Broke as F*ck: The Lifestyle Guide

4. Eat Pray Love

Shopping on a budget for food is by far the most depressing activity of all of the broke as fuck activities, including selling your old shit to strangers and sharing a room for the first time in five years. You’re going to see so much food you can’t buy, shouldn’t buy, and would never desire to eat. The only problem? Sometimes food from the last category will fall into your life – but only rarely will food from the first two ever show up to dinner.

I go through my broke periods on a 10 – 15 dollar a week sliding scale food budget, meaning I shoot for 10 and refuse to go over 15. I do not eat lavishly or fancily or really all that fresh, but I do find that I live on surprisingly delicious, simple, and quick meals.

When you go shopping on a budget, think week-by-week just like your spreadsheet. A loaf of bread and cheese will last one week, but a bag of rice will last a bunch. So stagger what you buy and make investments with your money! For example, you could easily buy pasta, sauce, bread, cheese, and canned veggies at once with this budget. And depending on how much you eat, that could mean that next week you don’t need a lot of veggies or pasta, and you can invest instead in a bag of rice. That bag will last you all summer, or, if you eat it twice a day, a little over two weeks. I promise. Buy enough to get by in a week, but don’t buy lavish or short-lived items only. Take shopping as a challenge and try to plan accordingly. How long can you make 10 bucks last, after all?

Also, get in the practice of reflecting on small to large purchases to decide if they’re worth it. The hint: often they’re not!


Always look for the cheapest kind of something and the cheapest form of everything — canned over frozen, frozen over fresh. Buy store brand and buy what’s on sale. Remember staple items when you’re living on a budget, and to sometimes revert to childhood. Try eating a banana and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at work, or making a simple bowl of pasta and sauce with some bread and melted cheese on the side.

My favorite purchases include: artisan breads, store-brand pastas, plain white rice, canned mushrooms, canned string beans, canned tomatoes (diced, not pureed or anything weird), avocados, bananas, provolone cheese pre-sliced and pre-packaged, small tortillas, UTZ anything, Ramen, store-brand macaroni & cheese in a box, and Celeste personal size pizzas. When I come into extra money I spring for pre-bagged apples, artificial meat via Morningstar Farms, string cheese, and store-brand Diet Cola. And my ultimate advice? Be a vegetarian when you’re broke. Seriously. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat deliciously, though! See the following:

Get Baked: Broke As Fuck Edition

+ Broke Lunch: Pasta Salad

You Need: one box of pasta, one can of three bean salad

This is super easy. Boil tri-color pasta (I love wagon wheels but haven’t bought them in a while) – the whole box. Drain it and then rinse under cold water so it isn’t hot to the touch anymore. Then, add a can of Three Bean Salad (try the Hanover brand, it’s only two dollar by me) and mix it well. Even better than eating it is knowing that you can eat it like four more times this week! Never again will you dream of going home and having to cook. Now, you can dream of going home and eating amazing things.

+ Broke Dinner: Rice and Beans, Tortilla Pizza, and Veggies

You Need: rice, Goya Sazon seasoning, one can of red/black/refried beans, tortillas, cholula, cheese, canned veggie

Rice and beans is the cheapest thing ever. Seriously. And beans? PROTEIN? Honestly. How much luckier can you get?

Boil about three cups of rice and use one packet of Goya Sazon and one can of beans. Prepare the rice with spices and the Sazon, and then use a pan or skillet to season the beans and warm them up. Mix them together once they’ve both cooked completely. This will feed you dinner twice and lunch twice, unless you’re not eating just this as a meal. If you aren’t it will last forever.

In the image below I have prepared rice and beans with pizza-style baked tortilla and broccoli with cheese. I lived in a house, so stuff like olive oil and spices were readily available. I was living on 10 dollars a week when I made this. I ate it 5 nights in a row.

I made the pizza-style baked tortillas by slathering corn tortillas in butter on both sides and throwing them in the oven at 350. I added Cholula as if it were pizza sauce on a pizza, grated cheese, and spices before baking. I baked until it was crisp, and sometimes I also divided those into slices and dipped them in refried beans as a snack.

The broccoli was from a can.

+ Broke Dinner: Mac and Cheese, Garlic-ish Toast, and Salad

You Need: a Mac N’ Cheese box, two slices of bread, cheese of your choice, salad stuff to your preference

This meal, which I made last week and put on Instagram, required as much effort as being asleep. I made Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and added all-purpose seasoning, mustard powder, and a slice of real cheese. I never put butter in my Mac n’ Cheese. That powder dissolves in water, for God’s sake. Everything else is just fancy.

I made a salad with iceberg lettuce, carrot slices made with a carrot slicer, walnuts my friend gave me, cheese I broke into pieces from slices, and poppyseed dressing – store brand. Today I made the same thing and threw canned tomatoes in. Oh My Gaga.

Finally, I heated a slice of Ciabatta with half a slice of cheese and added garlic, onion, and magic. I couldn’t get my oven to work well, but I bet you could.

For step-by-step directions and other broke recipes, check out the Tumblr I started when I was very fucked up and broke for the first time, Simmer and Smoke.

5. Have A Good Time

Having fun is important when broke because it might be your only outlet for happiness when you lose all your energy working all day, stop being able to go out, and find yourself with a laptop that has no functioning speakers and no DVD copies of most Wes Anderson films.

Just kidding. Kind of.

Let’s start with spirits, assuming you have time and/or any leftover money for consuming alcohol. Drinking can be complex when you’re broke, but you can do it. When you go out, stick to happy hour or drink specials, and do not splurge on anything fancy. You are not too proud to drink Bud Lite at the Drake After Party. That’s what being broke is like. Alcohol is a stupid thing to waste money on, especially when you could be spending that money on stuff like food or transportation.

Also, Jello Shots.

Consider drinking at home. It’s efficient and minimizes the costs of going out. Also, consider throwing BYOB events so that you can maintain a social life and your budget at the same time.

Once you’ve sobered up, try to find cheap and free activities nearby to partake in to mix up your routine a little. If you’re in a city like, say, Washington, DC, you could go to any number of free museums or cheap-as-fuck lesbian parties. And even if you’re not, look out for stuff like free movie screenings, free small-time concerts, and anything that looks like it includes tabling AKA free stuff. Do not be too proud to go to your university’s free graduation events purely for food and wearing all of the wrong things.

At the end of the day, remember that the only things necessary for you to live happily ever after are any combination of stable interpersonal communication and relationships, doing it frequently, owning a pet, and/or finding a source of personal fulfillment in your average every day activities – and that all of these things are free or have extremely minimal month-to-month costs! Give and receive many hugs and you will make it. Also, cuddle with my dog. Or maybe pick strawberries and then go to IHOP, where endless coffee is like, two dollars.

photo by rachel horesovsky

As a reminder, protests are free and often include the opportunity to meet others, be featured in news photographs online, and be hilarious. They are always free, and sometimes you can meet ladies at them. Also, if you like free stuff you like protests. Especially if that free stuff you want includes stickers of any kind.

Other free / cheap / worth it activities include lounging at a public pool or the one at your friend’s apartment building, volunteering at the ASPCA so you can pet the animals all day, taking a bike tour of anywhere, taking a lot of photographs, decorating and redecorating your room, painting your nails, taking long spa showers and indulging in stuff you already own, melting into the couch and watching Under The Tuscan Sun on VHS, exploring your neighborhood, listening to Nico, reading books you bought at thrift stores because they had pretty covers, going thrifting and checking out estate sales to pick up old issues of National Geographic.

Also, I know I’ve said this already, but day drinking with friends is always the cure for being broke. Always.

6. Give Back

I have found that the following things remain true despite scientific and basic mathematical evidence otherwise: when I stop thinking about my weight I am able to eat anything I want, when I let go of my need for control everything works out, and when I share and give to others, I never find myself too broke to function or without the things I need. When I share my cigarettes the pack always lasts as long as I need it to, but sometimes when I don’t it disappears. And despite being broke, and quantifying everything I own and use based on how much it costs per unit, sharing and giving always makes me feel good.

Don’t use your financial problems as a reason to stop taking care of the people you love and giving back to them in any way possible. Got some extra tips today? Buy a round. Did mom send you birthday money? Share the love by buying a handle for the pool party. And if you get a job, get promoted, win the lottery, or come into an inheritance, an accidental drug dealing situation, or old war bonds, live it up with the people who matter most.

(Lucky) 7. Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down

Do what you can, and live like you must, and give up what you should – but keep what you love. Being broke is something you will hopefully grow out of, so get something out of it while you can. Learn something about yourself and the little fire inside that never goes out. When you feel frustrated write about it so you can put it in your memoir. Never give up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but only when you seriously need it, and attempt to do all you can to free yourself from any anxiety and/or stress caused by piles of bills, your gas being turned off five days before you move out of your apartment, or carrying 20 pounds of dog food in one hand so you can continue buying in bulk from a store two miles from your front door.

Be really fucking proud of yourself every night when you go to bed.

You’re gonna make it.

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Carmen is the Digital Editor at Ms. , Managing Editor at Argot, a Contributor at Everyday Feminism, and Co-Host of The Bossy Show. She previously served as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor, and Social Media Co-Director at Autostraddle. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 924 articles for us.


  1. Oh my Holy Jesus Christ on a pink haystack! This post could not have come at a more opportune time!

    I just seriously spent the last three hours wallowing in self-pity because I’m broke broke broke! (The worst part is I’m not actually in a bad spot in life. I’m just broke and freaking the fuck out)!

    Then I grew tired of wallowing and I was all like…let’s go surf the interwebs and see what Autostraddle has to say.
    Then…BAM!!…Here this is all up on the first page like a shining beacon of hope! 😀 I’m still freaking out though! 😛

  2. I agree with almost all of this.
    You guys, I don’t even have a room right now. It would probably be best described as an alcove, and is really just a continuation of our apartment’s living room. But I don’t have to pay as much rent this way, so I’m not complaining.

    Food consists of a lot of rice, pasta, beans, and other legumes. Carrots, cabbage, and bananas are also cheap in my area right now. Also frozen corn- $2 for a 2-lb bag, guys! And dried beans are even cheaper than canned- $1-2 per pound in my area. Onions are usually also cheap.
    My neighborhood grocery store has also helpfully labeled things as being “WIC approved,” which I’ve determined is usually code for “Hey, this is the cheapest thing we have of its type”

    I’m keeping myself entertained by riding my bike for ridiculous amounts of time& distance, and reading. There was a table at my city’s pride just giving away tons of free books! Also I can use the library when I run out of books from pride (once I pay the library the late fine I owe them).

      • Yeah, the taking longer part is my only problem with dried beans- basically they require planning, which is something I am not good at.
        I recommend red lentils for anyone who is bad at planning- same delicious goodness, but super quick, easy, and require no planning whatsoever. Other lentils are good for if you didn’t plan and have a bit more time.

  3. While I’m definitely not broke now, I’ve been there and been really good at it.
    -Buy ramen-type noodles in bulk (Chinatown), add diff veggies and seasoning every time and it doesn’t get unbearably monotonous as quickly and is way healthier for you and if you’re veg/an, doesn’t include secret animal products.
    -The Homegoods sections of Marshall’s/TJMaxx/Ocean State have really underestimated food sections, they are unquestionably WHERE IT’S AT if you are vegan/gluten-free/fancybroke.
    -Poorluck burrito night! Everyone gets assigned a item to bring and suddenly there is a burrito bar.
    -Become a modern merchant. If you have a smartphone, go to goodwill/thrift/junk places and amazon the books’ prices starting with the oldest looking. You can use this kind of technique with a lot of stuff, but past books it’s safest to focus on stuff you know, whether it’s coins or pottery or horses.
    -Don’t pay for things you don’t have to. Stop paying for toilet paper and paper towels for sure, just go to college campuses and steal it. Some colleges have free tampons in their bathrooms; raid that shit. Feel free to feel like a secret agent. Sometimes colleges have freebie days/freebie boxes, ask around.
    -If you wear make-up, utilize the little known CVS policy of beauty product returns. Make-up, skin stuff, sunblock, hairstuff, basically anything. “It’s not my color,” “It made me break out,” “Smells weird,” “I just don’t like it,” etc. Return it within 60 days w/ receipt and get CASH, without receipt whenever for store credit. My grandmother did this forever.
    (Some of these things involve falling on a shadier side of morality, but personally, screwing corrupt corporations and the for-profit education system is not something I give a fuck about.)

  4. Some solid advice in this article, a few other things I disagree with. My 2 cents, in random order :

    -It’s great if credit cards is what works for Carmen and other people to manage their money efficiently, but for some others they have the opposite effect, so don’t hesitate to experiment yourself where you fall on that point. Some folks don’t fully realize how much they spend when they just put their card in a machine and see a number printed on a ticket afterwards, but actually taking bills out of your wallet and handing them over makes it much more concrete (I’m that way).

    -This one is going to sound really stupid but : make more money. No seriously, an astounding number of people don’t realize that jobs aren’t the only way to make money. Basically, if you know how to do something – anything – that not everyone can do, there’s someone out there willing to pay you for it. And if you really don’t have any skills or talents, some are really easy to learn.
    Whether it’s knitting cute stuff while babysitting or watching TV and selling it online, cooking/baking food and selling it door-to-door at your campus, reading tarot cards to patrons at the bar, building/fixing furnitures, proof-reading and correcting schoolpapers, or speaking a foreign language… there’s monies to be made with that. (But you know, just keep it reasonably legal)

    -I’ve seen alcohol mentioned quite a few times in this post, and this baffles me a bit. If there’s one thing that cost a bunch and doesn’t provide you with any benefits whatsoever, it’s alcohol. If you don’t know how to relax and destress without drinking, find a new way – meditation, sports, video games, yelling obscenities at passerbys, plenty of choice. If you don’t know how to socialize without alcohol, stop going to bars and college parties and join a non-profit or a club and hang out at free places/events in which people are doing interesting stuff. If you don’t have fun when you’re with your friends if you’re not drinking… maybe it’s time to find new friends.

    -The part about budgeting your food and shopping was solid, I’ll just add one thing : don’t just look at the price, weight it against the nourishing value of the food. A cheap pizza can be tempting, but if you eat it all in one go and feel hungry 2 hrs afterwards that’s money badly spent – for the same price maybe you could have bought a pound or pasta or a bunch of eggs that would have lasted you for days. Diet coke is even worse – whether it’s Coca Cola or the cheapass imitation, it’s still a bunch of gas and chemicals for a grand total of 0 calories. Actually just avoid diet-anything altogether, it rarely is cheaper than the real stuff and your body needs fat (yes, is doesn’t matter how much you weight : fat is always good. Wanna drop pounds? Cut out the carbs).

    -A variation on the 1st part of the article, for people like me who aren’t comfortable with cards and automatic payments and/or find it easier to budget on a monthly basis :

    step 1 : calculate your incompressible expenses for each month (rent, taxes, internet, bills, car insurance etc).
    step 2 : write checks for each of these things. If you’re paying some of them on a weekly basis (like rent), do four checks for each week.
    step 3 : put all these checks in an envelope.
    step 4 : every month on your payday, send all the checks. ALL of them!
    step 5 : once it’s done, on the same day, estimate your variable expenses for the month (groceries, gas, transportation..). Pick a comfortable number in your estimated window and put that money in another envelope.
    (optional but recommended) step 6 : send off a small amount of money to a separate bank account. Same amount every month, stick with it. You’re not allowed to use this money for groceries or fun : that’s your emergency fund.
    step 7 : Tadaa! Now you’ve got your ass covered and your mind at peace for the month. Any remaining money is to spend at your leisure – if you’ve got any left at the end of the month, it’s your call whether to add it to the emergency fund or carry it over to the next month.

    -Almost forgot this one BUT super important, kinda ties back with the part about shopping :
    no matter whether you got it at 10% or 80% off, if you bought something on sale that you wouldn’t have *at least* seriously considered buying at full price or didn’t REALLY needed, you didn’t “save” any money – you SPENT some. <- That type of thinking drive me crazy. Crazy!

    (yeah, if it isn't obvious by now, I kind of have a lifelong experience of being broke as fuck lol)

  5. very good article!! one tip that always helps to me out when i am considering a splurge item is to think of it in terms of work hours. like a $30 dress is 3h of work, and then i don’t want to buy it.

    • This works even better when you calculate how much disposable income you make per hour. Say I make $10/hour and I work 40 hours/week, 160 hours/month. $1600/month, say you lose $200 to taxes etc. 4 weeks/month, that’s $1400/month. Rent/bills are $1000. So you worked 160 hours to earn $400 disposable dollars. That means you’re only earning $2.50/hour of disposable income. So that $30 dress really took you 12 hours to earn.

  6. This is great, Carmen! I am only sorta broke these days, but still trying to keep myself on a budget and I gotta say, it’s HARD. I have not a lot of self-control, apparently. Also, I am majorly impressed by that food budget… I aim for $25-30 a week in groceries, and I mostly eat a lot of eggs and quinoa and peanut butter and tortillas. Though I have a physically active job and bike/run around a lot, so I find I have to eat more than I would if I just sat around on the computer all day.

    Things that have helped me now/in the past: having a job that provides a shift meal, even though it’s boring eating the same five things all week. Going to gallery openings/any event that advertises free food. Exercise – bike/run/walk – you can make it a social thing if you want. is a great way to get things you need like clothes or household items.

  7. Great article! But I would like to say that pets are not inexpensive. They can be, but any pet from a tiny mouse to a Great Dane can rack up hundreds or thousands of dollars in vet bills. As the pet gets older (a mouse is older after only about 18 months), the vet bills often increase. Even a young pet can have an expensive issue. Please don’t get a pet if you’re broke, but instead take the author’s advice of volunteering at your local animal shelter to get your pet fix.

    I have to live like I’m broke so I can afford my dog’s vet care. He is worth every penny.

    • yeah, my recommendation for having a pet when you’re broke is to foster one! I’m not sure if all pet adoption/foster agencies are the same, but many will provide you with everything you’ll need. for folks in the CA bay area, I had a great experience fostering a cat from Hopalong– they give you the food, litter, litter box, scooper, cat carrier, medication if the animal gets sick, etc. it really costs you nothing.

  8. This is a really great article. Even though I’m no longer broke, I’m still very frugal and super conscious about how I spend my money.

    There is one part I have a problem with.

    “At the end of the day, remember that the only things necessary for you to live happily ever after are any combination of stable interpersonal communication and relationships, doing it frequently, owning a pet, and/or finding a source of personal fulfillment in your average every day activities – and that all of these things are free or have extremely minimal month-to-month costs!”

    This would be a great point if the “owning a pet” part were removed. Pet ownership is a huge responsibility, and is by no means free or even minimal in the expense department (I’m talking about dogs/cats here). As somebody who worked several years as a vet tech, I’ve seen my fair share of clients who couldn’t afford treatment and their pets suffered as a result.

    I understand that sometimes things happen and circumstances change, but I strongly believe that people should stick to fish and avoid buying a dog or cat until their financial situation is stable.

    A great alternative is volunteering at the ASPCA (as was mentioned in this article) or fostering! If you foster an animal, you get the benefits of pet ownership with less of a commitment both with your time (dogs and cats live forever and fostering is temporary) and your money (most rescue organizations pay for the food/vet care/etc). Plus, lots of the time you end up fostering baby animals. So basically you have kittens for a few weeks and they go to their permanent homes and you get new kittens to care for. UNLIMITED KITTENS YOU GUYS. I’m more of a dog person myself, but baby kittens are super adorable and that’s pretty much universal.

  9. also, if you do your food shopping at the end of the day when the shops are nearly closed, you can get so much discount fresh shit. sometimes this is discount because nobody wanted it (ex: frozen whole squid with an unpleasant look in its eye, broken sausage rolls without pastry, all forms of quark) and sometimes because it’s about to go out of date. and you can freeze the discount stuff if you don’t want to eat it all at once.

    sometimes if you go to a butchers or a fresh fruit/vegetable shop ask if they have anything they are throwing away you can have ‘for the dog’. i am not too proud to eat food one step up the food chain from industrial wastebins. i get huge quantities of about to rot tomatoes from the veg shop near me and then i make a cauldron of pasta sauce and freeze that motherfucker till i want it.

    for freezing, you waste less if you freeze small portions rather than massive ones so you only thaw what you need. nobody on earth enjoys hacking at an enormous tray of frozen pasta to get out one portion. you can use ziplocs if you are fancy, or you can use silver foil if you are not.

    • Also dumpstering. If your local grocery stores/restaurants don’t have trash compactors, they can be a wealth of delicious free food (including infusions of fresh fruits and vegetables that are too expensive to purchase when broke as fuck). Sweetbay in Central Florida and Rouse’s in Louisiana/New Orleans are options if you live in those areas; if your area has a Food Not Bombs chapter, they are probably very knowledgeable on dumpstering (just make sure you’re not competing with them for food!). Of course, the necessary disclaimer – this shit can get you arrested for trespassing if you are caught by assholes. But if you can make it work, it can exponentially increase your food options.

  10. Food–buy bulk food, day-old bakery items, loiter at catered events at universities/libraries/museums/galleries.

    Shelter– if you’re totally homeless try to get a dogsitting gig, or borrow a friend’s, and hangout at the park all day advertising your skillz.

    Security–Assertive hellos, smiles, and a can of bearspray.

    • If you live in the west and have access to a Winco, GO THERE NOW. RIGHT NOW. They have the best, cheapest bulk food section with free recipe cards telling you how to use the bulk food.

      If you don’t live in the west, HA! I’ve finally found something that is better here than anywhere else. I rub your nose our wonderful Winco-y goodness.

  11. Really great article!

    I just wanted to add an idea: If you’re using disposable pads/tampons it really saves a BUNCH of money in the end if you switch to using menstrual cups or cloth pads! Plus it’s better for the environment and supposedly better for your health.

    • Problem with reusable menstrual products is there’s a lot of startup cost. $60 (yep, that’s what I paid, I live in Australia) for a cup I use for 5 years is a great value over time, but if I’m spending $20 a week on groceries, that $60 is probably insurmountable.

      • I really recommend sea sponges (they’re sold by Jade and Pearl, but I’m sure there are other sources–I’d google something like menstrual sponge). They are so much cheaper than cups, I find them WAY more comfortable, they are reusable for a long, long time, and when you finally do get rid of them they’re completely biodegradable. You can also wear them during sexytimes without any sort of discomfort. I can’t even tell when I have one in, and sometimes just forget.

        Of course, you have to do what you’re comfortable with, and if you really like tampons and think they’re worth the money, USE THEM. They can be really damn convenient.

  12. Carmen! I am almost positive I saw you on the metro this morning. As someone who did Americorps for 2 years, these are all excellent broke tips. But now I have a real job! And I take all my friends out to dinner! You could come too sometime, on me.

  13. Thinking more about this, I have a couple things to add:

    1) Drive less. If it’s possible for you, bike/bus/walk. The main reason that I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck on my crappy wages is that without a car I’m not paying for gas, insurance, or car repairs. Sure, it sucks to show up everywhere sweaty and out of breath, but I’m in a much better place financially. And in better shape!

    2) Take care of yourself and your stuff. Seriously, nothing will break your budget like an ER trip because you didn’t pee after sex & have a kidney infection now (this happened to my roommate) or having to buy a new bike because you didn’t lock up your old one, AKA your only form of transportation, and it was stolen (happened to my friend). Drink water, floss your teeth, and triple-check that your phone is somewhere safe before you jump in the pool.

  14. The BEST broke food: Miso soup!!!! It’s SO cheap and tricks you into thinking you’re soo full and healthy =)
    step 1: boil water
    2: add pinch of wakame
    3: add dissolved miso
    That’s it!
    (dissolve the miso w a little hot water separately before stirring it into the soup because then it won’t be clumpy).
    you can also add vegetables! or tofu! or anything.

    also, brown rice+gommashio= actually delicious!
    (gommashio is roasted sea salt+roasted ground up sesame seeds.)
    those brown rice and miso soup can be eaten for breakfast lunch and dinner, and if u do will even out to about 40 cents/meal. =D

  15. I admit to never having been on the edge of desperation, and even if I was, there were people I could (probably) call, but I do have some tips from my life of a person on a budget.

    -Drink a shit ton of water. Not only is it good for your overall health to drink lots of water, it’s also a good filler. It’s important to remember it has no calories so it is not a substitute for food, but it will placate your hunger temporarily, and it’s free at most public places, like your place of employment! I heard if you’re not peeing clear you’re not drinking enough water. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, do it anyway.

    -Brew your own alcohol. It takes a relatively small one-time capital investment(tip #3, make yourself feel better by saying snooty things like “capital investment”). You can get a water-cooler jug and an airlock for a few bucks. Not only is it one of the best dollar/drunkeness, but all your friends will think you’re super cool. Plus, if you have a windfall and can afford to brew you can host parties and charge admission of a buck or two, and you’ve made back your money and were the cool kid with the party.

    -Learn a marketable skill. Maybe you have a degree but still only a crappy part-time job. Good that means you have plenty of time but not enough money. You can learn things for free online, crazy! Maybe learn a few programming language and so some contract work, people always need programmers. Plus every hour you spend learning is another hour not spent crying on your bed or giving into the temptation of going out and spending money.

    -Crash Weddings. I’ve never done this and you can be let your own moral compass guide you, but I do know people who will dress up nice, check the newspaper for wedding announcements, then show up for the free food. If you’re caught, turn to your buddy and say “I told you this wasn’t the X wedding, I don’t recognize anyone!” then calmly leave.

    -Party or food. A disclaimer, this should ONLY BE DONE is you have a steady source of food with a decent calorie and nutrient intake. YOU SHOULD NOT do this if there is any risk of malnutrition or if skipping meals is a normal thing for you. You should also bee warned that people tend to over eat after they skip meals. But are you going out tonight, maybe skip dinner. Drinking on an empty stomach means you spent less on food and alcohol.

  16. Good article, but I would add/alter a few things. Banks are for profit, which means their only goals are to squeeze every dime out of you (often without you realizing) and expand their customer base. If you are really looking to save money, put your money in a credit union! Credit unions are not for profit, community oriented, and almost always have online banking and other features that banks have. Chase may march in pride, but they’re actually awful and will try to squeeze every dime out of you.

    Someone might have mentioned this already, but definitely buy food in bulk. It might throw off a weekly food budget initially, but will be worth it over a longer period of time. A lot of food like boxed rice can have higher prices than bagging your own food in bulk merely because of the packaging.

    As far as volunteering goes, consider volunteering at a local farmer’s market if you’re fortunate enough to live near one. I did this last year and would often get the leftover not-good-enough-to-sell-but-not-totally-spoiled lettuce, chard, leeks, etc. at the end of a market day. Learn to cook weird vegetables, which are sometimes on sale at grocery stores because most people shy away from warty spaghetti squash, and you’ll be able to maintain a healthier diet. If a nearby community garden offers free plot space, you cheap healthy food and fun times digging in dirt! If you have to pay for a space, go in on it with a friend and split the harvest. If you share food with several other people, CSA boxes can be a great deal.

    Good luck, everyone! We will survive.

  17. this is so thorough and relevant and makes me feel like I can totally afford a-camp again! my additions:

    put PEANUT BUTTER in OATMEAL. in general, eat lots of peanut butter, try to get it without sugar added. be careful about the veggies you buy – iceberg lettuce isn’t really anything. DARKER IS BETTER(kale, chard, purple cabbage, etc.) stock up on FROZEN SPINACH when it’s on sale. buy in season. you don’t actually need fruit. when you buy food, look at CALORIES and PROTEIN and not just price. what has the most calories on the dollar menu? get that! whole wheat/brown rice/grainier = fuller longer. cook with lots of OIL instead of butter and/or cheese. start frying stuff (save and re-use the oil). DEEP FRIED CHICK PEAS are life changing. FRY BANANAS. get a FLASK and don’t buy alcohol at bars. POWDERED DRINK MIX is your mixer. vegetarian/vegan can be super cheap. CANNED MEAT is totally a thing. BAKE! if you have time or enjoy it as stess relief, make your own bread/tortillas/pizza dough. Make a bunch of pizza dough one day, let it rise, and freeze it individually. you guys, FOODSTAMPS. seriously, food stamps. there are tons of allocated but unclaimed foodstamps. if you qualify for them, you deserve them. I don’t know if this is real advice as there are lots of downsides, but BE A HOARDER. take free stuff, save for rainy day, sell it. LIBRARIES! to every potluck, bring this dip: ONE CAN BEANLESS TURKEY CHILI + ONE PACKAGE CREAM CHEESE melted together. buy ULTRABRIGHT toothpaste. it’s like #1 ranked by someone and under $1.

    I clearly am a little too excited about frugal living, very clear I have not had to do this my whole life.

  18. Huge fan of craigslist. Both for when I need something but can’t afford new price, and for when I need some quick cash and have to sell something off I don’t necessarily need.

    Also, Trader Joe’s. Holy shit a lot of their food is really cheap and healthy. $50 can get you 2 weeks worth of groceries if you shop right.

    Also, also, there’s this pub down the street from where I live that has SAVED MY ASS so many times. From 7-9 they have free hotdogs (like those big Costco hot dogs with all the condiments) with any drink, and free popcorn and pretzels all night. Their cheapest beer is $4, and their cheapest well is $5, so for $4 you can have booze, a few hot dogs and some popcorn and pretzels. Which is highly unhealthy but more than enough to get you through till lunch the next day when you spread some peanut butter on some Ritz crackers and contemplate the state of your adulthood.

    • I got my bed on Craigslist. FOR FREE. I wrote in the wanted section that I really wanted a new bed because I was using the same bed that my grandma had before she died in 1986 and my kitties had discovered a hole in the boxspring and liked to hide in it and I was quite sure the mattress was slowly killing me and the bedframe was also very, very broken. A few weeks later, I got a call from a girl who was moving to Mongolia and wanted to give me her bed. Her three month old (this is brand new to me!!!) bed with an amazing supportive and unsullied mattress and beautiful though slightly princessy bedframe. I had to convince my uncle to drive me to pick it up and haul it to my apartment, but it was one of the greatest achievements of my life.

      And yes, I have done my best to sully that mattress since I obtained ownership. Of course.

  19. Sometimes being friendly with your landlord/lady helps when you can’t pay your rent on time. Also, cutting back on expensive coffee and fast food really helps. I know that because I do that and I also live on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. It is also noteworthy, and embarassing, that I have been postponing opening a savings account after being employed for 4 years now. Not a very wise thing to do, shame on me. Taking vitamins and eating healthy may seem expensive but really, it us much more fucking expensive to buy medicine when you get sick (also, you may skip work hence lose a day or two from your payroll), meds are not covered by health insurances so…..

  20. When I was poor (like, when you shift from ‘which meal of the day will I choose to skip’ to ‘which meal of the day will I choose to eat), the best things I learnt were:

    – learning how to make dal, red lentils were the cheapest for of protein I could find
    – when all you have is rice, and not even much of that, turning it into rice porridge (congee), and it goes further
    – learning to bake bread, and buying bread just before closing time
    – exhibition openings = best free social activity. free attendance, heating/air-con, roof, defined activity (ie. not loitering), free beverages and snacks

  21. Also, the barter section on Craigslist. Right now we’re having our house cleaned and our lawn mowed at no cash cost because my partner has a marketable skill. Me, of course…not so useful, so I cook the beans & rice.

  22. Focus groups! If you live in the DC area, you should look into Shugoll Research. I’ve only done one focus group with them, but it was pretty interesting–looking at PSAs about substance abuse for a gov’t agency, AND I got paid $100 bucks for my 2 hours.

  23. Also, team gay, seriously I recommend a local credit union over any big corporate bank. They are increasing numbers of them, and sniff around even if you’re not a resident or you’re in school or whatever.

    Also: Food banks can be really okay, but also Food Not Bombs (which is, like, an anarchist food bank) does free meals and free markets with dumpstered organic veggies, and they are totally swell. Check them out in your area.

    And while the feds are trying to cut funding for food stamps, they are highly excellent.

    • DC is paved with rainbows and glitter; it is magical.

      Also-carmen, awesome article per usual. In my destitute college days I would crash any food-providing function regularly and make friends with the kids who didn’t eat but had “mealpoints” to give away like literal candy.

  24. Also also.

    A really great way to make money at odd hours (in between your internship and job when you have a gap) is through sites like and

    This is how I quit my job and am doing fun salary-less internship things.


  25. Love this and commenters’ ideas! Since I’ll steal them, I’ll share some.

    BOOKS: Besides libraries,places that take used book donations throw some damaged ones away.

    HEALTH: Some Ys have sliding scale fees down to zero based on income. Planned Parenthood (for guys too!) and clinics have similar policies.

    GUINEA PIG: Dental and salon schools have supervised students perform services cheap- but take more time.

    VOLUNTEER: help a cause (especially if using their services). Sometimes a meal or free show is included in an event.

    CLEANING: The right combo of baking soda, lemon, and distilled vinegar cleans almost anything.

    Buy spices at bulk bins (even Whole Foods does this for pennies) to try different flavors.

    Bakery outlets: bread $1-2, and may have other foods. or other co-op: Make a lot of one meal and trade.

    Recipes <75 cents/serving (you do need basic cooking skills):

    Quick-cook oats: Hot water & a tight lidded container (not plastic)= ~10 cent serving, plain. Also good in muffins.

    Chili: (2 cans kidney beans, 1 white, 1 black, small can tomato paste, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 can corn, sauteed onion, garlic & green pepper, cumin, chili powder over rice). Freezes well.

    Black beans and rice: 3 cans (6 c cooked) beans, sauteed onion & garlic, cumin, rice. Freezes well. Optional: cheese, salsa, lime, mango, cooked sweet potato.

    Split pea soup: sauteed onion, split peas, water/broth, lemon, carrot. Eat w/corn muffin & apple.

    Pasta marinara: Sauteed onion and garlic, large can tomato puree, small can tomato paste, dried basil and oregano. w/2 boxes pasta, 50 cents/ meal. Sauce freezes. Can be used as pizza sauce on bagels from a bakery outlet too!

    Fried rice: Stirfry cold cooked rice w/soy sauce, garlic, sugar/ honey, small cut veggies (edamame for protein).

    Scrambled eggs with frozen veggies and toast or in a burrito. Add a bit of cheese.

    French toast with canned peaches.

    Snack on hard-boiled eggs, homemade apple slices (lemon keeps from browning) or carrot/celery sticks, homemade oatmeal cookies or banana/carrot bread.

  26. I’ve learned a lesson lately. OPEN ALL THE MAIL IMMEDIATELY. Even if it looks like a bill and you don’t want to see the bill because bills are depressing and make life sad. Because it might be a check that from that company that overcharged you for your prescriptions by eighty dollars and now you have eighty dollars to spend on a very cute girl or on food and shelter. This is always good.

  27. Seriously, thank you. My dad has been hounding me to make a budget for years, and finally I just made one. I work full-time and am only moderately broke, but I feel like I can breathe again. A fancy one. On GoogleDocs using formulas and color-coded boxes.

    It predicts my spending based on patterns and lets me know if or when I will be negative. Anyone who wants one, I’ll send it to you. Email me:

    You just have to input the money values in the right spots, and BOOM! You’ve got your budget! Or you can tell me what you spend, and I can set it up for you.

    And for the record, I think Carmen is talking about a debit card, not a credit card. If you have to remember your spending habits, money won’t fly out of your hands. I know I am much less tempted to spend my money when I can’t see it.

  28. This is really helpful!

    One tip I would add is that if you suddenly get lots of money, put that shit in a savings account prontissimo. It’s really easy when you’re broke to suddenly see a huge checking account balance and be like “yay! I am rich!” and then spend it all (this mentality is the reason most lottery winners go broke within a year, in fact) so it’s better to keep most of it out of reach until you really need it. If you’re like me, you generally think twice about transferring money from the savings account for non-important matters, whereas you’re not as protective of what’s in your checking account.

  29. So, what do I do if I’m broke AND brokenhearted? Sex, cuddling, and other pursuits that will remind me of, you know, ANYTHING, are not going to work for either exercise or entertainment. Having fun is kind of iffy too. Sorry to be so pathetic but if anyone’s got any experience-based advice like “make sure to X every day” or “I find that Y is a conveniently distracting routine” I would sure appreciate it.

    • Just be with your friends. All.the.time. Like, I found that alone time was the worst of it. Going to sleep and waking up in the morning. So my advice is to surround yourself with people that love you and appreciate you and think you’re the shit just the way you are. And just keep doing that until it hurts a little less. Spending time with friends is FREE. As are the coffees and/or dinners they buy you because they empathize with your present pathetic self. Oh, and breathe. Everyday. That’s free too.

  30. This is excellent advice, especially the last one. I have to admit that I was a little afraid it would be an article on how to bum money and food from your friends and steal at big departement stores, but instead it’s really solid advice. Thanks!

  31. Some things I haven’t seen mentioned here:

    Wash your clothes by hand! I do it in my bathtub by stomping on them. I do this while drinking wine, pretending I’m stomping grapes, surrounded by nubile women.

    Make your own cleaning products! There’s tons of recipes online, and it’s dirt cheap.

    Grow a fucking garden! Educate yourself on edible weeds! There’s stuff growing on any city corner that’s edible after a good soaking in vinegar water.

    Beg or borrow a bike, don’t take the bus!

    Lastly, never, NEVER buy anything pre-made if you can make it yourself. The one thing I’ve learned being fucking broke throughout the years is that saving money requires investing a lot more time in daily living…but damn, it’s way more satisfying.

  32. Pingback: Good advice « Funemployment Adventures

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