what all the sparkly stuff inside it does.)
  • sewing, cooking, and baking (you know, home ec stuff)
  • handicrafts—especially building stuff. Even if it's just a stack of free boxes that you turned into a coffee table. Still a free coffee table.
There are tons of how-tos and learning resources online—start using them! (Hey, maybe I'll even tell you how to do something eventually.) What other random skills have you found helpful in tough times?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Spend less part 1: Unnecessities

Most Americans have been brainwashed into thinking A. their wants are actually needs, and B. they are entitled to all of those supposed "needs". Time to let go of that and realize that living simply actually means "living happier and more awesome". As a bonus, using less disposable stuff not only saves you money, it is also more eco-friendly (funny how the two seem to collide so often.)

Here is an incomplete list of things you do not need to buy, ever:

air freshener
I hate that people have been tricked into thinking that "trying to cover up the smell of the garbage you haven't taken out in 2 weeks with sickly, chemically flower scent" is the same thing as "cleaning". Just keep your hovel relatively clean, open a damn window, and never buy that shit again.

fancy toilet paper
Just buy the cheap, regular stuff. It still functions, and also is less likely to fill your bathroom with squeezably-soft fuzzy toilet paper lint.

Would you like some caviar with that?

"facial tissues"
Use toilet paper.

paper towels/napkins
Use cloth. No, I'm serious. Cut up an old t-shirt, use to clean, mop, dry hands, etc, and have a bin (or pile) in your kitchen for the dirty ones. Wash them with the other dirty towels. Same goes for stuff like paper plates, etc.

any bathroom/kitchen cleanser that is not baking soda/vinegar
Not only clean, but deodorized and toxic chemical-free. I'll eventually devote an entire post to all the things you can do with these two common items, but for now, try this instead using of scrubbing cleansers and the like: Sprinkle baking soda, splash on a bit of vinegar, delight in the cool fizzy action, then scrub and rinse.

bottled water
There are people who would be amazed if clean, drinkable water came out of a faucet in their house. Get a reusable bottle and learn to love your tap water.

Take all your mail and harvest the envelopes. Black out the old addresses and glue some new labels on top of them. Tape or glue the flaps. Or fold a sheet of recycled paper in thirds and tape the ends. Use grocery bag paper, wrapping paper, etc. You get the idea. There are also plenty of online tutorials for making your own fancy, "real" envelopes. Get creative. Save all bubble envelopes and packing you get in the mail, too.

If you're in college or work in an office, you probably have a lot of handouts and memos printed on only one side. Take all your old ones, flip to the clean side, staple or sew together. If you're crafty, you can even bind them into real books.

plastic storage containers
Use shoe boxes, shipping boxes, or hell, even garbage bags to organize your closets. A Sharpie works wonders for labeling.

Know of any more things that can be deleted from your life? Comment! Let me know if I have permission to post them later (with credit to you, of course!)

Legit free stuff part 2: swagbucks

Simple premise: sign up for free, use their google-powered search engine, earn points. Exchange the points for prizes. This is one of those things that seems too good to be true, but I've got $15 in gift cards to prove otherwise.

Ignore most of the site. The best way to rack up points without ever touching your credit card is to use their search engine. You get various bonuses here and there, and they offer limited-time codes usually at least once per day to get even more points. They have a whole "offers" section, too, and there are a few easy, free ones, but using the search engine is still your best bet.

The best way to get points is to just search for stuff like your normally would. I find it's willing to cough up points every 6-8 hours. Search, and if nothing shows up, change your terms and search again. If after 2-3 tries nothing happens, wait a few hours and try again. The most popular prize is naturally the $5 e-giftcard - shouldn't take more than a month to get enough points for one. (Remember that you can get _food_ on, as well as, you know, just about anything on the planet.)

If you happen to be doing some online shopping with, say, (which is by itself a surprisingly great resource for random cheap/free stuff...but more on that later), start by clicking through their "shop and earn" section, and you'll get 2 points per dollar spent...eventually (it takes about 3-4 weeks for the points to actually post. But hey, it's something.)

Legit free stuff part 1: free sample sites

Okay, let's start with this, because it's the most fun part of being broke. You get to go on treasure hunts!

You probably remember a time when a random free sample came in the mail. How awesome that day was. It doesn't even matter if it was cereal, laundry soap, whatever. You got a pint-sized product without having to do a damn thing. It is possible to get all kinds of random free stuff (even full-size products), with new offers popping up practically everyday. The two most solid resources for this are:

Hey it's free
Sweet free stuff

These sites are the only ones I go to - no spam, no spyware, no fake "free" offers where you have to provide credit card info...just actual free samples from legit sources (usually big name brands and companies rolling out new products.) There is a bit of cross-over between the two sites, but sometimes they do post different stuff, so I like to check both every few days. They also each have their own Twitter feed, so you'll never miss a chance for something free.

In the past 5 years I've gotten enough random free samples to fill a bathtub (I seriously cannot remember the last time I had to buy shampoo), and that tiny tube of toothpaste can really come in handy when you run out and aren't getting paid for another week.

Remember that everything I post here is personally tested. I have not noticed any increase in spam or junk mail from signing up for these offers, but you do usually have to provide an email address. I recommend you make a hotmail (etc) account just for this purpose. But most places don't even email you.


Welcome to Broke Sandwich. Please exercise patience while I fiddle with the layout and graphics.

My goal for this blog is to offer practical, awesome, self-tested (and legal) tips for saving money, getting stuff for free, and getting extra money out of seemingly thin air. All from experience I've personally gathered from growing up not-exactly-rich, working a job I love for shite pay, going to college at the same time, and living in one of the most expensive cities in the US.

Most of the "money-saving tips" sites out there are for people with kids, and mortgages, and cars, who don't want to give up their weekly manicure, not people to whom "slice of pizza that has been sitting there for like, 3 days" is a totally viable meal option, and had to pillage the couch cushions for change to take the bus to work. There's no real point in planning a budget when your bank account has 7 cents in it.

It isn't always easy, but I somehow manage get by with a take-home pay of around $800/month (with monthly rent of $750.) My dad used to tell me about when he lived in England, he and his friends would have "wish sandwiches" - take two slices of bread and wish you had some meat. We're going to get creative here.

In the meantime, check out some of the sidebar links for a start on some free resources.