Being poor sucks. I think that is one of the few statements that almost everyone can agree on, and more people than ever are probably experiencing the truth in this since the entire world economy seems to have imploded. Luckily, Bellingham has more resources for living cheaply than most places, and with a few poor-person skills, it is possible to make your situation suck less and maybe even take advantage of this time in your life to develop some new abilities, be healthier, and lessen your impact on the environment. Having lived under the poverty line for a while myself, I’ve come up with a few tips that can help you thrive with almost no money.
I’ll start with the most basic need: food. Despite the common belief that poor food is bland and unhealthy, I’ve found that the opposite is true for the cheapest and healthiest foodstuffs (legumes, rice, fruits and vegetables). This argument is backed up by a Department of Agriculture study conducted this May which reached the same conclusion. If you buy in bulk from a warehouse store like Cash and Carry, it’s possible to get 50 pounds of both beans and rice, enough to feed a single person for months, for under $40. Fruits and veggies are not expensive, especially if they’re bought in season when they’re more likely to be locally grown.
Beans and rice provide all the complete protein and carbohydrates your body needs (there is a reason most people in the world eat this way), and fruit and veggies give you a complete spectrum of vitamins. Spices are cheap when bought in bulk and make food delicious. To eat this way you will have to put in some effort and have a few basic cooking skills and kitchen equipment. Cooking is a rewarding and fairly easy life skill to learn (YouTube is full of instructional videos), and almost anything kitchen related can be found at Goodwill ridiculously cheap.
Secondhand stores have more than just appliances though, most essentials can be bought used, especially clothing, another basic necessity. In a college town like Bellingham, there is usually a good selection clothes available, so you can stay fashionable even if you don’t dress like a hippie.
Furnishing a house can also be incredibly inexpensive. Used furniture can be found from as little as $5 from a thrift store, and if you keep an eye out there is a ton of free stuff in front of houses at the end of each quarter.
Transportation is a huge expense if you drive a car, so it’s best not to do it. Instead, it’s much cheaper to ride a bike. A complete, quality bike assembled from recycled parts can be had relatively cheap at the Hub Community Bike Shop downtown, which is nonprofit. The price can be even cheaper if you build it yourself, which is easier than it sounds, since the place has a shop area and tools for public use, a huge scrapyard of parts and staff who are happy to share their knowledge. If you choose to do it this way you can learn a useful (and marketable) skill while also drastically reducing your environmental impact! There are tons of other benefits that come with cycling for transportation. You never need to worry about finding a parking space, you’re not constrained to roads and you’ll get stronger and healthier by riding.
The bus is another cheap option, a three month student pass is only $40, and can reach pretty much anywhere in Bellingham and the surrounding areas when combined with a bicycle. There are busses for longer trips between cities too, but it’s worth looking into rideshare on craigslist, a service where people driving longer distances accept passengers who will split the cost of gas, which is usually cheaper and more comfortable. Or, if you’re adventurous, you could always hitchhike.
The best advice I have is to simply not spend money unless you have to. If you boil down your spending to only those things which are most important, it might be surprising how little income you actually need to get by.