Perhaps you’ve been reading this blog and thinking, “Hey wait, you can’t be as poor as you say you are. You live in the 2nd most expensive city in the world.” And to that I say, “Touche.” and “Exactly.” Surviving in this Never-Never Land that calls itself a city is an art that over the past 8 years I have been trying to master. It is completely exhausting but the rewards are the almost constant experiences of beauty all around, so I’m going to keep running this marathon as long as I can, because the views are amazing. Here are some sneaky tips I’ve used along the way so far:
1. Clip & Collect: Do y’all know those Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons, that come in the mail so often you’ve considered wallpapering your apartment with them? Yeah, those shits don’t expire. They say they do, right there on each one is an expiration date, but save ’em up, bring ’em in, and watch the price of that wet-vac go down, down down. What we do is collect them for ages then bring them in and use them all in one-fell-swoop, buying all the crap we’ve gone without all damn year. For instance, right now here is a list of the things that have broken/gotten ruined in our house that we are too poor to replace: the toaster, bath mat, mop, ironing board, set of wine glasses, and teapot.
2. Live Simply: Of course we don’t do such luxuries as pedicures, vacations, and air conditioning. However, there are also a boatload of things we consider “luxuries” that other people consider necessities: smart phones, cable, a house, a car, and juice. That’s right, juice is a luxury in this home. Enjoy your tap water, luckily in SF it comes from Hetch Hetchy and tastes delicious.
3. Work that Transit System: If you live in a 2 person household, and you can only afford one monthly fast pass, one person uses it all month, then, on the first, gives the old one to the other person, who gets free bus fare for the next 3 days. That doesn’t work on BART, just MUNI — you get to use the old pass for 3 days of the new month. If you are poor, you’re thinking “Yeah, No doi. Everyone does that.” If you are rich, you’re thinking “Ew. The bus.” But if you’re new to SF and are somewhere in the middle, you’re thinking “The gross bus could be free 3 days a week and then maybe I wouldn’t mind so much when someone sits next to me with a live chicken in a plastic bag, because I didn’t pay to ride 20 bumpy blocks to the park.” In that case, you’re welcome.
4. Safety First: The next time you need a pair of glasses, you may be looking at all the designer ones they put out, dismayed at the price tags for nerdy-looking boxy pieces of plastic to wear on your face. In such a situation, ask for where they keep the safety glasses. I recently had to get glasses, and instead of paying $300 for fancy-pants frames that would probably only have made me look more like Zooey D., I got safety glasses, which are durable (important when you have a 15-month old who says “No!” and knocks the glasses off your face every time you wear them) and sort-of-chic, especially when you have to do a whole bunch of welding. And they were $10, including a 2-year warrantee!
5. Book It: I estimate that I have saved $884 this year by utilizing my public library. They have this great feature where you can look up books online, request them, and have them shipped to the library closest to you. Then you go and pick them up from a special area by the front door, check them out yourself, and read to your heart’s content. What I like to do is browse my local bookstore, picking up & buying the tomes I have to own forever, but making a list of the ones I just want to try out. Then I go home, request them from the SFPL, and await my treasures. It’s the closest thing to Netflix for books out there, and I feel like I’m getting a present every time I get the email saying “your books are in, come and get ’em.” Also, they have Family Passes to all sorts of places in SF, you can check them out like a book and go to the Zeum, the Zoo, the Academy of Sciences, and the like. How do you think Olive got to see the giraffes this year? The public library saved that day of course.
6. Community Culture: Before we had Olive, we spent over three years living in community with some awesome folks, in a huge 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with a back patio, roof access, a washer/dryer and a dishwasher. Living with roommates is pretty much the only way you can live in a place in SF that is big enough to ever throw a party. And the parties we would have… they were so epic that we would read about them the next day on the internet. We would look around and realize we only knew a quarter of the people there. I met people at those parties that were in my own house that I cherish as friends to this day. The costumes, the dancing, the gossipy hook-ups — it is all legend now, as we live in a place where we can’t even sit 4 people at the dinner table. Anyway, as long as you can, live in community. Then, when you can’t, join a church or other spiritual community. This will provide you with a venue for your tamer events, like birthday parties and baby showers, and, more importantly, a whole bunch of people willing to invest in you on a heart level, who care about your soul and your living situation. Plus, if you’re lucky, they’ll be great cooks and you’ll get a free meal once a week at the delicious potlucks they organize. I’m not saying that you should join a church for the stuff you get being a part of one. I’m simply saying that if you want to live in an expensive city but you don’t make bank, you’re going to need other people in order to do it. That brings me to my next suggestion:
7. No Shame In Your Game: If someone offers you something, something you really want and could use, say yes. Practice with me now, “I accept.” There are a lot of people in this town that make a lot of money, mostly in the tech industry, and are also incredibly generous. They don’t use their money for evil, they are kind-hearted and as baffled as the next person as to why they make so much more sitting at a computer than they would teaching children in a classroom. Often, they will offer to buy you a meal, or take you to a show, or give you a ride to the beach. This is not your moment to be a martyr, to be prideful or embarrassed. It is the time to give them a chance to use their money how they want to, and to promise to pay it forward, if you ever find yourself in the situation to do so. When I look around my bedroom, I see that almost all our furniture was handed down by kind souls who couldn’t use it anymore. They are lovely pieces, and I am grateful for them. They make me think of the people who gifted them to us, every time I use them. Wouldn’t you rather think of your friend Doris than your buddy IKEA when you use your dresser? I thought so. So say yes.
8. Charming Child = Free Babysitting: Our kid is wicked cute and likeable. Therefore, folks line up to hang out with her. We have yet to have paid a babysitter for a date night. Our friends love our child and find her more entertaining than a night at home watching sitcoms. So, do your best to have a cute kid, and rad friends, and you’re golden.
9. The Swap Economy: For six years, I swapped massages for Pilates classes with a wonderful massage therapist who became a close friend. It was a win-win: I got body therapy every other week, she got toned abs with a boomin’ soundtrack. If there’s something you want in your life — homemade jam, haircuts, whatever — see if there’s someone that would swap for a similar good that you are talented at. Paint pictures for roller skating lessons. Grow vegetables for knitted scarves. Make a friend in the meantime.
10. Don’t Skimp Where It Counts: There are two things we shell out for, gladly. One is childcare. I grew up going to whatever daycare my parents could afford, and hated a good part of my childhood summers as a result. Therefore, we have been doing a nanny share with a wonderful nanny who gives our child the best care possible, and we get another family to bond with. The other thing we have tried to cut corners with and have just submitted to coughing up hecka cash for is coffee. SF has some of the best roasters in the country, and once you’ve had Blue Bottle or Philz you simply can’t go back to Folgers in your cup. So we pay for it, and love every damn sip.
As I am about to be even poorer than I was before, I am gladly accepting your tips in the comments section. How do you save money and manage to look so good, dammit? Fill me in, I’m dying to know.