A Really Good Way to Be Poor

Find fun free stuff to do, like this community pillow fight in NYC.

Here is a guide on how to be a successful freeloader, in one sense of the word. I’m not talking about being an irresponsible, inconsiderate leech, nor am I talking about clipping coupons and hunting deals, but making do with no income or assistance. I don’t just mean scraping by, waking up every morning with the one goal of foraging enough calories to stay alive until bedtime. I’m referring to actually living life on little or no money -- being entertained, having experiences, being well fed. It takes creativity, relentless research, and dedication to become a skilled, honest freeloader.

You’ll notice that these strategies are clearly no solution for actually being homeless or dangerously broke -- rent’s still gotta be paid unless you’re couch surfing, squatting in an abandoned building, or sleeping on a park bench. They’re more suited to grad students with quickly depleting loan money and no serious responsibilities than people with true hardship. Also, it’s rather essential to be residing in a big city for these to work... being poor in a small town is pretty much just boring.


One good rule of thumb: Attend anything with refreshments. Parties, mixers, screenings, art walks. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve walked out of museum exhibit openings with pockets full of pretzels.

Also, always remember that day-old bread can save your life. Plenty of coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants end each day with unsellable bread that they don’t know exactly what to do with.

There are a few different ways to get your hands on it. Befriending a kind-hearted barista could lead to bags full of still-good bagels and scones. If you know the right places and the right times to look, these establishments’ Dumpsters can be gold mines. And don’t act like that’s gross. I’m not talking about moldy, muddy refuse here. Some places even double-bag the not-bad-yet-but-too-old-to-sell bread and set it apart from the normal trash.

I will confess also that I have relied heavily of wine tastings with cheese assortments for calorie intake, but I’d be doing you a disservice to claim that this is a good idea. You generally just end up with very red, very foul-smelling vomit and end the night feeling more malnourished than before.

Fun Stuff

Most of my day-to-day entertainment involves consuming art in one form or another. If yours is more along the lines of consuming alcohol, that’s not really the subject of this, but I’m sure you won’t be out of luck with open bars and the aforementioned parties, mixers, art walks and wine tastings. As far as live music goes -- along with local bands playing free shows at coffee shops and bars -- there are always record store in-store performances. They might be shorter sets at strange times, but free is free, and I often prefer them to paid venue shows because they tend to be more intimate. Many big cities are also host to free summer concert series. If you’re more in the mood for visual art, mark the museum free days on your calendar. Most museums have them, usually at odd, low-traffic times -- the first Tuesdays of the month, Thursdays after 5 p.m. -- which are much easier to go to if you don’t have a day job to worry about anyway, so it all works out. Of course you could always wander through art galleries for free, whether it’s during an art walk or not. Fans of film can usually get their fix pretty easily, too, with free screenings, which sometimes only cost the time it takes to fill out a survey at the end. If you are a grad student, as mentioned, universities tend to have tickets to give away a lot of the time, if you show up first and know who to ask.

When summer rolls around, you could always trespass onto hotel property, nonchalantly locate the pool, and swim until being escorted off the premises, which is my only illegal suggestion, but still worth trying.

Don’t Be Lazy

The key here is research. Tracking down and keeping tabs on the most useful resources for information on fun, free stuff takes some work, but it’s worth it. Sign up for as many newsletters as you can find offering listings on each week’s free events. Figure out which blogs post the most and best insider news. If you’re lazy, this type of freeloading probably won’t work for you.

Most of the good things in life don’t cost much money, and if they do, there are usually ways around it. Like I said, this isn’t about slacking or stealing, just enjoying life even when you have no money to spend.

I am, of course, no longer a twenty-something grad student in massive debt, but even as a fairly settled and stable almost-30-year-old, I still practice quite a few of these things. Well, except for the food stuff; I just buy my food at Trader Joe’s now.