You don't have to earn six figures to be happy. Author Dina Gachman knows from personal experience. She has faced student loans, made ends meet on unpaid internships and, along the way, figured out how to live the dream on a dime.
"It's not about feeling mopey because you can't afford a private jet with solid gold fuselage," she writes in her book "Brokenomics." "We'd all love free-flowing Dom Pérignon … but it's not about that. It's about surviving and thriving, no matter what your situation may be."
Whether you're trying to pay off a mountain of debt, want to up your savings rate in order to retire early or simply want to cut back, here are six of Gachman's tried-and-true money savings tips that will help you appreciate life in the cheap seats.
A simple way to save big is to downsize, or live large in a tiny space.
"If you're in a funk about your 300 square-foot living quarters, it's time to stop pining for a Spanish colonial mansion and start loving your little casita," writes Gachman.
One of Gachman's favorite psychological tricks is to think of her tiny, oven-less apartment as a "beach bungalow." "If you live near the mountains, call it your 'cabin,'" she writes. "If you're in the plains, call it your 'homestead.'"
She's also a fan of renting: "You don't have to pay property taxes, deal with maintenance issues, or stress about whether the value of your house is rising or sinking … someday, when you're writing a check for your property taxes, you might just think back on your thimble-sized cabin/homestead and miss the good old days."
"I haggle all the time within reason," writes Gachman. "It's not about being cheap; it's about being frugal. There's a difference."
Keep in mind that there are acceptable things to negotiate, like cable bills and cars, and unacceptable things, like restaurant bills and taxes. Other expenses Gachman says are worth haggling over include mortgage rates, laptop repairs, gym memberships, hotel rooms, medical bills and late fees.
Hotel and Airbnb bills can add up. To eliminate that expense when traveling, visit a city where you know someone.
"I'm not saying you should use people, obviously, but if you're dying to go to Paris and you have a friend who is living alone in a three-bedroom condo in Singapore — go to Singapore," says Gachman.
Before you wear out your credit cards at the mall, check out your friends' wardrobes, Gachman recommends: "Chances are you have at least one friend or sibling who is your same size who doesn't dress in Crocs. … When it comes to sharing, find friends who have similar taste in clothing. Trade with them. Start a barter system."
You can also get a bunch of friends together and host a clothes-swap party, "which basically means you all bring the clothes you don't want anymore, drink wine and trade with each other," writes Gachman. "By the end of the night you might have a new, free wardrobe."
"Not all gym memberships are so extravagant that they'll bankrupt you, but I've saved over $2,600 in four years by not having a (low-priced) gym membership," writes Gachman.
She prefers Billy Blanks' workout DVDs — "all you'll need are some four-pound dumbbells, a plastic Hula-Hoop, a towel … and a can-do attitude" — but there are plenty of ways to stay fit on the cheap.
"You don't need to be part of Leonardo DiCaprio's entourage to enjoy the theater or a VIP art opening or an NBA game once in awhile," says Gachman. No matter where your live, "there are ways to get out of the house and experience some culture, even if you're in the cheap seats, which are better than no seats at all."
Get your culture fix without spending much by checking out art gallery openings, street fairs, free museum days, outdoor theater and concerts, gardens and university events if you live near a college.
"Every town has something to offer," writes Gachman. Find pleasure in the abundance of activities that don't cost much, or anything.
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