The first thing you need to know is that there isn't going to be any fiscal cliff. At least not on a national level. Congress and President Obama will come to some kind of solution to avoid the massive federal spending cuts and tax hikes that will go into effect if new legislation isn't passed before Jan. 1, 2013. Your personal fiscal cliff? That's another story.
Let's keep it real, though. Most of us, especially those with kids, have been standing at the edge of the fiscal cliff for quite some time. We know what it is to survive, and even thrive, without money. But in case you're new to this, and you're contemplating jumping off an actual cliff, I'm here to talk you down.
Surviving the fiscal cliff is easy if you know how to work the system. You don't need a government check. You don't need to beg for charity. You just have to be committed to doing one simple thing: Finding the stuff that's free.
It might feel weird at first. I know it did for me. But look at it this way. If stores didn't want you to have their freebies, they wouldn't offer them so willingly.
Take Ikea. They've been offering free breakfast on Mondays. Yes they serve eggs and potatoes, but I go for the bacon. Sure, bacon makes you kinda tired and the salt in it boosts your blood pressure. But when you're sleepy and slow, it's harder to fight your stomach's rumblings, so bacon keeps the peace. Besides, bacon gives you a warm feeling inside . . . probably from the rise in your cholesterol.
A couple of weeks ago, when we packed up the kids to take advantage of the free breakfast, we saw dozens of families just like ours. They'd put on happy faces and dressed in their Monday finery, but they had no intention of buying furniture. Like us, they just wanted the bacon.
At first I felt kinda bad about it, but then I looked around. There were families of all stripes joining us for breakfast. It was a virtual United Nations bound together in a common quest for bacon. However, there was one group that outnumbered us all: seniors.
I like seniors. They don't get old by being dumb, and they prove it every time I watch them work the system.
That morning, while the rest of us were content to enjoy our bacon, the seniors came prepared to stay for the long haul. They brought newspapers, got coffee refills, and I could've sworn I saw a group of them gathered around a board of some type. They confirmed it when one of them yelled, "Bingo!"
Don't get me wrong. I'm not making fun of seniors. I want to thank them. Seniors are the ones who taught me how to survive the fiscal cliff. I've been watching them and jotting down notes for years.
Need a free lunch? Go to one of the big-box wholesale clubs. They've got free, all-you-can-eat samples.
Need toothpaste? Go to your neighborhood drugstore. You can get a travel size, complete with toothbrush and mouthwash, for less than the cost of a single tube of Crest.
Want to get paid to go on vacation with an ocean view? Catch the bus to Atlantic City's casinos, get a $10 bonus, and come back knowing that you stuck it to the man.
Want to take it to the next level? Stay long enough to sit through a time-share demonstration. If you can tolerate 15 people writing down numbers and scratching them out as techno music plays in the background, you'll leave with a hundred big ones.
Free Internet? The library.
Discount movies? The dollar store.
Free manicure? Hang out by that kiosk in the mall that's pushing the four-in-one nail buffer.
We can all survive the fiscal cliff if we learn to be cheapskates, so if you've got tips of your own, feel free to drop me a line. I promise you they won't go to waste.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.