FAQ

Last updated: 3 Jan 2021

When you do an online search for “food rescue” or “freegan” in Singapore, my name often pops up in the results. As such, I often get asked by students working on a project, or the media, for interviews. In the past, I would agree to the interviews. As time passed, I noticed that they often asked the same questions. I decided to put together these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) so that you can find the answers to your questions, and we can both save some time. 


ON Freeganism 

1. What is freeganism?

Freeganism is a rejection of consumerism. In consumerism we keep buying more and more and newer and newer things. In so doing we use up resources unnecessarily, and create a lot of waste. Freeganism tries to counter that by living frugally, by limiting our participation in the economy. 

Practically, it means collecting things that other people don’t want, so that we can reuse or repurpose them for our own needs. In so doing, we buy as little as possible, spend as little as possible, hence live a life that is more or less free.

2. What exactly is a freegan lifestyle?

It’s where we practise the principles of freeganism as far as we are willing in our lifestyle. Each person decides for themselves what they want to adopt. The common link is that we avoid consumerism and try to obtain things we need and want for free where possible. 

3. When or how did you make the switch to bring a freegan?

The short version is that in November 2016, I met another freegan and was inspired by his way of life. So I decided to adopt parts of his lifestyle where it made sense for me to do so. 

I began by collecting unwanted food from my neighbours. Then I started to collect unwanted things in other people’s trash. Then I went to collect unwanted things in the trash of businesses. 

From these I found everything that I needed and wanted. Nowadays people approach me to give me their unwanted items. 

The full account of my journey towards becoming a freegan is found in my book Free by Forty: A Freegan’s Guide to Financial Freedom in chapters 8 and 9

It’s accessible to patrons only, so if you want to read it, you’ll need to subscribe for at least one month at the Learn By Reading tier. Once you’ve gotten what you wanted, you can cancel your subscription; or if you’d like to support my writing, you can choose to continue your subscription.

4. What is the biggest misconception people have about what you are doing?

People think that I’m an environmental activist, that I’m doing this to save the environment. I get invited to participate in a lot of green talks and climate change stuff. But really, I don’t see myself as a ‘greenie’. My knowledge of the environment is very poor, much less about saving it. I don’t do this primarily to save the environment. It just happens that what I enjoy doing is good for the environment. 

5. Why did you decide to incorporate freeganism into your life?

Because it made sense. 

What doesn’t make sense is spending previous years of your life to buy money, and then using that money to buy things, and then throwing away those things before they are properly utilised, and then going back to work for more money to buy more things to throw away, and repeat. 

Why not just use a fraction of that time to collect those things for free, and you end up with years of your life to do things that really bring you life?

Adopting a freegan lifestyle has allowed me to achieve what is a pipe dream for most Singaporeans — early retirement. As I no longer need to work a full-time job to pay my bills, I can now pursue my life dream of writing stories, without having to worry about making enough money from my writing to support myself. And I don’t have to wait until I’m 65 to be able to do this. 

6. How long do you see yourself doing this for?

As long as it makes sense. 

7. What are some tips you would like to share for individuals who are keen on starting on a freegan lifestyle?

I would ask them to do what I did when I initially tried out the freegan lifestyle. First, find a way to get free food first. Because you need to eat every day. After you’ve settled your food needs, you can go about looking for other ways to get things for free. 

There are 6 ways to get stuff for free, and 3 ways to get stuff with money. The last option is to buy, but it is very often the first and only option that most people consider. That is why they are not able to do what most freegans can easily achieve — not having to work a full-time job to support themselves. 

A more detailed breakdown of the different ways to get stuff for free can be found in Chapter 9 of my book Free by Forty: A Freegan’s Guide to Financial Freedom. 

It’s accessible to patrons only, so if you want to read it, you’ll need to subscribe for at least one month at the Learn By Reading tier. Once you’ve gotten what you wanted, you can cancel your subscription; or if you’d like to support my writing, you can choose to continue your subscription.

8. Do you think that what you are doing is considered unconventional/unorthodox?

It’s definitely not usual, but it’s also definitely not new. The only new thing about what I do is that the activity has new branding. 

Freeganism

In reality, it’s lifestyle that we have lived before consumerism came into our lives. Freegan living often reminds the older generation of kampung living, because they are old enough to remember the times when we used things until they really cannot be used. When we shared clothing with siblings. When the whole family gathers around a single television set. When neighbours care for each other and look out for each other.

In our society today, all this has disappeared. Each household member has a television in their own room. Each person has their own wardrobe of clothing. We throw away things not because they are spoilt, but because they are no longer new. We close our doors to our neighbours and probably don’t even know their names. 

Freegan living brings back that community spirit and sharing. If that’s considered unorthodox or unconventional, then it’s a sad world that we live in. 

9. What do your family and friends think about this?

70% of the people I know are supportive of what I do. 25% are neutral towards it. 5% are against it, but I’ve found that what they reject is usually nothing to do with me personally. You can never please everyone, so I just focus on those whose values are aligned with my own.

10. How has freeganism changed your perception towards anything? What have you learned from being a freegan?

It’s taught me that convenience has a very high price. Convenience is a service that retailers provide their customers, which is priced into the product. 

We all want convenience because it saves us time. But in order to keep up a lifestyle of convenience, we exchange more than half of our waking hours of our lives working for the money to afford this lifestyle. Does it make sense?

Would it not make more sense to spend a fraction of that time getting what we want, and then spending the rest of that time doing whatever else we would do if we didn’t have to work for money?

Freeganism has taught me that the cost of living, especially in Singapore, is really the cost of lifestyle. That if we were to simplify our lifestyle, we could all be far less stressed, far happier and contented, with much more time on our hands to pursue our hobbies and passions. 

11. Do you have anything to say to naysayers?

It really depends on what they say. Some naysayers have a point. Some simply reject freeganism because it does not fit into their belief of how the world works.

12. Why do freegans do what they do?

I’m generalising. Based on my observations, about half of the freegans I know live this way because they want to save money. About 30% do this because they want to help other people. About 20% do it to help save the environment. Regardless of their motivations, all freegans seem to be united in their desire to reduce waste.

Perhaps we’re all brought up with the same frugal values of not wanting to see things go to waste while they can still be put to use.


On Dumpster diving 

1. What is dumpster diving?

It’s one of the activities that some freegans do. It involves going through the trash of other people to retrieve useful items. Most of the time, we don’t actually climb into or dive into dumpsters… unless they’re very big, like those you see in industrial buildings.

2. Have you ever gotten into trouble from dumpster diving?

No. But I know people who have, because they trespass private property to access dumpsters. I don’t do that, and I discourage others from doing so. 

3. What are your most interesting finds from dumpster diving?

PlayStation3, iPhones, MacBook, telescope, juicers, air fryer, stairclimber, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a hundred N95 masks, a Krups KP 510 T Nescafé Dolce Gusto Circolo Automatic, power banks, fish tank, 51 porcelain cups, ukuleles, 7 bottles of soya sauce, portable hard disk drive, beer, wine, hard liquor, made-in-Singapore Philips coffee maker, travel backpacks, microphones… The list goes on. 

4. Do you have a go-to spot?

I started dumpster diving around my old place in Ang Mo Kio. It’s my go-to spot because I’m familiar with the area and I know where the bins are, and where people put stuff for other people to find. 


On Money

1. You were a financial planner before. What made you quit?

Because I achieved what I set out to do in becoming a financial planner. When I first joined the financial services industry, my goal was to learn how to better manage my personal finances, by teaching other people how to manage theirs. I’m a firm believer in learning by doing, and mastering by teaching other people how to do.

Why do many of us work? Because we need income to make a living. We have bills to pay, a family to feed, and our retirement to fund. Many of us stop working when we have reached our retirement goals. That’s when we stop working and start living our dreams.

I’ve reached my retirement goal. Through freegan living, and the application of the knowledge I learned as a financial planner, I no longer need to work to pay my bills. That’s why I quit working as a financial planner. We’ve all got to retire one day.

There were other reasons as well.

First, my personal values and my professional values became at odds with one another. I could no longer professionally tell people that they needed $5,000 a month to retire comfortably, when I knew that it was possible to do so on 10 times less.

Second, I was in a business partnership where the both of us went our separate ways. I could keep the business going on my own, but I chose to shut down the business because, as mentioned above, I’d already achieved what I set out to do in my career.

Third, I had other things that I wanted to do, which I could not do while practising as a financial planner full-time. Things like food rescue, starting a community, and going back to my dream of writing and telling stories.

2. Do you live completely without money?

While some individuals around the world do live completely without money, I’m not one of them. I still enjoy little luxuries in life, such as public transport, electricity and water on demand, and internet connection. It is possible to get these without using money, but I find that too much of an inconvenience at this point of time.

So I do still use some money in my every day life.

3. Where do you get your income?

I have several sources of income. Primarily, I have investment income that pays for my day-to-day needs. I also have some income from Patreon, where patrons pay a monthly subscription for access to stuff I write. I also take on part-time jobs in order to have different experiences to write about.

4. How do you manage your finances?

There’s too much to write about here; that’s why I wrote a book about it. It’s called Free by Forty: A Freegan’s Guide to Financial Freedom. I also blog twice weekly about financial stuff that didn’t fit into the book. You can access these from my Patreon account.

It’s accessible to patrons only, so if you want to read it, you’ll need to subscribe for at least one month at the Learn By Reading tier. Once you’ve gotten what you wanted, you can cancel your subscription; or if you’d like to support my writing, you can choose to continue your subscription.

5. How much do you spend?

In 2020, I spent $8,112 for the whole year. My necessities cost me $335 a month. The balance $341 were extras that could have been reduced to zero if I wanted. These included entertainment, gifts, extra allowances to my parents, a self-improvement course I’m taking, among others.


ON FOOD RESCUE

1. What is food rescue? How is it different from dumpster diving?

Some people confuse food rescue and dumpster diving for food. How I differentiate it is that when food has been thrown into the bin, and you take the food from the bin for consumption, that is dumpster diving for food. When food is collected from the other party before it is thrown into the bin, that is food rescue.

Both acts help reduce the amount of food that goes to waste, but food rescue is preferable to dumpster diving for food, mainly because the quality and quantity of food saved from incineration is better.

2. What is your hope for food rescue in Singapore?

Back in 2018, I co-founded SG Food Rescue, a group that unites people passionate about reducing food waste. I stepped down from the leadership position in March 2020.

Since then, I’ve seen that there are plenty of small groups that have organised themselves to rescue food in one way or another. My opinion is that it is better to have many, many small groups of people rescuing food in their own way, than to have a few big groups doing it.

My hope is that all Singaporeans will view food as precious and not to be wasted. My hope is that all Singaporeans will try their best to reduce food waste in whatever way they can at home or at work.


I’ll add to this FAQ when I receive more commonly asked questions. If you’d like an interview with me, please ask me infrequently asked questions.

Thank you.