The Guide to Getting By 

A cheat sheet to making ends meet in Missoula

How to earn extra cash

How to sell your plasma

When you donate blood, you get a warm and fuzzy feeling—and a sticker. When you donate plasma, you get the same exact feeling—and some cash. Missoula's BioLife Medical Services gives plasma donors $20 for lounging in a chair for 90 minutes with a needle in their arm. What's plasma? It's the pale yellow liquid portion of the blood that makes up about 55 percent of blood volume and carries minerals, hormones, vitamins and antibodies. The body easily replaces it. So easily, in fact, that you can donate plasma twice a week. That's $40 a week for about three hours of reading a book or surfing your iPad. Not everyone is eligible to donate, of course. You have to be between 18 and 65 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and pass a medical screening. BioLife says the plasma is processed into a wide variety of life-saving therapies. You can watch a video about the plasma extraction process, known as plasmapheresis, at, or for more information call Missoula's BioLife location (3050 Great Northern Avenue) at 721-2584.

How to sell your sperm

Gentlemen, wouldn't it be nice to be paid for something you're already doing anyway? The NW Andrology & Cryobank inside Community Hospital (2831 Fort Missoula Road) offers a spankin' good deal on donated sperm. Lab manager Marty Guthrie explains the details: Once you're accepted into the program (more on that in a sec), the lab pays between $40 and $70 per viable donation. Viable donations are required two to three times per week over the course of six to 12 months. At minimum, that's about $2,000 after six months. Plus, you earn another $10 for every donation upon completion of the program. To qualify, you have to be between 18 and 35 years old, pass a physical, complete a bunch of paperwork, and prove that you produce sperm of good quality and motility that comes back to life after being frozen. The catch? Well, accepting the fact that your sperm may very well be used to produce babies. That might take a little of the fantasy out of your self-stimulation. For more information call Guthrie at 549-0958.

How to sell your body—legally

We would never recommend you sell your body for sex—eww. But it doesn't mean you can't use those ripped abs and buns of steel to make a little extra loot. The Fox Club Cabaret (2006 Ernest Avenue) offers amateur night the last Sunday of every month at 9 p.m. Amateur night usually draws a raucous crowd, as women of various shapes, sizes and attitudes take to the cabaret's shiny stripper pole to accept tips, drinks and compliments in exchange for shaking their moneymakers. If you've got the guts to take it all off—and we mean all of it, even those pink skivvies—the Fox pays cash prizes for the top three crowd pleasers. The opportunity isn't solely limited to women, either. Coming up Sept. 12, the club will give guys the chance to get in on the action—and up on the pole—during a male amateur night.

How to flip stuff on eBay

Countries like Japan and Sweden go coo-coo for cowboys. Those $20 worn-in bull-hide cowboy boots you picked up in a small Montana thrift store might seem merely rustic to you, but to people around the world they're part of an American legend. Keep that in mind as you shine them up and snap a photo of them against a backdrop of blue sky and tumbleweed. The secret to making money on eBay is to sell the idea behind the object as much as the object itself—and people love the idea of Montana.

How to sell your hair

Yes, hair. If financial ruin has you shunning the barber and growing a mane like Fabio, put those golden locks to work. Sites like, the somewhat sketchy and the once reputable, currently offline invite sellers to auction off their precious tresses for cash. Current bids at Online Hair Affair include 13 inches of "virgin dark brown Native American hair (some grays)" for $500 and "two long Asian girls" for $250. To make the cut, grow your hair at least 10 inches, don't smoke or shoot up (it damages your hair, among other things) and don't treat your hair in any way (color, perm, etc.). Then post some pics and pray they're purchased by an enterprising wigmaker and not some trichophiliac.

How to sell your used underwear

Yes, underwear. Even if you've lost your shirt, you should still have your skivvies—and they can earn you cash money online. Visit or to post your items for bid, just like you would on eBay. Be warned: These sites were created because eBay doesn't allow the peddling of mature items, so the content skews raunchy. That said, used boxer briefs could go for as much as $10 and women's lingerie for upwards of $60.

click to enlarge Used underwear could fetch anywhere from $10 (men’s) to $60 (women’s) at certain online sites. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Used underwear could fetch anywhere from $10 (men’s) to $60 (women’s) at certain online sites.

How to make money in a garage sale

Missoula residents are as accustomed to garage sales as they are to harsh winters, which means if you're going to get in on the game, you've got to set yourself apart. And if HGTV teaches us anything, it's that display is everything. Want someone to buy your collection of John Grisham novels? Don't just throw them in a box; organize them on a bookshelf with a "Courtroom Thriller" label, just like a bookstore. Hang your YMCA soccer T-shirt from the 1980s on a hanger, alongside your now-too-small Poison shirt from the 1989 Open Up and Say Ahh! tour, and you have a vintage clothing section. Lastly, make sure you price everything a little above what you want to make on the item—bargain hunters like to bargain, and love to feel as if they've won.

How to make money off your old CDs and vinyl

In the era of XM Radio, iPods and, the value of classic vinyl and still-mint CDs can be a mystery. That's where Rockin Rudy's (237 Blaine Street) comes in. They can determine just how resale worthy your aged collection is, and they'll offer you store credit for the stuff they can use. Credit for CDs varies—50 cents for the junk, $2 to $3 for the not-so-junk, $5 for the real treasures—but if your milk crate's full, you should have enough to snag some new tunes. Hastings (2501 Brooks Street) also offers store credit for used CDs, but more importantly, they'll give you the option to take cash. The store takes in between 30 and 50 CDs a day for anywhere from two cents to $5 each. Ear Candy Music (624 S. Higgins Avenue) will also put cash in your hand, for CDs and records alike. In all cases, value will vary depending on condition and your taste in music.

How to cruise for cougars

As Time's John Cloud reported in his story, "The Science of Cougar Sex: Why Older Women Lust," a University of Texas psychologist recently found that women in their 30s and early 40s are significantly more sexual than younger women. "Women ages 27 through 45 report not only having more sexual fantasies (and more intense sexual fantasies) than women ages 18 through 26 but also having more sex, period," Cloud wrote of the study's findings. "And they are more willing than younger women to have casual sex, even one-night stands." What does this mean? Well, for you young men looking for a sugar mama, it might be time to cruise for cougars. Missoula has plenty of well-to-do and detached (or not) middle-aged women eager to hook up with some strapping, tanned fishing guide. And no doubt she'll pick up the check for dinner and drinks, if not loan you a couple hundred bucks for rent. Is this wrong? Probably. But, as the study posits, it's evolution, not you, that's encouraged women to be more sexually active as their fertility begins to decline and as menopause approaches. So think of falling prey to a rich cougar as evolutionary symbiosis. Whatever gets you through the night.

How to grow and sell marijuana

If you want to grow marijuana without landing in jail, register first as a caregiver with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. It's free. If you stick to rules dictated by the state's 2004 Medical Marijuana Act—grow fewer than six plants per patient you serve, keep less than an ounce of marijuana on hand, etc.—growing pot can be lucrative and legal.

It's also a challenge. Lifelong caregivers continue to tweak their methods and improve their product, but here's how to at least get started: Once your paperwork's in order, you'll need some seeds. Various online outlets are happy to ship indica and sativa strains in an unassuming package to Montana, but that's illegal. Your safest bet is to score seeds locally from a friend or established caregiver. Raising marijuana indoors requires significant light, so we recommend buying a "high-intensity discharge" lamp, which runs roughly $200. Fluorescent lights are cheaper, but experts say they aren't optimal for budding plants. Paint the walls of your growing room white or cover them with aluminum foil, to better reflect light. Make sure you have a fan, too, because baby marijuana plants like lots of fresh air. You'll also need pots and a combination of soil and perlite, all of which you can find at a garden supply store with your special lamp. The initial investment may seem steep to some lowbaggers, but it could pay off quickly. An ounce of medical-quality marijuana brings in about $225.

How to busk

It doesn't take some Dick Van Dyke drum-and-squeezebox getup to bring foot traffic to a coin-reaching halt. Thanks to Missoula's penchant for folk music, an acoustic guitar or strong set of vocal cords will do the trick. Busking is a time-honored tradition in societies around the globe and has been putting the odd fistful of change in musicians' instrument cases for ages. And it's worth noting the Busking World Report at lists Missoula as one of the 15 friendliest destinations for street performers in North America—alongside Toston, Mont., and Glacier National Park, strangely enough. Missoula's prominence makes sense considering the scores of cellists and roots trios who set up shop downtown during the Saturday markets. A traditional bluegrass tune like "Shady Grove" or a lively piece from Les Miserables are always sure to catch pedestrian attention and spark generosity, but you might increase your financial intake by mixing it up a bit. How about a spirited acoustic rendition of R. Kelly's "Ignition" or Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"? You might just see a coveted dollar bill or two appear as thanks for the morning chuckle.

How to cover thelogistical stuff

How to get medical and dental care

Health care reform naysayers and celebrators can agree on one thing: we're seeing few immediate benefits from all this hoopla. Luckily, while we wait for reform to kick in, those of empty pockets and inadequate insurance still have options.

click to enlarge To grow marijuana legally, first register as a caregiver with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. It’s free. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • To grow marijuana legally, first register as a caregiver with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. It’s free.

First, check out medical organizations that offer the income-deprived a break on billing. Partnership Health Center (323 W. Alder Street) scales medical bills based on income and offers dental care in its new facility (401 W. Railroad Street). CostCare walk-in clinics (three locations) offer treatment for minor ailments—everything from strep throat to ring worm—for a flat $45 fee. For those in the university bubble, the Curry Health Center (634 Eddy Avenue) features low flat fees for a variety of medical and dental procedures.

To maintain good health, preventative medical visits are smart, but many can't justify the cost. Alternatively, you could actually make money while receiving regular health updates. Biolife (see page 14) requires a physical before clients donate plasma, and with each return visit, an employee evaluates the donor's heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, protein and red blood cell levels. It's not a full-featured checkup, but nothing beats gaining money and a little peace of mind.

How to keep the lights on

LED bulbs and sun tubes can help lower your electric bills, but wouldn't it be nice to just avoid those monthly payments altogether? We found a number of resources online to help you construct your own solar power system on the cheap. It all starts with a few homemade solar panels, and you can find step-by-step building instructions all over the web (for example, check out With inexpensive solar cells readily available on eBay, the cost of a small-scale solar power system could be as low as $100—well below the market value of a brand new solar panel. That'll put a dent in your utilities.

How to stay warm

We've heard tales of inventive minds around Missoula cobbling together cheap home heating systems. Jury-rigged wood stoves aren't a bad way to go, considering wood is about the cheapest and most traditional source of warmth. According to numerous Do-It-Yourself websites, all it takes is a used electric water heater and a little welding to make your own—an affordable alternative to the $500 or more you'd spend on a new stove. Mother Earth News claims it can be done for $35 or less. And you don't have to pay top dollar for fuel, either. The U.S. Forest Service offers personal-use firewood permits that typically last through March 31. Prices for wood vary per forest, but you can get four cords of wood (one cord is 128 cubic feet) for $28 from the Bitterroot National Forest. Homemade wood stoves aren't for everyone, however. Only stoves grandfathered into local air quality regulations can operate in the Missoula Air Stagnation Zone. Outside the city limits, burning's fair game.

How to keep the lights on and stay warm if you can't figure out the solar panel or wood stove things

According to Montana law, NorthWestern Energy (1-888-467-2669) must give you written notice with specific detail before cutting power. The utility can't touch you at all during winter months or if a doctor confirms that you require medical equipment to maintain your pesky mortality.

If you're struggling with your energy bill, providers are obligated to negotiate a payment plan that you can handle. Low-income individuals can also apply for weatherization programs and energy assistance through the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (1-800-332-2272). Finally, NorthWestern Energy offers several rebates to qualifying customers, although they generally involve home improvement expenditures. You apparently have to spend money to save money. But if you're jonesing for a new refrigerator or energy efficient light bulb, here's your perfect excuse.

How to get a job

We won't lie—it ain't easy to land a job in Missoula. It's been that way for years and this damn recession has only made it worse. But you still have to try, right? The Missoula Job Service (539 S. Third Street W.) might be the place to start. Operated by the state's Department of Labor and Industry, the job service has helpful staffers and tons of resources, including a resume-building program, retraining program and the ability to take tests required for some positions on-site. The office also has computers the unemployed can use to peruse job openings. (You can also search the system from home at If you don't have any luck and need quick cash you can try any of Missoula's temp agencies, including Labor Ready (2025 S. Higgins Avenue), LC Staffing (1503 S. Russell Street) and Nelson Personnel (2321 S. Third Street W.). Make sure to also scan the city's classifieds. The Indy and Missoulian have 'em in print and online. And don't forget Craigslist. But the best way to find work, we've found, is to meet as many people as possible. Connections usually matter more than impressive resumes, no matter how many you determinedly hand out at businesses around town. If you still can't find anything then volunteer at any of Missoula's gazillion nonprofits. That's better than sitting on your keister all day, it's a resume builder, and, who knows, you might make that crucial connection.

click to enlarge Free Cycles offers free parts to build your own bicycle. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS

How to get extended unemployment

An unemployment check is rarely the balm to calm your financial hurts. After all, it's usually a meager half of your most recent income average, and max benefits are capped. Even so, it can be the difference between another month in your home and a night making friends with the downtown panhandlers.

First, you have to be accepted, and that can be a trick in itself. If you quit in a huff because Larry kept parking in your space, or you got fired thanks to your tragic incompetence, kiss that sweet government assistance goodbye. On the other hand, if Larry's space invasion centered more on the waist, hips and thighs region, you have a legitimate claim for quitting and receiving benefits. Injuries, military-related moves and general lay-offs are also likely to make good cases.

State unemployment benefits run for a period of 26 weeks. After that, the state will send you information to enroll for another 53 weeks of federal benefits. According to unemployment insurance administrator Roy Mulvaney, you'll have no trouble accessing the federal insurance if you successfully applied for state benefits. Those currently on unemployment can rejoice, because Congress just passed an extension of federal benefits until the end of November. Visit the state's Unemployment Insurance Division at for more information.

If you're unable to collect unemployment, however, there are still options. The government will assist low-income families in obtaining food, medical care and financial aid through their public assistance programs.

How to get from here to there

Let's face it: ditching that gas-guzzler is often less a matter of idealism than cold pragmatism. The cost of buying, registering, insuring, fueling and maintaining a vehicle, not to mention dealing with pricy repairs, can be downright prohibitive.

With a little research, Missoula's bus services are an admirable solution. Mountain Line's standard rates land at a dollar for a daily ticket. Frequent riders can save up to $6 by purchasing a monthly pass for $25. Seniors, youth and the disabled can apply for additional discounts, and students ride free. Or you can pressure your employer to adopt the EZ Pass Program and fully satisfy your bus lust. Just remember to get your errands done early because the buses stop rolling at 7 p.m.

How to get from here to there after 7 p.m.

You don't need cash to get rolling on a newly resuscitated bike. Free Cycles, operated by the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, has roughly 500 of them to pick apart and build from. So if you've got a vision of a BMX hybrid with a banana seat and ape bars, chances are you can make it happen at Free Cycles (732 S. First Street W.). Volunteers are on hand to offer expertise during open shop hours Monday through Thursday from 3 until 7 p.m., and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There's no charge for any of Free Cycles' services or parts. But the nonprofit does ask folks who assemble new bikes to volunteer two hours and attend one BikeWell Class, which teaches the rules of the road and orients new volunteers prior to putting in their time at the shop. Kids under 10 are not required to volunteer.

How to get from here to there with a little advance planning

According to AAA, the average cost to own and operate a medium-sized car is up to 56.6 cents a mile, or $8,487 a year. It's surely cheaper if you still drive the '96 Chevy Cavalier your parents gave you as a high school graduation gift, but you're still paying insurance (which, on average, runs about $1,500 a year) and repair and maintenance costs. So why not just ditch your car all together? The Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) helps ease the car withdrawal symptoms. If you're a MUD member and have a current driver's license you can participate in its Truck Share program, affording you a set of wheels only when you really need it, which, in bicycle-friendly Missoula, doesn't have to be very often. Just sign the Truck Share contract and pay a $5 non-refundable fee. You can then check truck availability on MUD's website ( and submit reservation requests (usually in three-hour blocks) by phone or e-mail. You pay $5 per hour and 45 cents per mile. For more information call 721-7513.

How to feed yourself

How to raise chickens

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. The maxim applies to eggs, too. You can go to the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Mullan Road and spend $1.18 for a dozen, or you can go to Quality Supply (2801 West Broadway) in the spring and spend as little as $1 for a baby hen that will grow up and lay way more than 12 eggs. The economics of chicken rearing is, of course, more complicated than that, but no doubt you can save money by tending to a backyard flock (especially if you're more likely to pay $4 for a dozen local, free-range eggs than $1.18 for Humpty Dumptys at a box store). Let's look at the numbers. Permits issued by the city of Missoula, which allows up to six hens, cost $15 annually. Coop materials and fencing can be had for probably as little as $50 at Home Resource (1515 Wyoming Street). A 50-pound bag of chicken feed goes for around $15 at Quality Supply (how long it lasts depends on how many hens you're feeding and the season.) Laying rates vary widely, but let's say a chicken in its prime lays two eggs every three days. If you have six hens, that's a dozen eggs every three days. So after a month you're stocked with about 120 eggs. Once you get past the upfront costs, it's conceivable that those 120 eggs would cost you just the $15 you paid for feed. That's compared to the $11.80 you'd spend for the same number of eggs at Wal-Mart. Not bad.

Keep in mind, though, that it's easy to spend much more in upfront costs. Some of those costs might make sense. For example, around these parts it's wise to raise cold-hardy breeds, like, say, Buff Orpingtons, which typically cost between $2 and $3 as chicks. Or, you can buy mature hens. Heather's Heritage Hens sells various cold-hardy breeds for between $15 and $25 each. Now, when doing chicken math make sure to consider the intangibles—like that having extra eggs is great for bartering, or for ingratiating yourself with your curmudgeonly neighbor.

How to use the Food Bank

Asking for help at the Missoula Food Bank (219 S. Third Street W.) can be a humbling experience, but luckily it's incredibly easy—and confidential—to sign up. Just follow four easy steps to get started: 1. Fill out a survey when you get to the store. The info helps the Food Bank better serve its customers, and any personal data is kept private. 2. Sit down with a volunteer to learn how the Food Bank works, and what other resources may be available to you. 3. Based on the number of people in your household, you'll learn what—and how much—you can stock up on. 4. You check out. Simple. A few other helpful notes: The Food Bank doesn't operate like your local Albertson's; you can only visit once a month and only stock up on a limited amount of grub. For more info, call 549-0543.

How to eat for free during football season

Even the football-averse have to admit that Griz season—September to November—opens untold doors in the free-eats department. Tailgates alone promise enough hot dogs, hamburgers and cookies to last from one Saturday to the next, provided you've got the charm and casual conversational skills to waltz into a drunken fan's good graces. But away games can present something of a that's easily remedied if you know where to look. Numerous bars in town, like Bodega, host the occasional Griz potluck for games of particular significance, like the annual Cat/Griz rivalry. If you want a sure bet, however, look no further than the often-overlooked Katie O'Keefe's Casino in Stephens Center. It's a quiet, unassuming joint most days of the year, a good place for great service and an open pool table. Football season is another story, one punctuated by barbecue baked beans and homemade fudge. Nearly every away game promises a spread that would put grandma's Thanksgiving to shame. Bringing a plate of fresh carrots or bag of Doritos as a sacrificial lamb might save you some disapproving looks, but we're all cheering for the same team, right?

click to enlarge A city permit to raise up to six hens costs only $15. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

How to wildcraft

Missoula's nearby grazing areas aren't exactly a well-kept secret. Any seasoned forager will tell you to hit up the Rattlesnake Wilderness for some tasty huckleberries or to scan past burns in the Bitterroot National Forest for morel mushrooms. But knowing where to look for nature's cost-free goodies isn't enough. You need to keep the ethical and personal health risks of wildcrafting in mind, lest you run afoul of toxicity of the karmic or physical variety. That's exactly why Meadowsweet Herbs (180 S. Third Street W.) offers summer classes in wildcrafting and the occasional herb walk for about $10 an hour—an expense that you could more than make up in subsequent grocery savings.

For owner Elaine Sheff, teaching the ethics of harvesting from the wild is one of Meadowsweet's growing priorities. "One of the things you need to remember before you go wildcrafting is the plants themselves," Sheff explained during a recent class in Greenough Park. "You're taking the plant or a part of the plant and making it tougher for that plant to survive."

If you insist on taking the DIY approach, Sheff also offers a variety of illustrated guides catered specifically to wild foragers—you know, so you don't end up in the hospital with acute oops-I-ate-the-wrong-berry-osis.

How to wildcraft at thesis readings

Many university thesis readings have a very delicious side effect: good snacks. In particular, environmental studies graduate students, many of whom are "foodies" with a predilection for potlucks, serve up pretty good grub during their events. Creative writing MFA candidates, who like to make their readings into parties, splurge on food and drink, too. The best homemade dishes we've found include hot artichoke dip, raspberry coffee cake, canned local peppers and pickles, and elk sausage with local cheese, to name a few. And there's almost always beer and wine. It might be a trade-off—you have to sit through an hour or longer reading to reap the benefits of eating—but that's not so bad. Who knows, you might learn a thing or two. Remember, it's sort of a seasonal deal: May and June are prime reading times, as is winter break for students graduating in December. But you can find readings throughout the year if you do your homework—or if you scour our weekly calendar of events, where readings are often listed.

How to wildcraft during First Friday

Missoula's First Friday ArtWalk occurs more frequently than thesis readings, but finding quality noshing can be frustratingly difficult. The Missoula City-County Health Department has cracked down on many of the regular spreads—and free drinks—at local galleries. But exhibits inside dining establishments (The Catalyst Café, Bernice's Bakery, etc.) and shows at off-the-beaten-path venues (The Stensrud Building, The Ceretana, etc.) tend to turn up plenty of food and, sometimes, drinks. Check out the Indy's calendar of events before the first Friday of every month to scout out your hit list.

How to score free samples at the Good Food Store

If your body is your temple, you won't eat just anything no matter what your wallet tells you. In your world, food is meant to be an experience, not just a vehicle to keep you full from meal to meal. For those who can't always afford the best, but still enjoy top shelf cooking, the Good Food Store (1600 S. Third Street W.) gives out free samples on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. You can peruse the store and munch on homemade concoctions like lemon chicken noodles, nutty Kamut with feta and cilantro, pecorino cheese and free-range turkey sandwich chunks, plus random offerings of yerba mate, sweet potato chips and honey granola, without parting with a single penny.

How to score free samples at Costco

If you're less picky about your free samples, there's always Costco (3220 N. Reserve Street)—and we've perfected a way around the members-only access that thwarts most lowbaggers. If you're not willing to pay the store's annual $50 membership fee (which, by the way, can often pay for itself) and score one of those treasured membership cards, then you can skip by the front door guard by simply saying, "I'm just picking up a prescription." The pharmacy is available to non-members. Once you're in, it's an easy detour to as many as a dozen sampling stations offering everything from ice cream sandwiches to four cheese ravioli to chicken tenders.

How to eat free peanuts

What's better than a beer cup filled with beer? Well, for the down-and-out, how about a beer cup filled with all the free protein, iron and zinc needed to balance your diet? Most bars tend to charge for a side of peanuts, but there's no such scroogery at Red's Bar (217 Ryman Street), as evidenced by the constant crunch of peanut shells underfoot. The bartenders there will serve up a good helping of salted peanuts on request and keep 'em coming all night, making it just the kind of feast you might need if you skipped dinner (and lunch, and maybe breakfast) in the interests of funding a few drinks. And Red's isn't alone in generosity. Five Guys Burgers and Fries (820 East Broadway) always has a couple of bulk peanut boxes—complete with plastic scoop and paper bowl—on site for customers with insatiable munchies.

How to eat free popcorn

Quality Supply (2801 West Broadway) pops Jolly Time brand popcorn on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Fresh, delicious kernels smothered in oil and, according to the Jolly Time package, "butter flavored salt" are free and served in small brown paper bags between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

There's also plenty of free popcorn to be had at Missoula's two Ace Hardware locations (2301 Brooks Street, 905 East Broadway) every day of the week. It's not unusual for people to come into the stores simply to score a bag of popcorn, according to Ace staffer Kenna Llewellyn. In fact, they're not even stealthy about their intentions. "We don't care," assures Llewellyn.

How to work for food

Instead of scrounging for change in the couch cushions to buy a gas station corn dog, consider putting in a few hours of work at a local farm so you can walk away with your arms full of fresh and healthy vegetables. Garden City Harvest's "volunteer for veggies" program is the nonprofit's most popular, welcoming volunteers during the growing season to work at the River Road and Orchard Gardens neighborhood farms. Most volunteers put in between one and six hours of work. The ratio of hours to quantity of food varies depending on the farm and time of year. Typically, three or four hours of work earn volunteers a half share. Last week, for example, a half share included "a pound and a half of peas, three zucchinis, three onions, three beats, a pound of carrots, a bunch of kale, cabbage and a head of lettuce," according to Greg Price, the manager at River Road. That's a lot of food. And with the summer bounty bursting, now's the best time to participate. Garden City Harvest tells volunteers to come prepared to work hard and get dirty by weeding, planting, harvesting—and more weeding. Bring water, sunscreen, close-toed shoes and maybe a hat. Call 523-3663 for more information.

click to enlarge Meadowsweet Herbs offers affordable summer classes on how to wildcraft. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

You can also work for food at the Missoula Community Food Co-op (1500 Burns Street). It requires members to contribute just three hours of work per month, which cumulatively accounts for the majority of the co-op's overhead costs, resulting in lower prices. Lifetime memberships cost $125, or less if you're a student or receive federal assistance. For more information call 728-2369.

How to have some fun

How to curate your own art museum

We're lucky in that both of the local art museums—the Missoula Art Museum (335 N. Pattee Street) and the University of Montana's Museum of Art and Culture (inside the PARTV Center on UM's campus)—don't charge admission. But just aimlessly wandering the halls and soaking in the artwork feels like a glorified elementary school field trip. That's why we like to play a little game when attending one of these museum's rotating exhibits—ignoring the placards next to each work and coming up with our own titles. The exercise will make you look a little more intently at each item on display and generate some interesting conversation with your fellow art lovers.

How to watch movie stars, under the stars, for free

The old Go-West drive-in movie theater off Highway 10 West closed in 1999, but that shouldn't stop you from watching movies in the fresh outdoor air. The Missoula Outdoor Cinema is one way to catch a pretty eclectic collection of flicks every Saturday, all summer long, for free. The movies are projected on a big 12-by-25 screen by a bright, high-resolution digital projector at the Headstart school on the corner of Worden and Philips. You can bring compact seating or blankets, and cart in a picnic dinner at 8 p.m., well before the show starts. Be warned: It's a non-alcoholic, family-friendly deal. But the movies aren't just for kids. The upcoming batch includes Mama Mia! (July 31), Thelma & Louis (Aug. 7), Some Like it Hot (Aug. 14), The Big Lebowski (Aug. 21) and The Dark Knight (Aug. 28).

How to hear live music for free any day of the week

Cover charges and venue ticket prices are the bane of today's frugal entertainment seeker. Thankfully there's a free alternative nearly every night of the week around Missoula in the form of the sometimes laughable, sometimes surprising, always upbeat open mic night (check our calendar for regular listings). Mostly these events attract a plethora of one-man or one-woman acoustic acts, the guitar toting singer-songwriters whose lyrics drip with angst and failed college romance. But take any Monday night at Sean Kelly's, for example, and you're guaranteed at least one self-deprecating hip-hop or Prince cover, the kind that will have you snorting Bud draft out your nose. The most redeeming aspect of the open mic experience is the fact that few performers have any whims about "making it big." They appreciate the overstated whoops and hollers, but tend not to notice the pervading silence that follows a less-than-stellar tune. Occasionally they'll treat you to something of a spectacle, like a male Gwen Stefani duet or a mandolin solo on the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (one Indy staffer notes from personal experience, both get open mic crowds roaring). Everyone's there for essentially the same reasons: It's fun and it's free. Just be sure to tip your bartender.

How to hear live music for free on the weekend

Thank god for the Union Club (208 E. Main Street). Times may change, and local bands may come and go, but the blue collar bar still offers live music Friday and Saturday evenings with no cover charge. (Note: The summer schedule doesn't always include Saturdays. Double-check our calendar before you head down.) That means you can catch popular acts like Reverend Slanky, Tom Catmull and the Clerics, Cash for Junkers and others as they play in front of Missoula's most popular dance floor. Again, just be sure to tip your bartender.

How to play pub trivia

You're smart, even if you're poor. Getting together a power team for pub quiz night is a cheap, if not free, way to show off your brain and maybe learn a trivial bit or two. Even though it's expected you'll buy a few beers, it doesn't cost anything to actually play the game. Sean Kelly's (130 W. Pine Street) has been hosting a pub quiz every Tuesday night for over a decade now, and recently Brooks and Browns Lounge at the Holiday Inn-Downtown at the Park (200 S. Pattee Street) got in on the action with Thursday night games. The entertainment and education factors of playing trivia with friends for three hours are valuable in themselves. But if you've got a team of know-it-alls, you likely could win some prizes. Sean Kelly's awards $30 toward your bar tab for first place, $15 for second and $8 for third and fourth places. Brooks and Browns has a $50 first place prize. If you become a regular winner, you can even save your acquired winnings for one big beer splurge. Nice way to use your head.

How to shop without making a purchase

We're talking about window-shopping, an activity that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. Take Circle Square Second Hand (519 N. Higgins Avenue): The last time we checked, Circle Square's display window featured a Salvatore Dali theme, anchored by a book opened to a page featuring one of the painter's otherworldly psychedelic landscapes. A mannequin decked out in a pink, orange and yellow flower print shirt, wearing sunglasses and carrying a whip, stood to the left of the book. Several bocce balls dotted the floor, along with a red clog. Statues of demure looking women holding jugs stood in front of a red barbeque. A lizard with wings hung from the store's "Open" sign. It's a lot to take in, and worthy of at least several minutes of window-shopping.

Circle Square owner and window dresser extraordinaire John Baker says the Dali theme is popular, but he changes motifs regularly. Astrology is a personal favorite. "I'm kind of into all that shit," he says.

How to play bingo—and other games!— with old people

Volunteer bingo caller Dick Pickens says smart players can easily win a couple bucks off of a bingo buy-in at the Missoula Senior Center (705 S. Higgins Avenue). Two cards go for just 25 cents, and winnings run in the neighborhood of $1 to $2 per game—or enough to buy a Pabst tall boy. The trick, Pickens says, is paying attention to which numbers have been called and selecting a bingo card with numbers yet to be selected.

"Some people are better at picking out cards than others," Pickens says. "If you think it through a little bit, then you increase your chances of winning."

The Senior Center puts on "mildly competitive games" of bingo every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and every Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. The facility also hosts free cribbage, pinochle and dominos, and offers a sweet 25-cents-per-game pool table.

click to enlarge A $4 rental tube and $13 case of Pabst can provide a full day’s worth of fun on the river. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • A $4 rental tube and $13 case of Pabst can provide a full day’s worth of fun on the river.

How to ride the river

Missoulians had refined the art of the cheap day-trip downstream well before the current recession. Our backyard is full of blue ribbon playgrounds—the Bitterroot, the Blackfoot, the Clark Fork—and all it takes is a $4 rental tube from the Army Navy Economy Store (322 N. Higgins Avenue) and a $13 case of Pabst to turn any financial stresses into metaphysical driftwood. All you need to do is arrange for a shuttle back to your bike or car, find an inviting put-in, and you're good to go.

How to make a splash without hitting the river

Public swimming pools like Splash! Montana and Currents can cost an arm and a leg for lowbaggers. As an alternative, check out one of the many local splash parks located around the city. Bonner Park (corner of Hilda and Evans avenues) offers plenty of water works, as does West Side Park (corner of Phillips and Scott streets). Just be careful as you're avoiding dumped buckets of water from overhead and fountains launched from the ground—little kids rule these spots, and can be easily toppled if you don't look where you're going.

How to shoot a gun for fun

You live in Montana, the land of guns. Even if you haven't jumped on the hunting bandwagon, you can at least have fun practicing your Calamity Jane target skills. While it's not necessarily the cheapest hobby, there are ways of making it cost effective in the long run. If you already own a gun, the ammo can be expensive depending on what you need. If you don't have a firearm, check out one of the better deals with the Ruger .22 long rifle, which costs a relatively measly $200 and requires ammo that's just $20 per 500 rounds. If you shoot an average of 50 rounds every time you go out to the range, that's just $2 of high octane fun each time. You can go to a real hunting range like the Hellgate Civilian Shooters Association's Deep Creek range for just $3 per day (543-3075), or Missoula Trap and Skeet (549-4815) for a $30 yearly membership, among other ranges. But there are plenty of unofficial shooting spots on public lands—you'll know them by their pitted out dirt banks filled with confetti-like smattering of shells, riddled stuffed animals and broken televisions.

How to catch a ballgame for free

The Missoula Osprey offer many discount opportunities for tickets, but nothing beats the free seats just beyond the stadium's center field wall. With little more than a lawn chair and a cooler, you can sit a couple feet from the center fielder—and directly below a real osprey nest—for nothing.

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