The Expat Woman

How to Survive the US on a Shoestring Budget and still have Fun

Living in the US can be expensive, especially if you are a student, in between jobs, waiting for your work permit, working a minimum wage job or a tourist on a budget. But if you employ a little ingenuity, swallow your pride, and accept the fact that sometimes “free comes at a price”, here are a few tried-and-tested tips to enjoy life in the US by stretching your dollar to its optimal spending power.

Ten tips for living in the US on a shoestring budget.
1. Watch movies or read books and magazines for free
Every city and town across the US boasts a public library. This is a great resource for free movies rentals, books, and magazines. All you need is a library card–which is very easy to get– as long as you have proof of your residence. If your library doesn’t have the title you are looking for, you can go online and request an inter-library loan, i.e. a loan from one library to another and have it delivered to your local branch.  
2.  Get your hair and nails done for cheap
Most beauty schools offer hair and beauty services for a very nominal fee.  Just google “beauty schools” to find one in your neighborhood. The services are provided by beauty school students. Ask for a senior student when you make the appointment, so you get someone who knows what they are doing.  If not, you can be in in for long day in the chair with someone guessing their way through a hairdo– an experience that far outweighs the savings.
3. Free wifi
If you have just moved to the US and haven’t had wifi installed at your home, there are several places you can access free wifi. Your local library has free wifi and if you don’t have a computer, you can also use one of theirs.  Many malls, coffee shops and restaurants have free wifi. There are also co-working spaces that offer a daily drop-in rate or a weekly complimentary co-working day.
4. Visit an art gallery or museum for free
Many museums, art galleries and national parks across the US offer free admission at least once a month or a couple of times of a year.  Check out museums, art galleries and national parks in your city to learn more about free days.
5. Shop for clothes at half the price
You can buy clothes in perfectly good condition and even score some designer brands by shopping at thrift or consignment stores.  Also at the end of every season, most clothing stores have huge markdown sales. Sign up for sales alerts from your favorite stores and look for coupons in the mail or newspapers.


6. Watch the latest movies at the Drive-In
If you have a car and a good sound system, grab some friends and head to the nearest Drive-In to catch the latest releases for ticket prices at half the cost of what you’d pay in a regular movie theater. Many Drive-Ins also have double features – two movies, playing back to back for one price. And the nice thing is you can bring on your own food. Most theaters don’t permit outside food so you can have a tailgate party at the movies. Inconsiderate moviegoers often show up late and drive through the lot with their headlights on. Or worse yet, a big gas-guzzling SUV plops right in front of you.
7. Shop for less than a dollar
Sometimes dollar or 99 cent stores get good brands of food products, stationary , toiletries etc when they are in surplus. Do make sure to check the expiration dates on food products.
8.  Eat fresh fruits and veggies
Visit the farmers market when they are close to packing up. They usually reduce the prices of their  organic and home grown vegetables and fruits at this time. Most of the stalls also have fruits to sample and the portions are quite generous.
9. Make new friends at free events
Most cities and towns have free concerts in the park in the summers. There are also networking events, book clubs and meet up groups which do a a variety of actives for free and where you can meet other likeminded people and make new friends.


10. Wine and dine during happy hours
Many bars and restaurants offer discount food and drinks during happy hour and some even put out free food, like appetizers  during that time. Others offer nightly food specials


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Nyna is the Founder and CEO of The Expat Woman, a global platform focused on connecting, supporting and empowering women who have moved abroad or plan to relocate. She is also a LinkedIn coach, consultant, trainer and speaker. LinkedIn played a huge role in my professional journey abroad, helping me build a network of powerful expat women and allies.

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