THE BLOG
05/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated 5 days ago

How To Live On $0 A Day: Finding Relief In Public Restrooms

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Remember the good old days when buying staples like iPods and $400 sunglasses went without thinking?

Understandably, it's a bit of a shock to find yourself standing perplexed in the dry goods aisle calculating which toilet paper brand comes out best on a cost per sheet basis, factored with the ply and estimated absorbency ratio. Quilting isn't even an option.

Here's a little known secret to help you cope: there's unsecured toilet paper, paper towels, light bulbs and possibly even soaps, fine linens and spare change out there that are yours for the taking. You just need to keep your eyes open and plan ahead. And by plan ahead, I mean carry a large empty bag with you at all times.

Sadly, the genteel practice of laying out fine linens, soaps, perfumes and lotions with an attendant and change dish in public restrooms is dying fast. A few hoity-toity clubs you can't afford to join and Belgium still have these amenities.

If you're lucky enough to be visiting a hoity-toity club or Belgium, distract the attendant, by making horrible sound effects while in the stall. When she's checking out the damage, shove everything in the bag and run. Chances are, the attendant will be too old to catch you. And since most restrooms aren't equipped with alarms, you'll have no problem getting away with your Bounty, Charmin or Scott.

The bright side of living in an restroom attendant-free society is that stocking up on the basic staples (ie: TP, light bulbs) is a breeze.

If you're a stickler for quality, your best bet is four and five star hotels. If you're near one, stop in. Enjoy the interior design, watch the people, use the bathroom. Take all the toilet paper you can from the stall and put it in your bag. If nobody is around, repeat the procedure in every stall and proceed to the paper towels, or luxurious hand linens if the hotel is four or five star. (guide to top free products from hotel maid carts, spas and gyms coming soon.)

If the light bulbs in the rest room are compatible with your fixtures, take them. If they're not compatible, take the fixtures as well. Always make sure to turn off the lights for several minutes before attempting to take bulbs. If you're in a hurry, wear gloves or pot holders which will also help if you're worried about fingerprints.

If you don't live near any luxury hotels, you can make due with gyms, libraries, hospitals, museums (go on the day admission is free), police stations...virtually any public facility. Don't feel guilty. You paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes over the years. The least you could get out of it is a little free toilet paper. It's not like you're asking for a $700 billion bailout or anything.

If you have friends who still have jobs, visit them at their office. You wouldn't believe the riches you can find in an office restroom. Possibly even tampons, depending on the industry. Forget any moral qualms you might have. Chances are your friend works for some huge multi-national corporation that has received millions in tax breaks and incentives and is about to fire your friend to help with their bottom line despite the huge amounts their executives get paid in salary, perks and bonuses. Dick Cheney is probably a stockholder in the company. Take everything that's not bolted down.

If you're anything like me, you've probably spent most of your life avoiding public restrooms. But once you open your mind and eyes, you'll realize opportunity is everywhere. Seize it. Just make sure nobody is watching.

Warning: Do not attempt if you have a wide stance.