The sucky and less-sucky things to do when living life on the cheap

Image by Anna Varak

Back in the day, I wrote a column for a local website on cheap things to do in Vancouver. Being that this city is consistently in the top five most-expensive cities in the world, learning how to live on the cheap was vital to my survival.

It's been awhile since I got to share my cheap-living strategies with the world, and so here are my favourite ways to live cheap without hurting too much. (Okay, some of them suck, but sometimes life sucks, and then we move on.)

First, the sucky things:

Learn the difference between a "want" and a "need." It's no fun to say, "This is the best-looking couch I've ever seen and lying on it would change my life, but I actually have a perfectly reasonable couch in my living room right now, so I don't need it," but it's probably accurate. Sometimes we want things SO BAD, it feels like we need them. Again, we probably don't. If you didn't know you needed it until you saw it in the store, then you definitely don't need it. Sorry.

Learn the difference between "cheap" and a "good deal." Just because something is a great value for you money doesn't mean you can afford it. I know, right??? It's just not fair! Life isn't fair, and the amount of money in your bank account doesn't change based on how much that thing is on sale for. Take heart, though! There is an unless. You don't save money by buying something that's a "good deal" unless it's something you always need to buy (like, I don't know, toilet paper), then, by all means, splurge on that sweet, sweet deal! Otherwise, the discount does not make it affordable. Sorry.

Learn how to stay within your limits. Figure out before you head out for the night how much you can afford to spend, and then stick with it. Bring only cash if necessary. Become okay with having just one drink and nursing it for a while. Practice saying, "I'm okay, thanks," or "I'll just have a water this time," when everyone else is ordering another round. It's fine! Tell yourself that you're the designated driver, if that makes you feel better.

Now, the less-sucky things:

Figure out a few actually-cheap or free things that feel luxurious to you. With all that self-control, you might start feeling like you're always depriving yourself, and that gets a bit tiresome. So what things are free, or very cheap, that make you feel nice? A weekly fancy beverage? Bubble baths? I find sitting in the park or at the beach on a blanket with a book to be like a mini-vacation. Sometimes I get ice cream, and then life becomes a dream. Of course, these faux-luxuries are pretty limited to warm weather. In the winter, I'm just sad all the time.

Make your first hang-out suggestions into free or cheap things. Our tendency is to presume that doing things with friends must cost money - we go for meals, drinks, or to see movies. It doesn't have to be that way! Invite people over to your actual home, the place you're already paying to be able to hang out. Or if you want to get out of the house, suggest going for tea or a walk instead of drinks.

Look up all the free things in your city. Does the art gallery have a free night? What can you get out of your library (I guarantee it's more than books)? What local theatres have pay-what-you-can nights? Which yoga studios have "karma" classes that are cheap or free? What free events are currently listed on Eventbrite? Do a little research and then have these options in your back pocket for the next time you need something to do.

Take advantage of your memberships. Are you a member of car2go? A local community centre? CAA? I can almost guarantee you that your memberships offer perks and discounts at other businesses. Do a little digging.

Learn how to fix your things. It boggles my mind how many people think they need to buy new clothes because a button fell off. Most shirts COME with spare buttons, for pete's sake! Nobody expects you to start sewing your own formal wear, but seriously, anyone can sew on a button or repair a torn hem. The less you waste things, the less money you spend.

Stock up on no-name brand goods. Sometimes it's worth it to buy the name brand. If you ask me, Honey Nut Cheerios are just better than "Hunny-n-Nut O's" or whatever, and dollar store Q-Tips are thinly-masked ear-stabbers. HOWEVER! Some things are just as good (or better) in the cheap version. Did you know that professional chefs buy no-name grocery staples? If you don't like having those ugly no-name containers out and about (I don't), then transfer the goods into jars.

Get to love used stuff. I legitimately love shopping second-hand. If you've got a thrift shop near your house, make a point of stopping in a couple of times a week to see what's new. I have gotten some of my favourite outfits, including tons of normally-insanely-expensive outdoorsy clothing, for a song in this way. Venture out of the clothing section, too! Books, decor, sporting goods, even electronics (most let you plug them in to make sure they work).

Bonus: this is an entirely eco-friendly way to shop, AND it can allow you to "splurge" on things you don't necessarily need, which is fun. Double bonus: sign up for the email list of some larger thrift shops and get emails when they have sales. Yes! Thrift stores have sales! Triple bonus: you can often get much higher quality goods at a thrift shop than a discount shop, for a similar price.


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