Oh hello! What’s that? You’re totally broke? Welcome. Pull up a chair and stay awhile.
First things first: I am not an expert. I am a twentysomething freelance writer and editor living in New York City. In other words, I, too, am broke.
No, not just “broke.”
I am alarmingly, foolishly, heartbreakingly broke. I’m the kind of broke where you just have to hope that paying rent late sometimes will be cool because one of your clients still hasn’t sent your check for a recent project. The kind of broke where you keep socks with gaping holes in them.
Do I always live like I’m this broke? Of course not. I’m a human being. Sometimes I need a beer. I’ll be the first to admit that I could save more than I do. But you live and you learn.
Here is what I have learned:
Choose where you want to spend, and save in every other area. I’m an extrovert, easily distracted, and motivated by food. That is to say that, sometimes, I need to be around other people, in new environments, bribing myself into productivity with tasty rewards. So, on occasion, I buy myself an expensive artisanal pastry and a latte. Could I spend that money on socks without holes in them? Definitely! But for me, that is less important. So most of my spending goes into socializing and food. What this means, though, is that I paint my own nails and I go for many months without a haircut. The things you prioritize might be different than mine. Fine! Just prioritize.
Make most of your meals with the cheapest, healthiest ingredients you can find. Prepared food is super expensive. Eating out is super expensive. Ordering takeout is super expensive. When I’m not using food to facilitate socializing or motivation, I stay in. The tradeoff, of course, is some hours doing food prep in the kitchen. It takes some time and effort to get into the habit of making your meals for the week, but the payoff is great. I believe in you! You can even start with frozen meals.
Force yourself to face your funds. It’s easy to fall into the (il)logic of “what I don’t know won’t hurt me,” aka delusion, when dealing with the downer of being severely strapped for cash. But this, my friend, is a swift road to ruin. It’s usually during the days following a particularly hectic week or holiday when I am most vulnerable to falling down the slippery spending slope. I give in to this urge to suspend reality. Then comes the day that I check my account balance (and that day always comes). No matter how bad it hurts, you need to check the state of your funds, and often. If you haven’t already, start banking online so that you can sign in and look at your purchases frequently.
Do not spend money you don’t have. I repeat: DO NOT SPEND MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE. (looks in mirror) DO NOT SPEND MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE. Pay your whole credit card bill. The minimum payment option is a dirty trick.
Still live your life, but plan for the future. A close friend recently made this point: What’s the point of living in one of the most vibrant cities in the world if you’re just going to stay in your apartment and go to the same neighborhood café? You can do that for way cheaper elsewhere. She’s right! Now I have a mandatory two-cultural-events-per-week rule. I can find plenty of cheap or free things to do that are still stimulating. Sometimes I splurge. But, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking of my next step. I’m aware of a future in which I might need medical services or a new computer. I do not want to live in fear. So, I’ll keep applying to more secure jobs. I’ll stay a member of the cheapest gym I could find (Planet Fitness, $10/month). Maybe I’ll start using a budgeting app. When I can’t take it anymore, I’ll buy an artisanal pastry and an expensive latte. And I’ll be okay. You will, too.