Life as a Starving Artist (or as someone really, really cheap)

The NECC Farmer’s Market at the Lawrence Campus Fall 2017

My life as a starving artist is a choice. I realize that I do not have to live in Lowell. I do not have to have a roommate (although I love my brilliant, exercise-junkie, writing roommate Jayna!) and I do not have to make most of my own meals instead of going out. I do not have to live with my car the way it is. My mom tells me all the time: “Why don’t you lease a new car? Why keep paying to fix your old car?”

My 2003 Honda CR-V is so old that starting next year it doesn’t have to pass emissions anymore. I consider this a success. I failed to get my Inspection Sticker in October because of bald front tires and headlights that look fogged no matter what I do. And then, just last month, the driveshaft fell out. For at least six months (maybe longer?) the key fob has been dead. Honda makes it so that the driver’s side door won’t unlock with the key. Meaning: I need to unlock the door from the passenger’s side, and lean over the seat to hit the unlock button on the driver’s side door. Every time. Do you have any idea what this means when I have to get things in and out of the car? In the rain, jumping over puddles? Also, I have to hold the driver’s side door handle open in order to lock all the doors at once. It’s a bit frustrating.

My dad says the driveshaft isn’t entirely necessary; the only thing it does is make the car all wheel drive. Right now its front wheel drive. He also suggested that, to get my headlights to pass inspection, I ought to clean them with baking soda and water right before the inspection. They look clean for about ten minutes after that, so it should get me a sticker at least.

The other ways I cut corners to save money are: Sewing my clothes back together (stitch closed rips and tears; sew back on buttons); buy groceries and learn to make new things with them; make most of my own meals, and always bring a lunch to work (sandwiches get old, but a stir fry is easy to make a lot of and bring for lunch); attend events that offer free food (pizza, salad, sandwiches, whatever—free is free!); my school offers a free farmer’s market to students and faculty once a month, so I take advantage of that too; buy most of my clothes from thrift stores; unplug everything I’m not using at home (this includes the toaster oven, the printer, my computer, and the TV on the rare occasion that I use it); and volunteer at anything that costs money in lieu of paying (Writing events).

Those are just a few ways to cut corners and save money. Another very helpful tactic is to keep track of everything you spend. I do this on a calendar in my dining room; and when I haven’t been home for a few days, I keep track on my phone, and then transfer all my notes to the calendar when I have a second. I break my payments into a few categories:

  1. Food & alcohol (this is every time I go out, buy an iced tea, a rum & coke, or just a snack)

  2. Groceries (this includes everything from the grocery store: even a snack or a 6-pack of drinks. The point of groceries is savings in bulk, etc.)

  3. Gas (for my car)

  4. Miscellaneous (includes everything from new clothes to dental appointments to fixing my car)

  5. Rent

  6. Utilities

Knowing how much I spend every month lets me know how much I need to make to survive—and it also lets me know where I ought to cut back or skimp. Typically I’m always trying to cut back on food and alcohol—I hate spending unnecessary money, and I know I could save a ton if I just used all the groceries I get—but I consider food and alcohol family and friend-related; this is what I do for them. Or as a reward to myself if I’ve had a particilarly difficult day. Typically, my food/alcohol payments never go over $200 a month; meaning that I’m spending about $50 a week on this expenditure, which feels rather necessary.

Last month, I got locked out of my car for real: the key wouldn’t work in the passenger side lock, or in the driver’s side, so I had to get into the car through the trunk, and I decided that night (20 degrees and sinking) that it was time to fix the key fob. I went to Wal Mart and bought a matching battery, and as soon as I got home I went online and did what Dad told me to do months ago—I found a video explaining how to sync the fob with my car. And it worked. So not only do I not have to make a car payment every month, but I get to have an automatic lock and unlock again! Yay and Happy Yule. Cutting corners makes for a more interesting life, and a fuller bank account.

Is there anything you do to cut back? Are you saving for anything specific? Does it relate to your art or to some other major expense?

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