When my husband’s unemployment ran out in November I remember thinking, ‘Your bottom can always get lower.’ Just in time for the holidays he became a ninety-niner and I remained unemployed.

So that we would not be homeless, he began receiving social security (thank goodness he age-qualifies), and I immediately filled out a food stamp eligibility form online, only to find out that we would qualify for about twenty dollars a month in food stamps, hardly enough to fuel a trip to the grocery. Bear in mind also, that food stamps do not cover toilet paper, soap, hygiene products, hot-case deli items or hot coffee that you may need at five o’clock in the morning in a Labor Ready line. I know, I have tried it.

With my husband’s social security check, we cover rent and heat first, followed by car insurance, DSL, phone and other bills, in order of necessity. We have slipped into about a month’s worth of arrears in my medical care (my mental health, no insurance), but we are essentially bill-current with a roof. I consider folks forced to move in with family in the face of prolonged unemployment as a form of homelessness that I call ‘homeless with a roof.’

Since we have only loose change left over for groceries, we have made the transition into dumpster diving for food, with positive results. I got the idea several months ago when we were at a fast-food drive through (an excellent place to find loose change) and the clerk offered us an extra meal that someone had left at the window. The clerk said, “Do you want this? It’s just going into the dumpster anyway.” And that was all she needed to say.

While many large grocery stores have compacting dumpsters, we have two small dumpsters worthy of honorable mention. One is a small discount grocery and the other is associated with a trailer, or food wagon, that sells barbecue. The barbecue vendor uses a small, easily accessible nearby dumpster because he cannot, I am sure, afford his own roll-off service. The discount grocery consistently delivers all of our stew ingredients such as celery, potatoes, and onions, as well as bread and buns a full week prior to expiration and seasonal fruit, which is currently citrus. For spice and vitamins, we visit yet a third, large box in the back of a surplus store, and for coffee, creamer, sugar and sundry staples we simply visit our apartment complex dumpsters at the end of the month, when people move.

After Christmas we enjoyed a large delicious barbecued ham leg, almost too big for the subsequent crockpot stew. Yesterday, I came home with at least ten pounds of mouth-watering barbecued chipped-beef brisket, enough to feed a football team, with freezer leftovers, even after last night’s meal, the upcoming crockpot stew, and the chipped beef sloppy- joe lunch sandwiches we are planning, with baked fries (dumpster) on buns (dumpster) with sauce (dumpster) and sliced oranges (well, you know).

We pay for our fuel with scrap metal that I previously described in a post. I will update the scrap metal situation in the future when we have enough receipts to pen an informative post, but I must verbalize my fear that we will soon have to pay income tax on the metal and cans we collect. Meanwhile, take full advantage of the states that have not yet bothered with bottle bills folks: the best place for cans, even in the face of increasing scavenging competition, is your local car wash dumpster. If you need vitamin D and exercise, walk the roads. A bulging 30-gallon black bag of cans is worth about five dollars cash.

We also experimented with cardboard. It brings sixty dollars a ton, cash off the books at recycle and the best place to get it is, no surprise here, the liquor store dumpsters. Thirty-eight pounds brought us a dollar. For cardboard to be meaningful a pickup truck is probably a must. We have a 1994 reconstructed white trash long-bed Dodge Ram with duct tape on the tailgate that is perfect for our purposes.

We are poor but we are eating well and our freezer is stocked. I plan on visiting restaurant, hotel and pizzeria dumpsters and then providing an update. It is still cold here, so food items remain properly preserved. I have also taken a lot of advice from this site, and we use, for example, rice, lentils and dried milk. So thank you all.

PS We never go to the bookstore either. Move over, Barnes and Noble.

cross-posted at: http://dumpsters2011.wordpress.com/