Nine Money-Saving Tips When You’re A Broke-Ass Twentysomething And It’s Not Cute Anymore

Shit, everybody. I work in the arts. It’s a fucked-up industry that I love, mostly because I don’t possess the skills to do anything else, but it does lead to a certain amount of financial irresponsibility. I don’t make enough money to save anything, so I’m continually walking a terrible and dangerous tightrope, brought to you by the crumbling economy, my expensive liberal arts degree, and the good folks at Bank of America. Snakes? Bring ‘em. Zombie hordes? I’ve got a plan. Sitting down with my parents to have a rational discussion about my finances? That is truly the stuff of nightmares. I’m not gonna sleep for weeks having just thought about it now.

Below: a list of some actual shit I have done in order to save a buck. Well, anywhere from ten cents upwards of seven dollars. I’m going straight to hell.

9: Steal Supplies.
Keep access codes, even when you don’t work at a particular company anymore. Make friends with the custodial staff. (This is way easier if you actually ARE the custodial staff, and/or “intern.”) No one ever inventories the boxes of tampons for the tampon machine, to say nothing of the maxi-pads. Although those are usually the weird lumpy ones without wings that will give you diaper-ass, so proceed with caution. Industrial-sized toilet paper rolls are a lot harder to maneuver now that those giant oversized purses have gone out of fashion, so stick to smaller objects like pens and trash bags. (Also note: dude, if you work for an awesome nonprofit, don’t steal their tampons. They need those).

8: Find the Free Internet.
Coffeeshops are amazing places to sit and write and work. There’s usually good music and cute dudes with tattoos and ladies with sweet haircuts holding tiny dogs on leashes. The problem is, you’re gonna want that bagel. Avoid this by seeking out the places with free wifi where you can easily blend in. I recommend lobbies of large performing arts centers while dressed nicely. If you appear as if you’re either a) a young professional biding your time before the symphony, or b) preparing for a job interview, no one looks twice. Also, their bathrooms tend to be gorgeous. Pee in style. For free!

7. IKEA.
This is actually just a version of #8, but they have this thing where if you sign up for the “Family Card,” they give you a free coffee whenever you visit. I know this is probably frowned upon, but I’ve been surprisingly productive holed up in one of those fake living rooms, sipping weak Swedish coffee, my bottom comfortably resting atop the store model Ektorp Jennylünd chair in Svanby Grey.*

6. Cry.
This actually only worked once, but when I first moved to Philly I didn’t understand that not all subway stations had change machines and/or token machines, and I was in a terrible neighborhood with one salty old guy at the ticket window who needed exact change for a token and I only had a five and my train was coming and it was late at night and I started crying and he just said, “Oh, for god’s sake, just GO,” and let me through.

Actually, now I can’t tell if the moral of that story is a money-saving technique or a commentary on the inadequacies of Philadelphia’s transit system.

5. Save Water – Shower Together!
Actually, that one’s totally just wishful thinking. I’m still extremely single.

4. Opening Night Receptions.
I work in theatre, so I attend a fair amount of opening night parties. This is a particularly tricky one to navigate, but it works like this: don’t eat before you go. Get yourself to the snack table immediately afterwards. Eat all the spinach quiches and tiny hot dogs while still attempting to make conversation in a professional and pleasant manner.

Notable failed exceptions to this rule include: when I didn’t realize that I was attending a three-hour musical; when I didn’t realize I was attending a three-hour Shakespeare play; every time I’ve tried to do this while also attempting to incorporate a free glass or four of white wine.

Actually, pause for me to share this story: I once was at a retirement party for this extraordinary woman who worked at a prominent Philadelphia regional theatre, and as everyone was getting misty-eyed at the farewell toast, I happened to notice this older actress who is like, our community’s Patti LuPone, nonchalantly wrapping all of the tiny cannolis into cocktail napkins and stacking them in her purse. Dessert hadn’t even been served yet. She caught my eye, smiled broadly, whispered, “Oh, hello, dear! So good to see you!” and then moved right along to the éclairs. I couldn’t tell whether I was horrified or extremely impressed. (I think mostly impressed).

3. Buy Your Clothes In Questionable Locations
I work as a costume designer. Most actors would be horrified to know where most of their costumes actually come from. There’s this amazing warehouse I frequent where retail goes to die. You have to be really careful about not accidentally buying anything with the word “sample” printed across the ass, but every now and again the Target truck will have dumped gallons of dollar-bin t-shirts from two seasons ago and it’s every woman for herself as long as supplies last.

It also helps if you can pull off an aura of “thrift store whimsy.” Think Charlize Theron in Arrested Development, Season Three. Except, you know. If you know the show, you know how THAT one turned out.

2. Make Friends In High Places.
I basically only survived the year of 2009 because an IHOP opened on the next block to my apartment and this one super lanky dude named Tim who clearly hated his job but liked me just fine would sneak me a few to-go boxes under the table and then repeatedly bring out like, a week’s worth of pancakes if I ordered the “All-You-Can-Eat-Special.” In general, I think everyone should have at least: one bartender friend, one friend who works in a coffee shop or bakery and takes about-to-expire food home, and one friend who works at the Apple Store. (Actually, I take that back. Everyone should have at least two bartender friends.**)

1. Lower Your Standards.
I used to be the kind of person who went to a salon for a haircut.

That’s fucking hilarious.

*I haven’t actually ever seen (500) Days of Summer, but I bet I’d like it, in a Netflix-On-A-Rainy-Day sort of way. Suffice to say that a) this is something I have actually done, without knowing that this idea was already massively popularized by an adorable indie film, and b) I guarantee you that Zooey Deschanel is able to pull it off better than I can.

**Note: BARTENDERS DESERVE A LOT OF RESPECT AND YOU NEED TO FUCKING TIP THEM. I’m not advocating “make friends with a bartender so they’ll buy you a drink.” That’s terrible. Don’t do that. People see right through that shit. I’m advocating: spend your money at the kinds of places where you can afford to drink and where your bartenders don’t suck.

If you’re in South Philly, that dude John at Watkins Drinkery knows what’s UP. I always tip him and his staff, I never expect anything in return, and he’s got a killer draft list and menu. Plus, all the photography on the walls is his work. He’s the man. In return, every now and again he’ll wink at me and the check will look a little lighter. Why? ‘Cause he’s the MAN. And because I never, ever walk into his bar expecting anything other than to pay for what I ordered.

16 thoughts on “Nine Money-Saving Tips When You’re A Broke-Ass Twentysomething And It’s Not Cute Anymore

  1. LOVED the story about the woman stealing food from the retirement party, how could you not be impressed?!
    I had a similar experience when I visited Philly and tried to use the subway, that shit is confusing

  2. Yeah, the opening-night-reception-food trick doesn’t work if you’re on production staff. I’m an electrician, which means I’m stuck in the booth until the audience GETS THE FUCK OUT OF THE HOUSE so I can TURN OFF THE GODDAMNED LIGHTS. By the time I get the all-clear, the good shit is gone and there’s nothing left but, like, warm, probably-fingered Swiss cheese cubes and stinky, cold crab cakes.

    But I’ve definitely got the low-standards thing down pat. In my last neighborhood I made up a game called How Many Blocks Away Was That Gunshot (which was usually played in conjunction with Will It Make The News?).

    • You need to start getting the other staff on your side. We used to all get together and make sure a plate was made up for the guys who had to stay until house clear. Stage hands need to look out for each other, yo! 🙂

  3. I’m a student on exchange in Europe and I’ve been traveling for the summer but also I have no money. This has led to a lot of getting into random vans with boarded up windows while hitching, sleeping under trees (all with at least one friend!), and generally trying as hard as possible to travel 100 miles in 2 days on $20. I approve of everything on your list especially the lowering your standards part.

  4. Amazing list! I steal everything.. but only when it’s free, so that doesn’t REALLY count, right?! I have enough complimentary soap bars, mini shampoo/conditioner/lotion bottles, tea bags/hot cocoa mixes, and airplane socks to land me on an episode of Hoarders. But one of these days, I’M GONNA NEED ‘EM.

    Also, Costco sample time = hors d’oeuvre jackpot

    Thanks for a great post!

  5. Pretty much every time I have to go somewhere from the Girard El station, I know I’m screwed if I don’t have a token on me. No token machine, no change machine, the surliest workers, and you have to walk like an extra block just to find someone who would make change.

    But, you know SEPTA…”[they’re] Getting There”!

  6. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!! Ohh wow, I think I might be in love with you! I am the queen of being cheap! Whenever I take the metro I am constantly “piggy-backing” off of my friends (and sometimes total strangers’) swipes. And then just act really confused and pretend you’re a tourist if the WMTA catches you! #MischiefManaged
    Also, I worked at a cupcake shop in college because I am as whimsical and twee as they come, apparently. Anyway, we would usually have a ton of cupcakes left over at the end of the day so I would take a dozen or so and drop them off at other shops and bars in Georgetown as a token of our goodwill… They were always SO grateful and would usually give us tons of free samples, discounts, and and drink or food coupons. I seriously never had to buy any soap or body wash ever thanks to our “partnership” with Lush across the street!

    This was seriously the funniest thing I’ve read all day! Thanks for the giggle, Katherine!

    j. parker

  7. If you can afford to go to a bar and drink, you can afford food, and you can afford sanitary supplies. Get your priorities in order.

    • A $5 drink buys a lot of forgetting, but not so many meals (or tampons). Anyway, some guy usually ends up paying for the drinks, if I can still recall what it was like to be a 20-something arts major. I recall once telling a friend I was broke and didn’t know what I was going to eat. She said “Vegetables are cheap” in an annoying perky voice. Yeah, but I meant “broke” as in $0. Vegetables aren’t THAT cheap. It’s hard to make a budget when there just isn’t going to be enough cash to cover everything. When you get discouraged and just can’t think about it anymore, you wind up in a bar with your friends. It’s just life. Give the lady a break!

  8. I love that you pulled the crying card! I’ve only ever done it when I went into the back of someone’s car one morning, she took my number and sorted her car out herself rather than charge me any money, yey!

  9. When I have some extra money, may I take you to lunch or dinner? Love you and know how hard it is…I’ve been there, done that.

  10. Well done to you! You seem to have perfected this art form. Some of your tips are old favourites (oh,the good old days) and others I really could have done with back then before formal employment. Thanks =)

  11. Love these tips! I’m currently a twenty-something and feel like I suddenly got hit in the face with bills. I’ve always paid my way but I also always felt like I had more money than I did for some reason…I’m now all about tricks to save. My faves – don’t be above coupons and bring a lunch (pb and a loaf of bread can go a long way)….and if you can, take a bike. Cars, taxis, transit, gas, it’s all crazy expensive.

  12. Thanks for finally writing about >Nine Money-Saving Tips When Youre A Broke-Ass Twentysomething And Its
    Not Cute Anymore | I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read
    This Blog <Liked it!

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