Living well on less often means taking advantage of situations to the best of your ability.  I don’t mean being greedy or doing illegal things, but I do mean taking and using what’s available to you each and every time.

Getting free food

For example, the office where I work is adminstered by a property management company.  Every day or so, the secretary will put out cookies and sometimes fruits and other snacks in the communal kitchen.  Whenever I see cookies, I take one.  Whenever I see fruit, I take one.  It doesn’t matter if I’m hungry at that moment or not, I still make sure to take one.  Why?  Well, later in the day when my energy starts to sag, I will eat that cookie instead of wasting time daydreaming about snacks or spending money on a bag of chips.  The next day I can eat the fruit that I snagged instead of bringing one from home.  Both of these small actions save me money by simply taking advantage of a small benefit – free snacks and cookies – that my building offers.

I also go to monthly user groups for people interested in bioinformatics (computational biology).  At the end of the seminar, the group provides free pizza to encourage people to stay and network.  There’s always 15 or so boxes of pizza for 10-30 individuals.  I always take 2-3 slices.  I eat 1-2 and save the rest for my lunch the next day.  I don’t try to take an entire pizza, or even half a pizza, but I do take a reasonable amount which allows me to have a free dinner and a free lunch the next day.

Getting free household goods

I usually hang on to coupons until I can get something for very little or preferably free.  I don’t often use coupons in my day-to-day grocery shopping because most of the items I buy are store-brand or consist of fresh produce.  But once in a while, I’ll grab something on sale using a coupon, if it’s really really worth it.  In the last three months alone, I’ve picked up Ziploc bags, toothpaste, toothbrushes and vitamins for free.  The Ziploc bags were $2 each and I had a coupon for $4 off when you buy 2.  The vitamins for $10 on sale and I had a coupon for $10 off.

I saved about $50 by using coupons on these items at the right time.  I don’t go all out and get 10 boxes of Ziploc bags or 15 tubes of toothpaste.  I usually get 1 or 2 of each free item – just enough to save me some money that’s better spent elsewhere.

I also always request free samples directly from companies, whenever they are offered.  For example, Proctor and Gamble give away samples of their products every month or two.  You can get travel sized samples mailed directly to your home with very little effort on your part.  These products are great for the suitcase or gym bag, plus, they come in handy if you suddenly find yourself short on shampoo or detergent!  Sure, you usually have to sign up for spam and advertisements, but if you have an email address dedicated to receiving this kind of thing, it shouldn’t impact your “real” email.  RedFlagDeals in Canada is a great site to keep up to date on freebies like the P&G giveaways.

Getting free medications, classes and dental work

I’m also a big advocate of maxing out your work benefits.  People often neglect their benefits, but they are an important part of your compensation.  When I decided to leave my job and go back to school I didn’t just quit.  I bought a supply of contact lenses and medications, covered by work benefits.  I took as many classes at the university as I could take, fully covered by work benefits.  I even had my teeth straightened – a $3000 benefit! – courtesy of work.

If I didn’t use these benefits, I would have had to spend thousands of dollars of my own money.

Many work places also offer benefits for massage therapists, physical therapy and counseling.  How many times have you had a nagging pain in your back or felt stressed out and wanted to talk to a professional?  Why not go to a therapist, courtesy of your workplace?

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Taking advantage of situations saves money and often prevents things from simply going to waste.  Where in you own life can you take advantage of situations?

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