après moi, le déluge
October 13, 2014 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of entering a huge and long overdue stage of transition in my life, which is guaranteed to make me miserable for the next 2-3+ years in addition to costing me thousands of dollars. (Whee!) Since I'm lucky enough to have advance notice before the proverbial trigger is pulled, I'm trying to put together tricks and treats to make the months ahead a bit less awful. When you're having a tough time and you know it's going to last for the indefinite future, what can you do to help soften the blows?

Difficulty levels:
1. Free/very cheap or moderately priced but well worth the expenditure
2. Not requiring any kind of assistance from anyone else on earth

To provide an example of the kind of thing that really shines: I'm vegan and I cook almost every meal from scratch, so I spent the last half-dozen years building up an amazingly extensive pantry to ensure I'd always be able to prepare almost any type of cuisine at a moment's notice. Having recently put the finishing touches on my dried bean storage system and thus the whole to-do, I can rest on my laurels and admire my completed collection. I love it so much. It might sound simple or stupid, but it brings me great joy to have successfully created a small part of the life I'm trying to build within the confines of the life I currently have.

So anything from "make sure to take a walk and get some air every day" to "buy sample sizes of fancy soap so you can feel luxurious without having to spend a bunch of money" would be helpful. I'd especially appreciate specific suggestions for inexpensive [vegan] treats, tips on when to know if it's an appropriate time to spend outside my budget -- like, after so many months at a strict rice and beans-level, when is it OK to go to a movie or buy a new book, even if the expense will throw me off track? -- and recommendations on how to best stay on my grind when everything starts to feel inescapable and overwhelming.

Thank you.

(PS for my fellow inescapably mired folks: The way out is through. We'll get there. <3)
posted by divined by radio to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Reacquaint yourself with the library. Free books, music, and movies. Most libraries have website portals where you can order books, etc to be set aside for you, so it's easy to pop in and pick up your bundle.

Decide on a small sum - $5-10/month to put into a slush fund for little fun things. If you budget it in, it'll be easier to spend without throwing things off.

Sephora is great for getting little free sample sizes of lotions, perfumes, makeup, etc. They tend to be really nice about it as well.

Many museums are pay what you can rather than a set price for their general collections (not special exhibits).

Summer is good for free concert series and outdoor movie series depending on whether you're in or near a larger city.

Building a capsule wardrobe can take a lot of guess work out of dressing well. A mix of inexpensive pieces and investment pieces tends to pay off well. Thrift stores are worth checking as many people donate completely unworn, designer clothing.
posted by quince at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

Sorry to hear the road ahead is going to be rocky for some time. I love your positive, healthy attitude!

1. I love linens. Clean, fresh, sometimes-scented linens make me feel like I'm living in the lap of luxury. High-thread count linens do not have to be expensive - I've found soft, luxurious Egyptian cotton sets at Ross and TJ Maxx for cheap.

2. Watching sunrises/ sunsets. Whether or not you happen to be on a coast, find a place that has an absolutely breathtaking view. This doesn't have to be something you do everyday, but hopefully it is within a short traveling distance (a day trip so you don't have to stay overnight). Visit this place every so often. I live in Southern California, and I sometimes take hikes by myself at night just to revel in the beauty of our sunsets. The sheer magnificence that nature offers reminds me how beautiful life can be.

3. Get as much rest as you can. There are going to be times when you are so stressed out you may not be able to sleep, and times when all you want to do is sleep. Create the most comfortable sleeping environment you can - almost as important as your pantry! Paint your walls a color that will make you feel warm and cosy. Hang up photos or pictures that remind you of people who love and care about you, or a painting that helps you recall happy memories.

4. As much as you can, do NOT let your living environment get into disarray. There are going to be times when cleaning and vacuuming and dusting are the last things you'd feel like doing. Those times will be worse if you are surrounded by untidy closets and cluttered surfaces. De-clutter your home, and get as organized as possible. This will be invaluable for when you feel overwhelmed and need a sanctuary.

I hope these help you in the coming months. You're on a great start to moving through whatever it is you're going through.
posted by Everydayville at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Repeat after me: Day. By. Day. Asking for ideas is smart and awesome, and I hope you get a lot of them. But make sure you aren't adding to your daily stress by repeating to yourself over and over each day, "This is never going to end and I will always feel this tired/stressed/sick/broke." Do this for me, please (and if you can go back in time to tell 20-year-old rogerroger this as well, it would be much appreciated).

Okay and some tips:

- Do you live near a library with an online reservation system? Read reviews of soon-to-be-published books and request them. (Are they not listed yet? Call up the library and ask them to buy them.) You'll get to read them free of charge and if you were early enough on the list, they'll have that awesome new book smell without you having to buy them!

- Also, libraries have DVDs. (And if your library has an app called Hoopla you can stream movies!)

- Podcasts. Funny, free podcasts (as long as you have an internet connection and/or a smartphone). Maximum Fun Network is a great starting place.

- Part of self-care for me is cleaning my living space. Once it gets messy, the world's problems seem even more insurmountable. Take 20 minutes to tidy up daily even if it seems like there are more urgent matters at hand.

- Being broke can be socially isolating if you can't afford bars, events, etc. Ask your friends to meet you at a park to go for a walk. Suggest picnic lunches. Or research free events. You don't have to cut out fun just because you've got less spending money.

- Do an inventory of your Stuff. Can you sell anything you're not using right now? Are there clothes in your closet that you forgot about and feel new to you? Take things to a consignment shop and then use that money for 'fun money' later. Wear your 'new to you' clothes or donate them to a thrift store and buy a few used duds.

- If you're spiritual at all, faith communities can be supportive (and free to join).

Good luck!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:20 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Congrats on the dried bean system! I was coming in to suggest legumes, but you're on top of that already. Maybe up your starch game beyond rice (you haven't said that you did or not) with grains that might be a little more expensive but more tasty than rice, like bulgur or farro.

A great vegan treat is vegan chocolate, so expensive but so luxurious and delicious. You can keep a big bar in your freezer and break off bits when you want.

Call around to massage schools and see if they have discounted rates for sessions from students. That's a great way to celebrate the completion of something big and taxing!

Good luck!
posted by danabanana at 2:26 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aldi has decent assorted flower bouquets for $3.99. They're usually pretty long-lasting assortments of mums, asters, alstroemeria, etc. It's a pretty small price to pay for 10 days of fresh flowers!
posted by drlith at 2:43 PM on October 13, 2014

Trying new teas is something inexpensive but fun. You can order them online or go to a local store.

Investing in an awesome shower head can also be worthwhile during stressful times. :)
posted by gemutlichkeit at 2:44 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Someone mentioned "pay what you wish" museums, but if you have friends/family who give you birthday/winterholiday presents, ask for museum or other cultural institution memberships. Then on the rainy/snowy/hot days, you can take a walk in a museum or sit on a bench and read a library book.

If you live in a city, find a way to get out of the city occasionally.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:54 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Investigate getting a winter CSA and whether you qualify for any discounted rates or volunteer breaks. Life is better with an abundance of fresh vegetables and the social/farm/volunteer contact could be really nice for you right now.

Luxury items via eBay. Good shoes? Nice vacuum cleaner? Research what you really want then get it used and cheap.

A regular pen pal practice can be both nourishing and cheap.

Good luck. It sounds like your ability to take pleasure in life will help you through whatever it is you're facing.
posted by zem at 3:40 PM on October 13, 2014

Best of luck in what you're going through. I've found that the following things help me a lot:

-Having people around to chat with. Even if it's just remotely (and feel free to MeMail me any time if you just need someone to vent to or a distraction).
-Watching my favorite silly YouTube videos.
-Getting something done around the house - tidying, cleaning, fixing something that isn't working right.
-Long walks: definitely, and if you already have a digital camera or a phone that takes photos, trying to find interesting things to take pictures of on your walks.
-This costs a few bucks, but: when I'm stressed out, I like to go to a coffee shop and have a big cup of tea. It's warm, it's soothing, and it keeps me away from home where I feel stuck in my thoughts.
-A hot shower.
-Lighting candles.
-Reading a lighthearted book.
-Just taking deep breaths.
posted by capricorn at 3:49 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

You say it sounds silly to be proud of your super-stocked pantry, but it doesn't at all. In fact, that is exactly the kind of resilience that you should be doing, and that kind of joy-in-the-small-things is exactly what you need.

In therms of "when is it time to spend on a treat" - you could try something I do, which is a sort of budgeting trick I do. The way I handle savings and credit card payments is by setting up a series of automated, weekly payments direct from my checking account. Doing it weekly means I spread out the "hit" each month, and the amounts are comparatively small each week so I hardly notice.

But one of the transfers is into a savings account which is purely for fun stuff. It's a small amount each week, but it's there for me to play with if I want, or save for another time. I would maybe try the same - pick a small amount, one that would work with your budget, and set up regular transfers into this new fun-money fund. It'll be there to dip into if you run short for the gas bill too, of course, but it's main purpose is for you to say, "oh, hey, I'm up to $35 in that fund, and that's enough for brunch at that awesome place down the street this weekend."

But use the name for this that my friend who taught me about it uses herself - this is called "The 'I'm Worth It' Fund".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 PM on October 13, 2014

Get a basket or box, and fill it with wrapped little gifts to yourself that you can open when you're having a down day. The person who taught me about this filled hers with sample scented lotions, puzzle books, packets of shelf-stable treats, colored pens, fun kitchen magnets, DVDs out of the $5 bin that she thought sounded interesting, fuzzy socks in funky patterns, you name it. Nothing expensive, nothing that you spend a lot of time thinking about to get perfect; just little impulse-buy things you see whenever you're out and about. Once they're wrapped and put away, you'll forget what they are, and there really is something kind of great about closing your eyes to reach into the box to pick at random, and opening a present to yourself that truly suits your tastes.
posted by current resident at 4:21 PM on October 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Pandora's comedy station is a great, freebie mood-lifter for me. I often listen to it on my commute to work and it helps me arrive in a much better mood. They have lots of different categories and types of comedy - cleaner stuff like Bill Cosby or more adult stuff like Richard Pryor, stupid stuff like Larry the Cable Guy and everyone in between.

Good luck! Sounds to me like if anyone can get through this period it's you.
posted by Beti at 4:29 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason why you can't tell us what this transition is going to be? I've noticed this seems to be quite common on AskMe: there's a situation, but the writer expresses it in an abstract manner, almost like it's a puzzle. I'm not complaining, and if it's because you need to maintain confidentiality of some sort, I'm totally okay with that. It's just that sometimes it matters. Like, if you're going to prison I'd probably suggest something different than if you're going to grad school, being homeless, and/or being unemployed. And for this, I'm assuming it's something like "unemployed".

All that aside, one thing that occurs to me is that you might want to update your technology one last time. I hear that Apple is going to announce an upgrade to its iPad and computer lines on 16 October. So if you like Apple hardware, it might be a good time to upgrade, either by buying something bleeding edge, or finding a deal on something that's (bleeding edge - 1). The Usual Disclaimers: I'm not shilling for Apple, etc.

If you're vegan, maybe getting set up with a garden and seeds and associated supplies, so you can grow your own food?

A guitar or some other musical instrument? These days you can find musical instruments as cheap as you want them to be. I don't think I need to make a case for the rewards that come from playing an instrument.

A nice-ish bottle of balsamic vinegar might cost a few dollars up front but it can last a long, long time.

Grow your own hot peppers and make your own hot sauce.

I'll sometimes play games with myself like "today, I'm not going to spend any money."

Or - try to put $1 a day in a jar.

See if you can find a friend or neighbor who will let you leech Wifi access. Or see if you can split the cost.

Colored pens or pencils and a drawing pad. Learn to draw / improve your skills.
posted by doctor tough love at 4:31 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Being out in nature really helps me ground myself (and it's usually free!). I went up to the top of Holy Hill last weekend (178 steps omg) and the view of the fall colors was super awesome. I meant to hike part of the Ice Age Trail but ended up going on a nice drive to Cedarburg instead. If next weekend is decent, I might try for another hike. Lapham Peak is another local option. But I go for a lot of walks around my neighborhood too, especially when I'm stressed or angry. Angrywalking!

I'm volunteering at the humane society this winter, partly for selfish reasons because dogs and kitties do wonders for my mood. (God I hope I don't end up adopting fourteen cats.) Anyway, although it's not a luxury thing like fancy soap, I'm thinking it will help me through the winter grind.

If you're prone to SAD or just the general suckiness of winter, I really recommend taking Vitamin D every day. It makes a huge difference for me.

I think it's important to have something to look forward to every week, even if it's small. I have one vice these days - coffee. All my spare change for the week ends up at Valentine or Colectivo on Saturday or Sunday morning. I like the one by the marina. It also forces me to get out of the house, which is really important when I'm feeling low.
posted by desjardins at 4:33 PM on October 13, 2014

Do you drink beer? Since this will take you a couple years to do, and it sounds like you have some lead-time, I would try and find, and purchase a case of beers that will age well. Same could easily go for a case of wine.

Saving that beer for a particular rough week, or a particularly good one is really nice, especially if you want to nerd out a little bit about how time changes flavors in a bottle.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:01 PM on October 13, 2014

You probably already know this, but keep eating your fruit and vegetables! Stay hydrated! Staying healthy is going to make all the difference.

Walking is free, no need for a fancy workout regime to stay fit. Youtube has awesome resources for guided meditation and exercise to suit anybody. Exercising will help you sleep and reduce stress. (Running is also free, I would suppose, save for shoes...)

You could learn how to forage for food in your area to help find supplemental food. Here is a place in San Francisco, but I'm sure there are online resources where you live to assure you're safe. Foraging is also a great way to get outside and commune with nature.

I nth the public library for tons of reasons: books/DVDs/music, a place to visit for free internet and events, etc.

If you feel like shopping, find your favorite thrift stores. If you need clothes, housewares, anything, go there first.

Continue to save money. Even if you don't spend your change (like, have a piggy bank and only spend paper money). $1/week is something when saved over a few years, right? I find extreme pleasure in saving money, I'm sure someone else here will help with actual special treats.

I listen to the radio almost constantly (I'll plug KEXP again, sorry) and is a free way to stay connected with a larger community.

I find in difficult circumstances, staying in a routine is essential, but that's just me.

Hang in there!
posted by mamabear at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2014

Do you use a cell phone and/or a smart phone? If you have some money now, but you won't in the future, see if you can pay your bill ahead. That way, you'll have an operational phone, and you won't have to worry about paying for it in a few months or so.

Also, *really* examine your phone usage vs. the plan you're on, and then adjust accordingly. No use on being on a plan with a 10 GB cap, when you only use 1GB or so a month. That can save you some dough.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:27 PM on October 13, 2014

I'd get uTorrent running 24/7.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:08 PM on October 13, 2014

+Take free classes on Coursera.org. Be it for self interest, helping further a career, or learning how to save the world, there is a little bit for everyone. I am currently enrolled in Learning how to Learn and Better Leader, Richer Life. You can participate as little or as much as you like.

+Buy some exotic seeds off of etsy.com (I like Smart Seeds). to surround yourself with some daily beauty (containers in your house or your garden). I have milk thistle as my lawn in my backyard and two calamondin trees in my living room.

+Make a book list and tackle it!

+Sewing! I like to sew small toys by hand while watching shows and give them out to our local foster care organization. I get a lot of my fabric from clothing at thrift stores, and use stuffing from the ugly pillows they sell for dirt cheap.

+(still sewing) English Paper Piecing! Very easy and addicting! You're able to sew together a variety of complex shapes easily that would be difficult in normal quilting. I am currently working on the travel case listed on The Zen of Making (which also has good projects).
posted by lovecricket at 9:03 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't already have one, a Hitachi magic wand. Not cheap/free, but worth it when you divide it into cost per use. And you can use it for your back and shoulders, too.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:30 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not sure if this is the right sort of thing, but I've gotten through rough times by plastering my walls with quotes that I find helpful ('The obstacle is the path' and 'When you're going through hell, keep going' and 'Barn's burnt down. Now I can see the moon.' leap to mind for you just now). I hand write them on kraft paper that I hoard from packaging. Also, if this is a definitely time-limited thing, something I've found helpful is hand making a huge calendar that goes on the wall (also brown paper) - to make time visual/spatial helps me, to make it something I can take in with my eyeballs all at once helps me, and to be able to mark off the days helps me (as well as being a useful time management tool). I feel like I can get through things better when I can see that they are finite. You could also put positive things on it like if you decide in advance when you get a splurge day and you get to spend $10 on whatever you want, something like that?

Also postcards or cards with art prints or that are just images or words that I like stuck all over the walls. They are relatively cheap, but also you could print images that you like for cheaper.

Hot water bottle if you live in a place that gets chilly (with a nice cover that I could totally knit you or a hat or socks or whatever floats your boat if you think it would pick you up to have a random internet stranger make you A Thing, but this contravenes Requirement 2 so I hope the offer itself doesn't stress you out and if it does, I retract it and I'm sorry).

Hot baths.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:06 AM on October 14, 2014

Set a monthly date with yourself to go someplace nice, dress "nice", and have something nice. A glass of wine in a fancy hotel bar is $10 but can give you the monthly mental reset necessary.
(Pro tip: sparkling wine feels fancy and is frequently as cheap/cheaper than wine)

Hold yourself to the date. Bring a notebook. Write down your accomplishments/thoughts for the month. (this may be, "woke up and breathed without failing once", but still, helps feel transition over time).
posted by olya at 8:01 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing everyone who said to get outside and go for walks (or runs, if you like running). Even if it gets cold where you are, fresh air can be great therapy, and exercise is a proven mood-enhancer.

If it really is miserable out and you want to stay in, try taking up yoga at home. You don't need equipment (you don't really even need a mat), and there are tons of free tutorials if you've never done it before. If you have done it before you can progress a lot with regular practice!

Assuming you have internet at home, you might enjoy working your way through these 700 free (good!) movies:

I am also vegan and one of my favorite treats is actually just pan-frying apples with sugar, cinnamon and earth balance-- add in a little cornstarch mixed with water if you want the juices to thicken a bit. It's like very fast pie, minus the crust :)
posted by shaka_lulu at 9:08 AM on October 14, 2014

You mentioned that you cook almost every meal from scratch. Building on this, perhaps you could challenge yourself to prepare one brand new recipe every day. This can be done on even the tightest of budgets - you can check out a few cook books from your local library or find recipes from trusted chefs online, and select ideas based on what ingredients you already have in stock.

If you have a little extra money, you can tweak this plan so that you are cooking with a new kind of ingredient each week. You could try unfamiliar cuisines or new techniques as well, depending on your skill level and ambitions.

I would recommend going with chefs / websites / cook books series that you are already familiar with to ensure you don't waste time and ingredients on poorly constructed recipes.

I regularly push myself to try new recipes, even if it is something that doesn't seem instantly appealing to me. In this way I have discovered many delicious new meal ideas and have even tried items and combinations I never thought I would like. It gives me a lot of pride as a home cook and I have really developed my skills and palate as a result.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 9:35 AM on October 14, 2014

Is there a reason why you can't tell us what this transition is going to be?

Well, if you look up "what's it like to have an underwater mortgage when the co-borrower is your ex-boyfriend and the property is the house you both live in?" in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure there's an illustration of me falling asleep in a pile of real estate lawyer referrals and no-appraisal refi quotes. So no puzzles or grad school or prison sentences, just the banality of a fractured relationship entwined with the grinding minutiae of a pre-existing fiduciary duty to same. Que sera, &c.

Thanks so much for your advice and well wishes, y'all -- you've got me feeling more hopeful and light-hearted than I have in as long as I can remember. I hereby invite all of you over for dinner and a trip to the thrift store!
posted by divined by radio at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2014

If you use Google Calendar or some other calendar system that you can schedule reminders with, maybe pick a bunch of random dates over the next 2-3 years and schedule reminders that just say "Don't quit"? Or anything else your current self wants to encourage your future self with.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:48 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

tips on when to know if it's an appropriate time to spend outside my budget -- like, after so many months at a strict rice and beans-level, when is it OK to go to a movie or buy a new book, even if the expense will throw me off track?

Sometimes people put themselves in real financial trouble through "I deserve this treat" kinds of decisions. Treats are great, but if you don't have the money, you don't have the money; as suggested above, honoring that need and budgeting the treats in is a much healthier approach than creating a completely lean budget and then having the treats derail it. The suggestions about keeping beauty in your life are really good, and even if it is with $1 every month, it is worth prioritizing.

Relatedly, there have been a number of really interesting discussions here (both FPPs and AskMes) that get into the nuts and bolts of how people living on limited means can so easily have cascading sets of financial problems, and how counterproductive decisions can make sense in the moment. Since you know ahead that you are going to have to be living in a tighter situation for a while, there might be use in borrowing from the best of those discussions to help in planning your own strategies and maintaining a sense of control over a very difficult situation.

Lastly, I sometimes see people toughing out situations where they would do better to just walk away. It shouldn't be the default, immediate option, but there is a time to declare financial or emotional bankruptcy and instead prioritize your health and future. I have no idea of your specifics; the point is to put yourself first and recognize when the current situation is untenable. Good luck!
posted by Dip Flash at 5:07 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I bought a hammock last summer after visiting my sister and using hers. After that, I had to have one and it was THE purchase of the summer. As I lazily rocked in the sun, drinking iced tea and reading or dozing, I wondered why I didn't get such a thing before. It was about a hundred dollars, so not cheap, but the level of tranquility it elevates one to made it worth it. There are probably cheaper ones to find. I don't even particularly have a lot of down time to enjoy lazing about but even 15-30 minutes in a hammock can change the tenor of your day.

Course, it's in the basement now but I eagerly look forward to bringing it out next spring.
posted by bobobox at 4:12 PM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pressure cooker for your bean collection.
Gets you to that magic combo of cheap, healthy, and fast(ish).

Search around for a cheap second hand one.


Put seasonal things you pick up on walks on a shelf. Living branches, in a vase. I think it helps keep in mind that everything changes, this will too.
posted by Elysum at 11:18 PM on October 19, 2014

« Older Doctors Hate This Quick and Easy Trick for Curing...   |   Please explain tailoring to me Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.