Scavenger nation: How to save money and skip a full-time job

That's what Kristan Lawson and Anneli Rufus do -- they routinely burrow through dumpsters and piles of stuff left on sidewalks. The couple, married for 20 years and living in the Bay Area, write books to pay the bills (and put a roof over their heads for they do own a house), but their full-time job is scavenging.

They say they save so much money doing it that Lawson hasn't worked a full-time job in over a decade, while Rufus never has. They co-authored a new book called The Scavengers' Manifesto to praise the culture of scavenging and offer tips on how to do it right. Salon.com writer Katharine Mieszkowski recently spent a day-long scavenger hunt with them in the cities of Berkeley and Oakland to find out how much cheap and free stuff is out there for the taking. Here are a few things I learned:
  • Bakeries regularly dump multiple, day-old loaves of bread in their dumpsters (Lawson came up with 15 loaves of artisan bread from a dumpster dive).
  • Companies often give out free product samples on college campuses to get students hooked (that's where Lawson scores his shaving cream).
  • Because I often time my lunch hour around when Costco offers its free food samples, I too am a scavenger.
  • You can amass a jewelry collection just by keeping your eyes peeled for anything glittering in gutters or branches.
  • Get your produce for cheap in the grocery store's discounted bin, where it's too bruised for the display cases but not dinged enough for the dumpster.
  • Cheap Corn Flakes abound now that Kellogg's dumped all the boxes with Michael Phelps' face on them.
  • Berkeley's Tilden Park is covered in Miner's Lettuce, a leafy green rich in Vitamin C.
However, the article shows that scavenging has a dark side -- and how true it is that some Bay Area residents live in a Fantasyland bubble cut off from the rest of the country.

While the three dig through free boxes of household goods on a residential street in Berkeley, a passer-by says they come from a foreclosed house, and Rufus says, 'That's a first for me.' Welcome to America, Anneli, where most are now used to the sight of boarded-up houses and tossed-out kitchenware that won't fit in the back of the moving van. Suddenly, the teddy-bear stickers Mieszkowski found for her two-year-old daughter don't seem like such a cheery gift.

Regardless, Lawson and Rufus say scavenging isn't just picking through the detritus of people kicked out of their homes. It ranges from coupon cutting and freecycling to yard sales and lunchtime in the Costco aisles, so we all essentially have a little scavenger in us, and that's not a bad thing.

Lawson and Rufus realize not everyone is okay wearing and eating someone else's castoffs, and they admit their scavenging lifestyle is one they willingly embrace. Says Lawson, "We're not saying we're better than regular consumers. We're simply trying to remove the stigma from being scavengers. If you want to be wasteful, be wasteful, and I'll scavenge."

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