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I met up with Daniel Tay, a 38-year old financial planner, but more famously the co-founder of the Freegan in Singapore Facebook group.

Here’s what he has to say about this fascinating topic of living with almost nothing in Singapore, no less!

PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF.

I’ve been married since 2010 and have no children.

I help people worry less about money. There are two ways to do this – the easy way and the hard way.

The easy way to not worry about money is to not use money at all. This is what freegan living is about, and what I spend most of my time doing. If a person must use money, then they are choosing the hard way. That is what financial planning is about, and what I spend a few hours a week doing for people who must use money.

WHAT IS FREEGANISM?

Freeganism is a lifestyle, which rejects consumerism and aims to reduce waste by retrieving and reusing discarded items. We spend very little money and get everything we want and need for free.

HOW MUCH DO YOU ACTUALLY SPEND PER MONTH AND WHAT DO YOU SPEND ON?

I spent $875 a month on mortgage, insurance and long-term savings. For transport, utilities, mobile and internet subscription, conservancy, pet care and home cleaning services, I spend $250 a month. I get everything else for free.

PEOPLE ASSOCIATE FREEGANISM TO DUMPSTER DIVING. ARE THESE THE SAME?

Dumpster diving involves going through trash and retrieving and reusing items that are still in working condition. There are freegans who dumpster dive, and freegans who don’t.  Likewise, there are dumpster divers who are not freegans. Examples are karang guni who get their supply of goods from dumpster diving, and sell them to earn a living.

HOW DID YOU COME TO GET INVOLVED IN FREEGANISM?

My journey really started 10 years ago when I was worried about money. I started to learn about personal finances and how to manage my money better. Then I became a financial planner to teach this life skill to others, because everyone I knew worried about money. I discovered that even though I had a detailed financial plan in place, I still worry about not having enough money. Then one day, everything changed.

I met my co-founder. He said he doesn’t worry about money because he gets everything for free. What was most surprising is that he spends $100 a month. I was intrigued and questioned him about his spending. He spends on utilities, conservancy, mobile and internet subscription.

“What about your food?” I asked.

“My neighbours give me food,” he said.

“Tell me more,” I asked. And he did.

When we parted, he gave me 3 tips to try out:

  1. Ask your neighbours what they do with their leftover food, and if they would give it to you.
  2. Find out what the supermarket throws away.
  3. Find out what people throw away or leave behind at their void decks.

I tried all three, and the results were eye opening. I never looked back after that. In a matter of months, I too brought my personal expenses down drastically. But the most significant difference it made to me was that after I embraced freeganism, I no longer worried about money. 

WHY DID YOU ADOPT THIS KIND OF LIFESTYLE?

People become freegans to save money, to save other people, and to save the earth.

I started out with the intention of saving money because that was what I worried about. When I no longer worried about money, I started to acquire so much stuff that it began to fill my home.

I needed a way to get rid of the things I found, so I started selling them. They weren’t moving fast enough, so I started to give them away. 

I discovered that the things that we Singaporeans throw away are the same things that other people are dying to have. It brought me a lot of joy to find people who appreciate what I give them.

Over time, I started to give more and more away, until now I regularly have people coming over to my home to take what they want. My favourite type of people to give to is low-income migrant workers because they in turn have their own network of friends and relatives to give to. Normally, they would need to spend their hard earned money to buy things to give away. But now that everything is free, they can bring so much joy to so many people, just as I could.

Having a freegan lifestyle also exposed me to the sheer amount of waste that we produce as a nation.

How can people put in so much time, effort, and resources to produce food and manufacture things only to have us throw them away and let them get incinerated? That is such a waste!

It got me thinking that this cannot be healthy for the environment. So I started to create this awareness in the people I interacted with. I started to help others become aware of the waste we produce, and to do something about it. 

SHARE WITH ME YOUR BEST AND THE WORST EXPERIENCE WHILE LIVING THE FREEGAN LIFESTYLE.

Sometime this year, I wondered what would happen if I were living in Singapore and had no money. For instance, if I were to become a full-fledged freegan and not use money at all, could I still be happy?

I took a 4-day freegan holiday in Singapore without using money. I ate what people didn’t want, drank from public taps and slept in the open. It was one of the best holidays I ever had. I enjoyed myself so much I went for another the following month.

It taught me that if one day I should ever be bankrupt, alone, homeless, as long as I had my health, I could live very happily in Singapore without using money. That was very liberating, and was my best freegan experience.

The worst experience took place during a Veggie Hunt at Little India. By this time, I had already organised several Veggie Hunts to this place, where we go out at night and rescue loads of discarded vegetables from being incinerated. A grassroots leader stopped us during our hunt. He demanded to know where we came from, what we intended to do with the rescued vegetables and wanted to see our identity cards.

We told him we’re a group of friends who are collecting the vegetables to cook for our own consumption. He didn’t believe us and proceeded to lecture us on why we should not be taking these vegetables. He threatened to use his influence and report us to the authorities. It left me with a bad taste in the mouth because all we wanted to do was to highlight and bring awareness to how much food was wasted daily. 

IF SOMEONE WANTS TO BECOME A FREEGAN WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE?

I would ask them to start with the most basic need — food. Talk to your neighbours and find out what they do with their leftovers. This can include cooked or bought food on a daily basis, and food that they bought a long time ago, has reached the expiry date, and they are going to throw it away. Ask them to give you all these things that they are going to throw away.

Do a smell and taste test to see if it’s safe to eat, rather than follow expiry dates, which are meaningless for the consumer. It took me 2 months to reduce my food expenses to zero, and this saved me about $400 a month. That is the biggest difference that freegan living can make.

The most basic level of freeganism is to be willing to accept free gifts, no matter where they come from. You’ll be surprised that some people are completely unwilling to receive free gifts.

The next level is to explore your neighbourhood and see what other people throw away. Walk around your neighbourhood at night and see what is placed near the bins. You will start to discover that the things that people throw away are often in better condition than some of the things you own. And, over time, you will start to realise that there is no need to buy anything at all.

The third level is to approach people that you know – your relatives, friends, and neighbours – and to offer to help them de-clutter and organise their homes. Help them remove from their homes and their lives the things that are cluttering their homes, and bring them home.

Doing all these means your own home will become more cluttered unless you have a way to get rid of the things that you don’t want. That’s what having a community is for.

Search for ‘Freegan in Singapore’ on Facebook and join our community there. Share with us the things you don’t want, and others in the community will also share with you the things they don’t want. This results in each person getting everything that they need and want, and giving away everything that they don’t want.

Over time, you will learn how much is enough, and how to become extremely happy with everything that you have.

darius seeABOUT DARIUS

Darius is a medical intuitive and uses his skill to help people suffering from chronic illnesses. He discovers that just by looking at a person, he can find out their physical conditions, the causes, and uses energy medicine to help them get better.

Learn more about him here.