Living well (or not terribly) on the cheap

One of the worst parts of a tight financial situation — aside, of course, from the perpetual gnawing anxiety — is the toll on your social life when you take money and all the wonderful activities it enables out of the mix.

Don’t break open that piggy bank just yet. Photo via Flickr

One of the worst parts of a tight financial situation — aside, of course, from the perpetual gnawing anxiety — is the toll on your social life when you take money and all the wonderful activities it enables out of the mix.

If you keep passing on friends’ invitations to do stuff you can’t afford, they might just assume you’re not that into them and stop calling. Plus — and I don’t want to shock you here, so brace yourself for an extremely surprising piece of information — staying at home all the time thinking about how poor you are is totally depressing.

There’s tons of stuff to do when you’re down and out, though. Here’s are five ways how to feel like you have a life, even if you can’t afford one.

1. Go to vernissages. Book launches, readings and opening parties for gallery exhibits and cultural festivals are almost always free, offering a great way to go out and see friends without paying cover charge, dinner or bar bills. Keep tabs on the local scene and bolster folks making cool shit while mingling with attractive art-loving types. Plus you can often snag a glass of boxed wine or two. Check Cult MTL’s up-to-date listings of vernissages and literary events to see what’s on offer.

If you’re not into the party and just want to see some art, most private galleries don’t charge entry fees, nor does Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1380 Sherbrooke) for its permanent collection. The MMFA announces free special events and open house days for the major touring exhibits here, and you can visit the Musée d’art contemporain (185 Ste-Catherine W.) gratis on Wednesdays, 5–9 p.m.

2. Get sportier. You can be socially and physically active without coughing up cash, even as the weather cools and outdoor sports seem less tempting.

Most yoga studios offer a free trial class, and you can ride that pretty far if you’re willing to travel to different spaces around town. Better yet, a lot of places give you access in exchange for volunteering a few hours a week, usually either manning the reception or cleaning.

Gyms often give buddy passes to members (even if it’s just so they can hassle you relentlessly about joining after), so it’s worth bugging your athletic friends to take you with them when they work out. In addition, YMCAs offer membership for volunteers, as well as daily free pool hours and other community classes and workshops. Check the website of the Y closest to you for more info.

Finally, the city has numerous free athletic facilities for residents, including pools, outdoor gyms, skating rinks, sled runs, tennis courts and more. Check their sports and recreation page to see what seasonal activities are available in your ‘hood.

3. Think outside the box. Community groups, festivals and neighbourhood and merchant organizations organize all kinds of free events and activities that probably aren’t on your radar. The Montreal on the Cheap blog maintains a full calendar of free or very inexpensive workshops, classes and family-friendly activities. It’s a great resource for sneaking some wholesome fun into your life, even if you do have dosh, as it’ll hip you to unusual opportunities you might not otherwise seek out, such as craft workshops, fruit picking and street fairs.

4. Volunteer. If you have so much free time that you need to read this, then you could be spending some of it working for your community. It may not help with your financial situation, but it’s a great way to make new friends and, if you’re un- or underemployed, it could potentially help you find work, or at least feed your CV. Plus you can, like, help people and stuff.

There are plenty of invaluable and reputable community and charitable organizations that are always looking for volunteers, including Santropol Roulant, Head & Hands, Mile End Mission, The Old Brewery Mission and Sun Youth, although this list is nowhere near exhaustive. Montreal’s myriad festivals also rely heavily on volunteers, often in exchange for tickets, swag or passes, and there are internship opportunities galore. Check the Volunteer Board of Montreal listings for inspiration.

5. Host a dinner. Or, if you’re really in the hole, a potluck. It’s counterintuitive to assume the cost of feeding other people when you can barely feed yourself, but if you serve an inexpensive vegetarian dish like pasta and ask invitees to bring a few sides, you’ll end up with more food than you started and a better, more diverse diet of leftovers. Think of it as a fundraiser for your fridge. Your friends might catch on to what you’re up to, but if they’re good friends, they probably won’t mind. And if they do, you might want to look into making nicer friends (see #4). ■

Emily Raine is lavishly compensated for her journalistic and other endeavours. As of this posting, she’s sipping Dom aboard the Cult jet en route to Maui for a cocaine-encrusted mani-pedi, but she’ll be back by nightfall if you guys want to come over for a potluck.

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