All year, I collect free leftover condiment packets to put in my camping and survival gear. For example, recently I served as a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. While our hair and makeup were being done, we were served a catered brunch. The caterer provided individually wrapped plastic ware with a napkin and salt and pepper packets similar to those in an MRE. There were plenty left over after we finished eating. Without shame, I asked the hostess if she minded if I took them. She was happy to unload them.
Here is another example: the boss frequently brings in a big box of coffee. Included are individual packages of sugar, sweeteners, cups, lids, powered creamers and wooden stir sticks. After everyone has had their fill, I gather up the leftovers. (Wooden stir sticks make excellent toe and finger splints, by the way. And one more: my favorite chicken place, the one that is closed on Sundays, has a wonderful condiment assortment for the taking—including individual wet wipes. When I eat there, I grab a few extra plastic forks, salt packages, ketchup and wet wipes before I leave. The same goes for collecting soy and duck sauces and Parmesan cheese packets from take-out restaurants. However, do not take advantage. They put those items out by goodwill. Do not grab handfuls, just a few extras. After a few months, you will have quite a collection. Another frugal place to look for miscellaneous items is garage sales and Craigslist.org. Craigslist even has a free section. Your local dollar stores are treasure troves as well. I stock up on glow sticks, paper plates, plastic dry boxes, games for the kids and paper towels. Being frugal also means I repurpose as much as possible. Citronella tiki torches purchased for last year’s summer luau not only provide insect repellent but also nighttime campsite ambiance. Before making incidental purchases, such as tabletop tiki torches, I always make a list of ways I can reuse items. Some of my favorites are:
- Party supplies
- Baby pools
- Folding chairs
- Christmas lights
- Plastic tarps
- Plastic containers of all sizes
- Trowels or shovels
Camping equipment is expensive, not to mention the cost of food, park prices and time off from work. Where I can cut on costs, I will. However, I highly recommend investing in a decent camp stove, high-quality tent and cooler. Spending your money wisely on those should get you quite a number of years out of your gear. My propane camp stove has lasted nearly 15 years without problems. In the end, paying more for a quality tent, stove and cooler will pay off. One final tip: Freeze gallon jugs of water to use in your cooler. That cuts down on store runs and money for ice. As a bonus, you save room in the cooler for other, more important things, such as frosty libations. For more about being a frugal camper, read “Camping on a Budget.” For tips on how to find a high-quality tent, read “How To Buy A Tent: Tips on Selecting the Perfect Tent for Your Needs.”
What are your favorite frugal and free camping tips? Share them in the comments section.
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