Laramie's Keys to Surviving on Next to Nothing:
- Mutual Aid: Networking, bartering, forming or utilizing existing co-op ventures like the Hour Car (hourcar.org) and Freecycle, (freecycle.org) using resources such as Kevin's lists, and the LiveJournal 'PoorSkills' Community (http://poor-skills.livejournal.com/) - Asking for Help - hard as it can be. No one can solve all your troubles for you, but just about everyone is willing to do some small specific thing if they know it will help. If you belong to a spiritual community you should be able to find some help there; if not, you may be able to find help through other charitable institutions, or your local state or county - though this has become increasingly difficult, especially if what resources you have are hard to document.
- Downsizing: Personally, I moved from a two bedroom duplex apartment to rooming in a shared household. This reduced my monthly expenses, both rent and utilities, by more than half. I no longer maintain a car, cutting my transportation expense to bus fare and a monthly membership in the HourCar. I barter some housekeeping services to further save on rent. I wish I had taken some of these steps earlier, when I still had some savings to rely on and before resorting to using credit cards to pay rent. Don't wait too long; if you can't reasonably manage your present lifestyle on what you can earn, start looking for ways to change your lifestyle to make it more affordable. In the course of looking for housing I could afford, I advertised on room-mate boards for people in a similar situation who'd be compatible in forming a co-op household.
- Do it Yourself: Mending and repairing, making, cooking - the things one CAN do for oneself all help keep expenses down. (Rsources like Freecycle can help with materials and tools for making.) If you don't know how to sew, but can repair small appliances, or can't type, but can do yard work, etc., look into bartering services. There is a barter network in St. Paul and surrounding area, (hourdollars.org/) and you can advertise your services and requests for free on Craigslist.
- Multiple Streams of Income: where no single source of income is sufficient, and no steady employment is to be had, a person can survive through a variety of (individually inadequate) income sources. Personally, I'm registered with nearly half a dozen temp agencies, and have gotten a few short-term assignments between them, (three different gigs through three different agencies in the last year) AND a few freelancing gigs by advertising for free on craigslist, AND made a few dollars selling off books and videos on Amazon.com and Ebay, AND a few dollars through my Cafepress.com shop AND through Smashwords and Amazon on my independently published short story collection, Three Wishes.
- Entrepreneurship: Where there are no or few jobs being offered, and excessive competition for such jobs as are posted, it's time to create new ventures. I am working with fellow artists to start an artist's co-op to find and create more opportunities for all of us to display and sell our work, and am starting a venture with a couple friends from my writer's group to offer book preparation services (professional editing, formatting and cover design) to other writers who want to publish e-books independently.
- Stress Reduction: Living on next to nothing is stressful. You often don't know where or when to expect your next bit of income. You may feel isolated, even among your best friends. Even the best and most understanding of people may have no real conception of how difficult it can be for you to participate in shared activities that cost even only a few dollars. (I've had to make a point of scraping together the money for a cup of tea so I can spend time with friends at a café.) Feeling sorry for oneself doesn't help. Feeling resentful of innocent bystanders doesn't help - and indeed may get in the way of useful networking. Dealing with stress and negativity is a big part of making it on next to nothing. Move, Play, Breathe - take note of what activities you find relaxing or refreshing and be sure to make time for those between bouts of scrambling for survival. (Local fans can check out mnstf.org for info on activities, including the Friday Games Day parties). This is another area where community is so important - seek out opportunities to get involved in group activities. Volunteer - it may seem counter-productive to work for free when you need income - but it can bring you into contact with supportive people and help you build skills and feel valued.