Survival in the Garret

12 Starving Artist Tips for Cash-Strapped Students

Should you find yourself at some point in your academic career in sore need of wherewithal, don’t take it hard. After all, the student years are typically times of scarcity; It’s the price you pay for getting the credentials you need to launch a career.

Besides, It’s not such a bad experience. The money-saving lessons you learn during these lean years may not brighten up your résumé, but they will add to your arsenal of survival skills and may even help you fatten your bank account later. Simple living isn’t just for the poor: It’s a life-enhancing adventure that keeps you focussed on the things that really matter.

Sure, your mom has probably given you great penny-pinching advice, as have your friends or even those housekeeping tips book, which are as fun to read as they are useful (the Hints From Heloise books are indispensable). But the extreme moneysaving tips come from the people whose poverty is rarely a temporary condition.

Most artists, given the choice, would love to freely create art while making stacks of money doing so. Unfortunately, the choice is usually between making art and making money, and any artist who’s sincere will choose the art. That’s how stupid we are.

Add to this that artists appreciate the finer things in life, like good food, chic clothing, cultural events, and travel, and you’ll understand why the artist has such a strong motivation to spend wisely.

These tips can also be helpful to rich investors on the way to their next million, or to those who need to scrimp for a while to save enough money for a major purchase like a car, a new house, or even concert tickets. And if you ever do decide to become a starving artist yourself, you’ll be good and ready.

1. Become a snob.
My theatre friends and I used to stop in front of a classy store on our way to the café just to mock the furniture in the window. It was nice furniture?the kind of stuff we would have bought if only we could. But because we couldn’t afford it we called it bourgeois and pretentious. It sure felt good.

We didn’t go out to dinner because a good meal couldn’t be found anywhere any more. We didn’t go to the cinema because the new movies were all crap. We made fun of the styles of new clothes so we could feel better about our worn-out togs, whose high quality and advanced age helped us cultivate the look of the shabby genteel. Yup, a little snobbery can save you a heap of dough.

2. Double Your Money
What’s the best way to double your money? Fold it in half and put it back in your wallet, at least according to Will Rogers, also famous for this: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”

Stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses, impressing the smart set, or possessing all those useless things the advertisers tell you You’re lost without. Live life, and enjoy it on your own terms.

3. Become a haunter of thrift stores, yard sales, and online classified ad services.
Even many get-rich programs recommend this. Your clothes are going to look second-hand after a couple of wearings, so why not save at least 75% on your clothing bill by buying second-hand to begin with? You’ll be able to afford better quality, which will mean less shopping in the long run. The second-hand marketplace is also a great place to look for kitchen appliances, linens, books, music, and movies.

Bring a list of the things you need to the thrift store and try to buy just what’s on the list (unless of course you find something wonderful for under a dollar). Think ahead?if you know you’ll need boots next winter and you see the ideal pair, force yourself to get them even if It’s the middle of July.

4. Become a wardrobe minimalist.
Create a system. Keep only enough outfits to get you to wash day. Ask yourself what you would wear if you could only wear three or four outfits, and aim to stick to that, making sure You’re ready for any occasion that truly does spring up in your life (yes to a nice outfit to wear to your best friend’s wedding, no to the designer suit you’d wear if you ever got invited to a polo match).

5. Enjoy free entertainment.
Going for walks, talking, sitting on the grass, telling stories, visiting the library, taking in free events, and playing music are all examples of edifying ways to relax without having to pay anything. Think of what your ancestors did for fun before the digital age and do that. And remember, less money for entertainment gives you more time to study, thus upping the probability of academic success.

6. Cook in your coffeemaker.
Okay, so this doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you ever do find yourself stranded somewhere without a stove and no restaurant budget, you can get a lot of mileage out of a simple drip coffeemaker. Aside from making coffee and tea, you can cook eggs (soft-cooked, 25 minutes), noodles, white sauce, and soup in them. (I learned this when we got a great deal on an apartment because it had no fridge and stove? but then had to wait a week before getting our own.)

You can also get plenty of culinary use from just a hot plate, or just a microwave. I’ve heard of people cooking on steam irons but haven’t tried it.

7. Sprout!
This and the next couple of items follow the understanding that you don’t need to compromise nutrition to save money. Invest in a cheap sprouter or rig up your own and then buy a small bag of mung beans, alfalfa, or radish seeds. Do a little research to find out how It’s done, and you can enjoy a constant daily supply of fresh organic veg you grew yourself.

8. Take a daily multivitamin.
Get a big bottle on sale. At $10 a bottle (120 pills should last four months) It’s one of the cheapest ways to maintain good health.

9. Consume whole foods and pay less for them.
Look for cheap but healthy alternatives to what You’re eating now, moving toward more whole, natural foods. Switch from coffee to green tea, which can be had at amazingly low prices from many ethnic grocery stores. And if you’ve ever considered going vegetarian, now would be a great time. Cornmeal is one of the cheapest forms of protein, so replace your instant cheesy pasta with polenta. Peanut butter, hummus, and homemade granola are also good but cheap alternatives to meat.

10. Use luggage as furniture.
If you need to move around a lot you can’t be bothered with the hassle and expense of buying and moving “real” furniture, especially if you’ll only be forced to give it all away when you need to relocate.

Collect vintage suitcases that can both help you move and serve as furniture in the interim. A stack of three suitcases makes a great night table. A suitcase open on its side makes a great little bookcase for stacking your tomes. A guitar case can serve as a coffee table. Use your imagination and make your gear do double duty. Portable mattresses with their own carrying handles will always find a use, so are also a good investment for nomads.

11. Visit the bucket and plunger laundrette.
There will be days when You’re sure not to have coin for the laundromat, so to be sure your vestments will be kept clean and fresh invest in a plunger (separate from the one you use for “harder” jobs) and a tallish bucket. Fill a third of the bucket with dirty clothes and a bit of detergent, then top up with water. The wash cycle will take 100 plunges, the rinse cycle 50. Two rinse cycles are recommended. Wring it all out and suspend it from hangers on the shower curtain rod to drip dry.

12. Do you really need so much soap, shampoo, and toothpaste?
I just heard a dermatologist on the CBC saying that except for our hands and our naughty bits, our skin doesn’t really need to be lathered up all the time. As for shampoo, you can dilute a teaspoon with water and just lather your scalp. And by now you probably know that toothpaste doesn’t have much use except for delivering fresh breath and fluoride, and that you don’t need more than a pea-sized smidgen of it per use.

For more information and inspiration, check out these links:
Money saving tips from a not-so-starving artist
– Who better than ‘starving artists’ to offer advice on how to live within a tight budget?
15 Simple Ways to Save Money on Real Food
– 31 extreme money-saving tips from the cheapest of the cheap

And if you have any tips of your own, we’d love to hear them!

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.

%d bloggers like this: