Once every few years, I will find myself broke in a very real way.
While I’ve never had to worry about getting kicked out of my apartment or actually starving (thanks, meaty German body!), I have often had to make substitutions for the comforts I have come to love.
The first time this happened was a few weeks after my 20th birthday, when I dropped out of college to deal with my nasty drug habit, and the even nastier reality that my mother was going to die. I went back home from my cute little liberal arts school to get my head straight and say goodbye, one of the few good choices I made during that hazy period in my life.
Fast forward a few months and I realized I that if I didn’t make up some credits, I would have to have to stay at school for an extra semester while my friends got to do fun stuff like get into debt, get strangers pregnant and develop drinking problems.
So I enrolled at a nearby state school, found a friend who will help with my bills in exchange for a spot on my pullout couch, and soon realized that being poor sucks, but is more tolerable if you’re making it into a game. Even then, that game is only fun if you’re already half-delirious from starvation.
But I’m accustomed to the finer things in life, like toilet paper and meals, so I sucked it up and found ways to survive — nay, thrive — despite having to pay for everything in loose change.
Before you try any of this, I should note that I am quite obviously not a doctor, and while doing these things, my roommate and I developed the following conditions: hypertension, anemia, malnutrition and ringworm. Enjoy!
Paper towels/tissues/coffee filters/maxi pads as toilet paper:
This is one of the first things you will run out of, poor or not. While it is easily stolen from offices, bars and the apartments of better-off friends, there will be many times in your new life where you will find yourself dousing your anxiety with a 99 cent bottle of Olde English in lieu of pricey Ativan and subsequently running out of toilet paper.
That said, to anyone who comes from a country other than the United States, rubbing sandpaper on your ass is a fine method as long as it gets the job done. Lotion up any of the aforementioned items and you have yourself a lovely and economical way to be the second-to-most disgusting person on the morning train.
Bodywash/hand soap/detergent as shampoo:
If you’re a person who values having friends over having awesome hair, listen up: Soap is soap, as long as you don’t accidentally blind yourself with it. Sometimes, the desire to have hair that doesn’t smell like sweat, pillow drool and whatever grossness your scalp chooses to produce outweighs the desire for body and softness. Any of the above will get your hair clean and will let you participate in society just like a person who can spend a dollar on Suave.
Paper towels as coffee filters:
First off, if you’re still making coffee at home in the first place, you’re not that bad off. Real poor people drink coffee at work or wait around counters at Starbucks until someone inevitably fucks up an order. But if you’re the cute, not-yet-bathing-in-your-own-tears kind of poor who can still afford Folgers, you’ll probably still have to give up those pricey filters.
Learn what junkies have known for years: You can filter addictive substances through pretty much anything made of cotton or paper you have lying around and it won’t make much of a difference. Until it kills you, or whatever.
Olive oil as makeup remover, conditioner, shaving cream, and moisturizer
From Morricone to Berlusconi, I’ve often found myself admiring the way Italians think. These guys not only make the best hangover food, but pretty much everything you’d throw into a standard Italian meal can double as a personal care item. Basil — perfume. Spaghetti — hair extensions. Cannoli — a woman. However, far and away the most multi-purpose item you have in your kitchen is a bottle of olive oil.
This stuff is actually a better shaving cream than most of the commercial stuff on the market and works pretty well as a cleanser, moisturizer and conditioner if used sparingly. So what if you leave the shower looking greasy and smelling like an Olive Garden? There are at least 50 dudes trolling Craigslist for that exact thing right now.
Your tub as a Laundromat
First off, nobody who’s not looking for love in a mid-90s romantic comedy likes going to the laundromat. It’s hot and it’s full of laundry folk. This is where your tub or sink comes in. These things are pretty much the exact same as a laundromat except they’re free, they’re already at your house, and they won’t kick you out for sneaking in Franzia.
While you’re at it, go ahead and use some of that shampoo as detergent. This isn’t the fucking Ritz.
What are your sort of pathetic but useful ways to stretch a dollar?