How To Get Stuff For Cheap Or Free: 6 Ways To Live Lean

We’ve all heard of The Lean Startup, but how about the lean lifestyle? In the spirit of my month of Living Lean: The $100 Workweek, I thought I would share some tips and tricks on how to live lean, and get things on the cheap (or totally free!):

  1. Make friends with your neighbors that shares a wall (if in a high-rise), or your neighbors above and/or below you (if in a two or three-flat), and split the monthly internet bill. If your wi-fi isn’t password protected, chances are they are stealing your internet anyway, so might as well go halfzies on the cost. If you each live in a four-bedroom, imagine splitting the bill eight ways (or 12 ways if you go in with upstairs and downstairs). Obviously, the major concern is signal strength, but there are a couple homemade hacks you can employ to amplify your signal. Place your router in the middle of what you would consider the livable property for you both. Let’s say you both consider the living room as the place where you are most often in need of connection. If your living room is on the east side, and your upstairs neighbor’s living room is on the west side, you might want to pick the hallway of one of your apartments as the middle ground.

    To amplify your signal, there’s a variation of an old tin foil trick from the days of antenna-signal TV’s you can adopt.

    If you think splitting internet with your neighbor(s) won’t work, consider the fact that a) you probably have stolen internet from, or had your internet stolen by a neighbor in your past if there was no password on the network, and gotten by fine, and b) suburban two and three-story homes have one router (oftentimes placed in the basement) and get internet throughout the entire house.


    2. Use The Fresh 20 and start smart grocery shopping. The Fresh 20 is a monthly $5 subscription that gives you a list of  20 fresh or canned groceries to buy every week, with dinner recipes that will last you for a five-day week. The best part? This weekly grocery bill is always about $50. Each dinner recipe serves four, so for someone like me who typically cooks for one and eats two servings at a time, each recipe covers me for dinner and then for lunch the following day.

    3. Create a Klout account and get rewarded with official “Perks” from brands for doing what you’re already doing--being on social media. Klout tracks how influential you are in social media and formulates a social media score. If you meet certain score thresholds, or are deemed to have influence in certain categories, brands reward you with free stuff. In the past three months I’ve received a McDonald’s gift card, Powerade water flavor enhancer and sports drink, advance screening movie tickets, free bottles of the new Veev Vitafruit alcoholic cocktails, and more.

    4. Threaten to cancel a portion of your cable subscription or leave to a competitor. Cable television providers have such high margins that if you don’t want to pay such outstanding prices for your service, you honestly don’t have to. Just last week, I noticed my bill with DirecTV went from about $90 a month to $135 a month. Turns out our ‘special offer’ on the premium channels HBO, Showtime, Starz, and Cinemax had expired, as did our $10 monthly discount for the first 12 months. I called DirecTV and let them know that our house really only watches HBO and Showtime (truth be told), and we could do without the other two channels. I asked if there was a way we could pay only for the first two. Wouldn’t ya know it, although the price for all four channels had increased to about $40/month, they had another offer for us to keep the entire bundle for $27. On top of that, I asked if there were any additional discount offers or credits for which we might be eligible, and as it turns out, by switching to online bill pay we could save an additional $6 per month. In five minutes, I took our monthly down to $111. As a rule of thumb, nearly every utility or service provider offers some bonus for online bill pay, and if you do go to the extent of threatening to leave to a competitor (when a competitor exists), they will do anything to keep you. If no competitor exists or provides service in your area, well then you'll have as much luck as the kids in South Park:

5. Pay in cash more often. This is the foundation of my month of Living Lean. When you physically hand over paper money, you feel more of an attachment and your brain acknowledges that you are giving something up in exchange for a good or service. When you pay with a card, you never actually see money leave your hands, so it’s easier to get crazy and rack up your spending. Start carrying more cash and see if you think twice about some of your purchases. (Just don’t blame me if you get robbed--that’s your own fault)

6. Don’t buy the full meal. If you eat out for lunch, get the main sandwich/entree, but skip the chips and drink. Instead, bring some chips or side snack (such as carrot sticks) from home, and fill up a glass of water. Even outside of trying to live lean financially, this is a way to live lean from a health perspective. I’ve done this for years, frankly because I don’t really like pop/soda, and I can usually do without the greasy bag of chips. You’ll save anywhere from $1.75-$2.50 per lunch, and eat healthier in the process.


Rajiv Nathan is the co-founder of Idea Lemon with a background in digital and mobile strategy. He is passionately curious, a people-meeter and lives by the motto, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."