How far would you go to save money?

Would you be willing to stop buying clothes, live with five roommates or even dumpster dive for furniture, electronics or food? Extreme as they are, these scenarios aren’t as far-fetched as you may think, especially when you consider that more than half of Americans (59 percent) aren’t comfortable with the amount of money they’ve saved, according to Bankrate’s recent emergency savings survey.

At a time when we’re inundated with consumer culture, a group of individuals has emerged who challenge the status quo and choose to live a radically different lifestyle known as freeganism. Although saving money isn’t the only goal, freegans, as they’re known, reduce costs by staunchly avoiding over-consumption.

Those who practice freeganism reject participation in the formal economy. Instead, they choose alternative strategies to meet basic needs, minimize waste and reject the tenets of capitalism. And it has helped some freegans save upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a year.

For example, instead of spending money on groceries or household items, some freegans dumpster dive for food or discarded furniture. As far as housing is concerned, some freegans work for their accommodations, live with roommates or, although generally illegal, live in abandoned buildings. Read on to learn more about the origin, practices and alternatives to freeganism.

What is freeganism?

Freeganism is a lifestyle choice that challenges consumer culture and capitalism. The term ”freegan” is derived from the words “free” and “vegan,” Just like vegans avoid purchasing animal products in support of animal rights, freegans try to avoid buying anything as a way to fight against consumerism.

Freegans aim to reduce waste, minimize their ecological footprint, and live ethically by reclaiming and using discarded goods. These actions assist them with opting out of the conventional economic system.

The origin of freeganism

Freeganism took off in the mid-1990s, born out of a desire to live a lifestyle free from modern capitalism. The term was first used by Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, an organization known for recovering food that would otherwise go to waste and preparing meals shared in public spaces.

Influenced by environmental movements in the 1960s, early freegans shunned conventional consumption and advocated for environmentally-friendly practices. The first organized freegan group, Freegan.Info, was established in New York in 2003.

Freeganism in action

Max Williams, CEO of, attended a 2018 conference that compelled him to live a freegan lifestyle. A keynote on sustainable living and food waste was the catalyst for his lifestyle change. He was shocked when he learned about the “staggering” amount of food waste each year.

Studies show he has cause for concern. As much as 40 percent of the United States’ food supply is wasted, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“This eye-opening talk, combined with my growing awareness of environmental issues, prompted me to reconsider my consumption habits,” Williams tells Bankrate. “That year, I decided to explore freeganism as a way to align my personal values with my commitment to sustainability and reduce my carbon footprint.”

A day in the life of a freegan

Freegans engage in practices that reflect their values and criticism of consumer culture. Common practices include dumpster diving for discarded food and goods, squatting in abandoned buildings, foraging for food, and cycling to reduce carbon emissions. They also engage in community-building activities such as “Really, Really, Free Markets” and “Freemeets,” where goods and services are exchanged freely.

Williams starts his day by checking local community boards and freecycle groups for available items or food shares. He says he sometimes visits a local farmer’s market or bakery at closing time to collect unsold produce and bread.

“The afternoon often involves a community activity, such as a swap meet or a communal garden project,” says Williams. “Evenings are spent preparing meals from gathered ingredients, often shared with friends and fellow freegans. This routine not only meets my basic needs but also fosters a sense of purpose and community.”

According to Williams’ estimates, he saves $10,000 a year by practicing freeganism. He has realized significant savings on food, household expenses and clothing.

“I participate in a housing co-op,” says Williams. “This arrangement allows for shared living expenses and responsibilities among a group of like-minded individuals. The cooperative model aligns well with freegan values, emphasizing shared resources and communal living.”

Pros and cons of freeganism

Reducing waste, fostering community and saving money are three benefits of freeganism. However, the risks associated with a freegan lifestyle can easily outweigh the benefits.

“Freeganism can become harmful if taken to extremes,” says certified financial planner R.J. Weiss, founder of Ways to Wealth. “Relying on dumpster diving for food isn’t a safe or sustainable long-term solution. It can expose people to unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”

In addition, depending on your location, some freegan practices could lead to negative legal consequences. It’s important to know what is and isn’t permissible if you’re considering this lifestyle choice.

“Some aspects of freeganism can be illegal, such as dumpster diving on private property,” says Michael Collins, CFA, founder and CEO of WinCap Financial. “There can also be a social stigma around the idea of freeganism, as there may be negative perceptions associated with living off discarded goods.”

Grillhound founder and CEO Myles McLean, who has practiced freeganism since 2017, says the stigma sometimes tempts him to abandon the lifestyle. However, the financial benefits as well as a supportive freegan community have convinced him to continue.

“Sometimes I think about quitting, especially when it’s inconvenient or when I face judgment,” says McLean. “But the environmental benefits, financial savings and sense of community keep me going.”

Alternatives to freeganism

If you’re looking for ways to save money but don’t want to adopt a fully freegan lifestyle, there are other ways to cut back.

Look for ways to reduce food waste. Don’t buy more than you need and look for ways to repurpose leftovers. You can save thousands by adjusting your food purchasing habits. The average U.S. household could save $1,500 each year just from reducing food waste, according to the MITRE-Gallup State of Food Waste in America survey.

Grow your own food. You can incorporate some freegan practices into your daily routine without completely changing your lifestyle. Doug Carey, CFA, founder of WealthTrace, recommends gardening to save money on food.

“Whether it’s your own garden or a community garden, you can grow a lot of vegetables nearly all year,” says Carey. “It’s also easy to compost if one buys a composter. Those with larger yards can build their own composting stations. It’s amazing how much food and scraps get thrown away that can be composted and returned to the soil.”

Explore alternative living arrangements. Save money on housing by getting a roommate, renting out space in your home or downsizing.

Consider thrifting and swapping. Visit thrift stores for clothing deals or look for ways to get free things by swapping items.

Open a high yield savings account. Once you’ve saved money by employing some of these freegan practices, consider opening a high-yield savings account. You’ll not only preserve your wealth, but grow it. As of this writing, BrioDirect offers the highest rate for a high-yield savings account at a rate of 5.30 percent APY.

Bottom Line

The concept of freeganism can help you save money, but there are risks associated with this practice. Alternatives such as growing your own food, thrifting and getting a housemate are just some of the ways you can keep more of your hard-earned money.