8 Things to Do When You're Broke in a New City

December 2, 2015

Many of us will find ourselves broke in a new city at least once at some point in our twenties. For most, this time will come right after or within a few years of finishing college. What with moving expenses, rental deposits, and the price of inflation in the big city, things can get expensive real quick. And although we’d love nothing more than to try out every corner bar looking for our new favorite spot, we might want to watch our spending those first few weeks. From personal experience as well as conversations with friends, I’ve compiled this list that I wish I had seen when I was a new transplant in the big scary city, in the hopes that it could help someone else.

8 Things to Do in a New City When You're Broke

1. Walk or bike all around until you’re lost.

Then find your way home using GPS or a map. This might not sound like much fun, but there is almost no better way to learn the layout of your new city and try out the various routes to take home. It’s important to explore your new home town beyond the neighborhoods of your home and work. Both residential areas and business districts can be equally fun to traverse by yourself. Please note – when I say “until you’re lost” I don’t mean completely and utterly lost. I  encourage having either a map or a GPS device with you when you embark on your mission. Another note, this tactic is equally or more fun to do in a car, however gas can be one of those big expenses we’re trying to avoid.

2. Go to a graveyard and take pictures of the headstones.

Sounds kinda creepy, huh? I thought so too until I tried it. Cemeteries are some of the most beautiful and peaceful parks you’ll find in the city, and the camera helps turn this outing into an art project. A fun game to play with yourself is find-the-oldest-tombstone. This can give you a sense of the history of the city. You might even find some important people buried there. Look for names that match major roads and buildings, such as J.C. Hawthorne in the Portland area.

3. Find free or discounted classes.

Okay, this one kind of goes without saying. But almost every major city has at least one donation-based yoga studio or free trial drop-in gym. Sometimes events are held in public spaces that waive the fees, such as cooking classes held at the weekend farmer’s markets. Groupon and local community colleges are great resources when looking into fun things to try. And be sure to check out the community boards in local coffeeshops. I can’t begin to count how many dance studio coupons I’ve found by doing this.

4.  Hit up the supermarket’s free samples.

No shame here. Freegans might have the right idea when it comes to supermarket samples. The best time of the week to give this a try is weekend mornings between 9 and 11 am. Holiday seasons are even better! Grocery stores are always trying to push new seasonal products in hopes to boost sales. But please be weary- some of the food you try will be delicious, and it will be expensive. Proceed with caution.

5. Volunteer!

There are SO many opportunities to give back to the community in a big city. My favorite suggestions include finding an urban community garden and looking into the local animal shelters. Most big cities have a humane society, and what could be better than working with pets in need of love? If you have the time, please consider helping out shelter pets, assisting those less fortunate, or cleaning litter out of community parks. PS- most community gardens will compensate you for your time with FOOD! Great way to save money on groceries while also lending a helping hand.

6. Consign old clothes and home goods.

Finding creative ways to dress and decorate your new home can be daunting when you’re on a tight budget. Search online for a nearby thrift store that offers consignment for donations, and then ransack your closet for anything you can live without. Clothes are always a big ticket item, but all sorts of accessories and home goods could help you gain a few extra bucks. Shoes, jewelry, winter wear, tapestries, knick knacks, decor, vintage shelving, small furniture, are just some of the things I’ve managed to consign in exchange for new things. Helpful hint- make sure your donations are all clean, neatly folded, and in some cases ironed. Most places will offer a small cash exchange or a generous in-store credit. This is also a great way to find gifts for cheap or free in the holiday seasons.

7. Go outside.

Most cities are centered around some sort of body of water, or nestled in a sunny valley between mountains. Whatever the local landscape, be sure to get out and give yourself a break from the daily hustle. City parks can offer fun small-scale hikes while state and national parks can be the perfect escape from the big city. If you live near the ocean, be sure to visit it often and sit in quiet meditation on its beaches. If you live near the snow, be sure to roll up a snowball and pelt it at a tall tree. If you live near a river…. well you get the idea. Find out what it is that makes your new home unique and spend quality time getting to know the outdoors.

8. Join an online community.

You can use social media to connect with circles of people who share similar interests with you. Search for public groups or events that might spark your interest and add them to your calendars. Meetup.com is another great resource, especially if you don’t have a ton of contacts in your new home. Political movements, hobbies, movie nights, whatever your interests might be, I guarantee you will find others who share your passions when you reach out online. We all know that the internet can be a time trap, but there is a lot of good happening in this old thing, too.

Also by Francesca:  Why Happiness By Choice Doesn’t Always Work

Related: 5 Reasons Taking a Gap Year is a Great Idea

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Photo: Samuel Zeller via Unsplash

Currently based in Portland, OR, Francesca is an enthusiastic student of the stars. She spends her time writing, dancing, hiking, looking up at the sky in awe, eating plants, playing with her cat, and working (when it becomes absolutely necessary). Her aspirations include traveling the world and learning to walk in heels. Follow Francesca on Instagram at @francescayoungsilks and at francescafarfalle.wordpress.com.


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