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“I’m broke.” How many times have you heard this? How many times have you said it?
Maybe you’re in between jobs. Maybe you’re an artist and you’re experiencing a lull in business. Maybe your car finally kicked the bucket and you had to invest every last penny in a new ride. Or maybe, like so many people, you just find yourself living paycheck-to-paycheck with no end in sight. I have totally been there. In fact, sometimes I feel like I’m there still. Whatever the case or your situation, whenever cashflow is low or even nonexistent it’s easy to focus on your basic needs (housing, food, clean clothes) and ignore your other desires (having a meaningful, fulfilled life, for example).
While that’s completely understandable, that thinking is also a little backwards to me. Sure, do what you can to make certain you have a roof over your head and a meal to eat — but all work and no play is super hella lame, as they say. Locking yourself up in your room and eating rice and beans until your next paycheck is not the answer to your problems — you’ll only make yourself miserable that way. It’s time to get creative! You can explore and create adventure for yourself when you have little or no cash to spend.
First things first: if money woes ail you, make sure you’ve set up a realistic budget for yourself and that you’re recording every expense. Ugh, I know, totally not the advice you wanted to hear. But if you find yourself scratching your head at the end of each month, wondering where the hell all your money is going, this is your solution. Sit down and figure out where you’d like your money to go, and then grab a pen and paper, use a note-taking app on your phone, tattoo it on yourself, or whatever you’d like to do to track your spending. This is the best way to check in with where your money is going and where you can make adjustments for the future.
Now, the reason this kind of advice is so infuriating is because it doesn’t really help you now. You can start budgeting and tracking your expenses, but you’ll need to wait a good 30 days to really evaluate what it all means for you. I want to help you with the now. So, what sort of things can you do immediately when you’ve got no money and a desire to explore? Find a trusty events listing. San Francisco has Fun Cheap SF, a website that lists (surprise!) fun and cheap things to do in the city. They even have giveaways for more expensive events from time to time. This is my go-to site if I’m trying to figure out something cool and inexpensive to do and draw a blank. If nothing speaks to me there, I might check out the SF Chronicle or the events calendar for a few of my favorite spots. No matter what, between those five to six resources, these event listings will give me loads of ideas for things I can do that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. It’s because of them that I’ve seen Grand Budapest Hotel in a park, eaten pie at a pie-baking contest, and won tickets to a show I really wanted to see!
Gather your peeps. My roommates and I took a little weekend getaway to Santa Cruz earlier this year, and the rental car and gas cost us each $25. If I’d wanted to go solo, I don’t know if I could have justified spending $75 for one weekend’s transportation. I love exploring on my own, but it’s always fun to get some good friends together and share the experience. Aside from having a great time with them, you could cut some costs for everyone involved. For example, a hotel room split 4 ways is way cheaper than a hotel room you pay for just by your lonesome. Ask around with your friends and see who might be interested in splitting costs for weekend getaways or who might have some necessary supplies or gear for something you’re wanting to try.
Get in touch with nature. Few things are better than navigating some new trail you’ve never hiked or climbing a peak you’ve never set foot on. Even if I’m doing a quick walk close to home, hiking is one of my favorite forms of exercise since it really gives me the chance to clear my head. It’s also relatively low-commitment, since you can be all ready to go with some workout clothes, gym shoes that can get dirty (or hiking boots if you so choose), snacks, and plenty of water. Other than that, you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment and you don’t really need any training. Just go.
If you’re interested in camping, then you’ll need to be a little more prepared gear-wise. You’ll obviously want a car or other reliable mode of transportation, a tent and rain fly, and a sleeping bag that can withstand any chilly temps you might encounter. If all of this is just not in your budget, ask around — you probably know some people that would be happy to loan you something for a weekend camping trip. Also, don’t be afraid to scour Craigslist for other supplies you might want to get on the cheap, like a portable stove or a camp chair.
For the sad lot of you who live somewhere completely devoid of nature and have no way to get to it, then yay! Welcome to the world of urban hiking. It might not be quite as scenic, but it’s a perfect way to get more acquainted with a city environment. Make sure you bring bus fare with you in case you’re too tired to make it home! Volunteer. If you’re interested in getting involved with something but perhaps lack official training, is there some kind of way you can volunteer a little time to help out in that field? Obviously, if you’re feeling tight on cash you don’t want to be giving away all your time. Make sure you clearly understand the responsibilities you would have as a volunteer and what the time commitment is. But if it all sounds agreeable, a volunteer position could lead to some really awesome perks.
First, depending on the situation, you may get free classes or training in return for hours. Want to learn yoga but don’t have the money to do it? Some studios welcome people interested in doing a work exchange at the front desk. Your volunteering will also put you in contact with people who work in a field that interests you, so it’s a nice chance to network and meet folks that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
While it’s certainly a rare outcome, things could go swimmingly and you may end up receiving some monetary compensation or a paid position as a result of your amazing free labor. This should not be your motivating factor for volunteering, though. A much more realistic expectation is that you do stellar work, gain a wonderful reference, and this can lead to more work in the future elsewhere. Still, not too shabby.
Bring the party home. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. I get it sometimes when I don’t go out during the week. I think, I could be out meeting cool people, but instead I’m watching Netflix with my cat. Is there something wrong with me? But if you’re trying to have a social life and also be smart with your money, you often find yourself in a catch-22.
Instead, invite people over to your house for a potluck, rent a movie and watch it at your friend’s place, do a board game night, a DIY costume party…really, whatever you feel like doing. Your friends will be stoked that you’re taking the lead and organizing something fun for everyone. The bottom line: you do not need to be buying $14 cocktails to feel alive.
Oh, and attend house parties. Don’t think that “house party” is synonymous with keg stands, flip cup, and Jell-O shots — as fun as that is when you’re young, sweet Jesus, just give me the alcohol without me having to jump through hoops, okay? I digress. If you know and like the host, chances are it will be fun and it’s a great way to meet new people!
Learn something new. If you have a smartphone, or at least an internet connection, then you have heaps of free resources ready and available for you to learn whatever your little heart may desire. I learned some hooping tricks with a series of videos on YouTube, and since I can’t afford a gym membership I do workout videos online, too. You can find fun DIY activities and delicious recipes on Pinterest. You could learn a new language with Duolingo, an app for your phone, or explore the world with photos on Trover. There is SO much at your disposal. It might take a little trial and error to find the best resource for what you want, but I promise you it’s out there. Change your outlook. It’s easy to think you have to be doing some sort of crazy activity, like scuba diving with sharks or hitchhiking through South America, to have an adventurous life.
That is so. not. true.
Cut yourself some slack. If the only people truly living are the ones hiking Mt. Everest and spending a gap year backpacking through Europe, then where does that leave the majority of people in the world?
Instead, try to see the world with fresh eyes, every day. Examine things up-close, set small daily goals that will challenge you, and even taking a different route to work might be just what you need to shake up your routine a bit. You may not realize it, but what you’re craving is change — and even on a small scale, it can help feed your appetite for that little something more that you and I both know is out there. As Robin Sharma so wisely stated, “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”
Money does not make the world go ’round, happiness has no price tag, and the best memories you’ll ever have are the ones that didn’t cost you a dime. You can be completely broke and still totally capable of living a fulfilled life, every day starting now, and accomplishing big things in the future. There are two things to keep in mind:
1. Instead of comparing your day-to-day life to the dreams of those you admire and then getting down about it, you should use their adventures as fuel to help you decide on and achieve the big goals you want for yourself. Those stories should inspire you. What is it about these unbelievable adventures that people are going on that appeals to you? Who says that you can’t start planning your own adventure right now? Yes, it will require time and a lot of work, but it’s something exciting to look forward to!
2. Practice gratitude. What do you have in your life currently that you’ve worked hard for? A healthy relationship, a great job, a college degree, wonderful friends, a place to live…don’t take these for granted. They’re shining examples that you’ve come a long way from a person that you used to be. And if you’d made it this far, you can definitely go further.
What sorts of budget-friendly activities do you like to do? What big goals are you working towards, and what smaller-scale adventures have you found that help keep you going day-to-day?
Death to the Stock Photo