Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dumpster Diving 101

The coupon section of the Sunday paper might be a highlight of a cheapster's week, but even it can pale in comparison to a real money saver's haven: a dumpster. I was lucky enough in my younger days to be taught how to dumpster dive by a true master, a guy named Tim who lived out of his van.

Because of the stories I tell from those bygone times, I've had several reader requests to pass on some of the wisdom from these headlamp-wearing, backseat-of-a-car-filling days (and nights). And so I bring you, dear readers, some tips for those of you thinking about trying it out.

  • First, understand that dumpster diving is illegal in some places and almost everywhere else is highly discouraged. Dumpster dive at your own risk. 
  • Don't dig through a dumpster on impulse. Plan it out. Seek out store dumpsters that are not physically hard to access, that aren't connected to an alarm system or filmed by a security camera, and where you won't be visible to a large number of people while you're doing your digging. 
  • Get insider information about stores and their dumpsters whenever possible. Most grocery stores empty shelves on a schedule. Find out what day of the week stuff is thrown out, and plan to go as soon as possible after this happens. That way, you'll have the best selection. 
  • Bring the right equipment. Gloves are pretty much essential; headlamps and flashlights are helpful, and if you're putting your findings in the back of a car, putting down a tarp can be a good idea. Also, wear long pants, rather than shorts, and closed-toed shoes. 
  • If you've never dug around in a dumpster before, start out with something easy, like one outside of a university dorm or one outside of a thrift store. Build up to grocery store dumpstering. I say this because grocery store dumpsters are messier than other dumpsters (this is what happens when a dumpster includes a lot of produce!) and it's often easier to dig around in dumpsters that include things like furniture and clothes. 
  • Don't forget to have fun! :)


  1. Apartments! Just drive through and there is always something that can be reclaimed by the dumpsters. And, most people don't put it IN the dumpster if they think someone else might use it. Just make sure it is clearly in the garbage area!

  2. Ooh very true! Another safe dumpstering option with a good chance of a payoff, particularly in the furniture department!