Thursday, October 6, 2005

So, You Actually Have Some Cash

Wow, money. And it’s not just any old money. It’s folding money. Touch it. Feel it. Rub it between your thumb and forefinger. Luxuriate in the texture of the bills. It’s nice. I know. It’s such a rare treat for the starving artist to find himself with a little spending cash. Take a second and enjoy it. Just hang out with your money. Walk the streets with the confidence of a man who actually has a little extra money in his wallet.

Do you have that out of your system? Good. You can enjoy having money, but eventually you’re going to want to spend it. Now, if you are a true starving artist, you don’t have a lot of money to spend and would like to make the meager amount you have travel as far as possible. It’s difficult, I know. We live in a consumer culture and the there is an over whelming number of choices for spending your cash. Where should you go? What’s the best way to stretch that dollar practically to the breaking point? I do not pretend to know the exact answer to these questions. I have, however, spent countless hours looking for the answer. In this time I have found a few tips which I can share.

1. Get to know the Dollar Store
It’s full of generic food and items which have failed in mainstream market place – there are probably Dollar Stores out there selling Crystal Pepsi. It’s cluttered and the people who work there are always a little dirty looking. Still, everything there is a dollar. Let me put this into perspective. If you have five dollars, you can buy five things at the dollar store. If you have ten dollars, that’s ten items. Don’t be afraid of the dollar store, embrace the dollar store. Become familiar with the dollar store’s strange layout. Get to know the products. This isn’t something you can do overnight. Think of it more as an ongoing experiment. Find the dollar store products which are actually of decent quality - in my experience these include cookies, chips, snacks, dish soap, and utensils to name a few - and buy them. Find the items of terrible quality – non-stick pans, peanut butter, generic Barbie dolls – and avoid them. It’s also important to remember that…

2. The Dollar Store is not always the best value
I know this may sound like sacrilege, but sometimes a dollar is too much to spend for generic spaghetti-O’s. Sometimes you can find the same or a similar item somewhere else cheaper. Try other bargain outlets like Big Lots or Save-a-Lots. True these places may be even scarier than the dollar store – which has gone a little mainstream – but if you’re a real cheap starving artist you’ll go there. You’ll wade through barrels of plain white cans marked simply “MEAT” to find that bargain you came for. As in the dollar store, you’ll need to go through a lot of crap before you find the pearls among the crap. There are a lot of bargain stores out there. A lot of them are on the seedy side. You just need to get the guts to go in and check them out. Of course, there is one place you can go which routinely has low prices….

3. Never admit to Wal-mart
Wal-mart has cheap stuff. Their prices are often the best around, but there is a catch. It is not cool to shop at Wal-mart, especially for someone claiming to be an artist. It’s much cooler for an artist to hate Wal-mart. Remember Wal-mart ruins communities, mistreats employees, hates the poor, causes global warming, and makes the baby Jesus cry. But still Wal-mart is cheap. Now I’m not going to judge you either way whether or not you choose to shop at Wal-mart, but I will offer this word of advice: Don’t cop to shopping at Wal-mart. Don’t talk about it. Don’t let anyone see the bags. Don’t buy the Sam’s Choice products. Go there in the dead of night. Maintain the image of a Wal-mart hater. It’s important for your artistic image.

4. Second hand store, First rate fun
I love thrift stores. Seriously I adore them. Not only are the deals excellent, but they’re fun. Can anyone honestly say they don’t have fun at thrift stores? Every trip’s like a treasure hunt. You have no idea what to expect. You can find a gold mine. A friend of mine once found a great condition brooks brothers’ suit in his size. Half the shirts I own have spent some time on the racks at the Salvation Army or Goodwill. It’s always better to buy an actual old T-shirt at Salvation Army for a buck, than to buy a faux old shirt at American Eagle for thirty dollars. Thrift stores are even great places to bring dates. It sounds odd, but consider it a kind of litmus test. If she has fun, you’re set. Not only is she cool and easy going, she accepts you’re thrifty nature. If she hates it, it was never meant to be.

5. Small pleasures make a huge difference
I hate my day job. It is mind numbing and absolutely annoying. It’s important to have some little thing that helps keep you sane. If you are an actual starving artist, it’s probably your artistic work. I personally find writing very soothing. Even then there might be some little expenditure which gives you peace of mind. I personally like going to small coffee shops and reading. If I can I’ll be there for hours. I just find it soothing. I found a place with good atmosphere, friendly staff, and – best of all – cheap, but delicious coffee. For a mere dollar I can get a bottomless cup of top quality coffee. So, I can sit, read, and drink coffee for as long as I like for a buck. It’s splurging on myself but not splurging a lot. You need to splurge on yourself occasionally.

Once again, these are just a few suggestions. Not all of them are ground breaking. A lot of them are common sense. And as always these are only meant to encourage you to go out and find rules of your own. It’s your money spend it however you like. If you want to go see a movie, be my guest. Just remember it’s going to cost you eight bucks, where renting a movie may only cost you three and finding a bargain theater may cost as little as a dollar (plus, many video rental places have discounts for joining. Make a point of joining all the ones in the area but not all at once. Eventually you’ll find the cheapest one. I found one which allows customers to get free rentals for tearing up a competitor’s card. I keep getting free rentals, while getting new cards to replace the ones I mysteriously ‘lost’). The moral of the story is once your money’s gone it’s gone for good. So, you better be happy with what you got for it.