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

Living in the US can be very expensive, especially if you are a student, in between jobs, waiting for your work permit,  working a job that barely pays the rent 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 tried-and-tested tips to enjoy life in the US by stretching your dollar to it’s optimal spending power.

Here are top tips for living in the US on a shoestring budget.


1. Watch movies or read books and magazines for free
The best resource for free movies rentals, books and magazines is your local library.  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 interlibrary loan, i.e. a loan from one library to another and have it delivered to your local branch.   It’s a perfectly too-good-to-be-true system and you almost expect there to be a catch. That catch comes in the form of library fines. When you don’t pay for something, the temptation is to just let it sit on your shelf without returning it. There are people who amass far more than a monthly Netflix fee in library fines every month.


2.  Get your hair and nails done for cheap


Most beauty schools offer hair and beauty service for a very nominal fee. Usually in the five dollar range.  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


Again 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 coworking spaces that offer a daily drop in rate or a weekly complimentary coworking day.
4. Visit an art gallery or museum for free


Many museums and art galleries across the US offer free admission at least once a month or a couple of times of a year.  Look up the museums and art galleries in your city to find which day of the week or month is free.


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. There are a few cons to the experience: If you don’t like the smell of  cigarettes, beer and weed wafting in the air, maybe the drive in isn’t for you. 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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