The broke artist's guide to actually enjoying life on a budget

Self-described starving artist Hanan Hazime has figured out a few life hacks when it comes to making the most of what you have access to.

Self-described starving artist Hanan Hazime has a few life hacks to share

(Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

If you're an emerging, self-employed artist like me, chances are you don't have much — or any — disposable income. So how are you supposed to enjoy the finer things in life if you're too broke to afford anything beyond the most basic necessities? (Let's be honest, sometimes you even have to scrounge for those.)

Sure, you could write off not having fun as a noble sacrifice you'll just have to make in your pursuit of a career in the arts. You could even give up on your dream of being a professional full-time artist and just get a "sensible" job at the bank like your mother wants you to (or maybe that's just my mom). But I am here to tell you that you can, in fact, still enjoy life and have fun on a super tight budget. For a few years now, I have been hustling to survive as an artist in one of the most expensive cities in Canada — good old Toronto. Here are some of the useful life hacks I've learned along my journey as a starving artist.

Libraries are a treasure trove: use them

Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card! (Rosalie Loiselle/CBC)

Having a library card will not only grant you access to a vast array of reading material, but to other valuable resources which range from educational to entertaining. Libraries are a great place to visit if you want to borrow some CDs, DVDs or even video games. In fact, you don't even have to leave the comfort of your couch to access a wide selection of e-books, e-mags, audiobooks and other e-resources such as music, TV and movie streaming apps. I personally enjoy watching indie films on Kanopy and Hoopla. Many libraries in major cities across Canada also offer some kind of "arts and culture pass" that patrons can use to gain free admission to cultural attractions like art galleries, museums, performing arts venues and more! Most libraries have free programming which can include fun activities like movie screenings, board game nights, social meet-ups, gaming tournaments and various arts workshops. Check your local library to see what resources are available to you. 

Take advantage of energy exchanges: you have lots to offer

Doing an energy exchange is an alternative way to pay for things you can't afford.  The concept is quite simple — instead of money, you pay with work and time. How is this different than straight up volunteering, you may ask? Well, when you volunteer for something, you may not receive anything in return. With energy exchanges, you are in effect bartering your time and skills in exchange for another individual's time and skills.  For example, say your neighbour is a freelance yoga instructor who needs help making some promotional posters and you're a visual artist who is especially adept at graphic design. You may offer to design the posters in exchange for some yoga lessons. You could also conduct energy exchanges with charitable organizations, local community centres or other non-profit establishments. Perhaps there is a film festival or literary conference you're dying to attend but you can't afford the tickets. You may be able to help with tasks like setup or cleanup at such events in exchange for complimentary vouchers.

Some places offer subsidized/PWYC options for events and services: don't be afraid to ask

Before I discovered this game-changing tidbit, I often found myself gaping forlornly at the price of all the activities and events that my friends were patronizing and thinking, "It's too bad I can't afford to do any of these cool things." Then it hit me: I could email the event organizers and ask them if they have sliding scale or PWYC (pay-what-you-can) options for individuals who have low income. I figured I had nothing to lose — either they'd say no and I'd be in the same position, or they'd say yes and I could actually attend the event. Fortunately, most of the event organizers I got in touch with did have PWYC options. Some even had fully subsidized complimentary tickets or grants. From slam poetry nights and zine-making workshops to wellness retreats and writing symposiums, I've been able to attend many interesting and fun events that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford. You can too! (When you send off your email, do keep in mind that you may be asked to provide proof of income.)

A little research goes a long way: explore free events in your area

Not pictured: free food. (Salt Spring National Art Prize)

You can usually find listings for free events online on Facebook or in other digital publications such as local blogs. You can also find them offline in print publications and on community bulletin boards in places like your local café or library.  Many community centres and non-profit organizations host free events such as dinners, film screenings, game nights, workshops, fitness classes and even clothing swaps (you can exchange your snug pair of jeans for a pre-loved sweater). Be sure to check out art exhibit opening nights in your area — there's often no admission fee and the best part is you get to look at some incredible art while munching on delicious (and usually fancy but absolutely free) food! You may also find listings for seasonal festivals which sometimes include free events like outdoor concerts, art shows, theatrical performances, fun family activities and other entertainment. 

Nature is free: go outside and soak up that Vitamin D

Even if you're not a very outdoorsy person, there are still plenty of things to do outside that don't involve skiing down a snowy mountain or hiking through the wilderness. Having a potluck picnic at the park, for instance, is a simple and inexpensive way to spend time with your loved ones while reveling in the great outdoors. If, like me, you're an introvert and don't mind spending time alone, you might enjoy taking an evening stroll at the park by yourself. I'm especially fond of watching local wildlife like ducks and geese go about their day (they can be quite entertaining). It's also really exciting to encounter tiny creatures like caterpillars and ladybugs. If you really want to immerse yourself in nature, you could try the meditative-like, ancient Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. The practice involves connecting with your surroundings using all five senses by doing things such as sniffing the bark on a tree or listening to the sound of the birds. Although some people opt to practice Shinrin-yoku with a guide, there are many resources that can help you learn how to forest bathe on your own. There is so much to discover in nature, and it's all completely free!

About the Author

Hanan Hazime is a multidisciplinary artist, creative writer and community arts educator living in Toronto. Hazime’s debut poetry chapbook Aorta was published by ZED press in April 2018. She is currently working on her first novel.