Tips for thrifty living


Sparrow is a self-taught visual artist, pianist and chef — and has a master’s degree in creative writing. He lives in a doublewide trailer in Phoenicia, New York, with his wife, Violet Snow. His book How to Survive the Coming Collapse of Civilization was released in May 2016 on The Operating System. We last checked in with Sparrow in 2016 during his seventh unsuccessful run for president.


elieve it or not, my wife and I follow most of these practices. (I live on an extremely low income. Last year I made $6,675.) A lot of these ideas overlap with environmentalism and ethical non-wastefulness.

1) No matter how hard you squeeze your toothpaste tube, some of the dentifrice remains inside. When you’ve squeezed your toothpaste completely, cut the tube in half with a scissors, then dip your toothbrush in one of the half-tubes. You’ll be surprised how much white paste is hidden in there!

2) Make friends with a person the same size as you. Once you’ve known each other for a while, innocently ask, “Do you happen to have any extra clothing?”

3) If you’ve owned a guitar so long that the neck has irreparably warped and the strings can no longer be tuned, learn to play out of tune! Study 20th century composers, especially Webern. Let your guitar’s “weakness” become its strength!

4) Jane Austen was so poor that when she wrote a letter and filled up the page, she’d continue writing perpendicular to the rest of the page, almost like a crossword puzzle. Try this! You’ll save precious money on paper, and give your friends a unique reading experience.

5) Chew your food slowly, so that it lasts longer. Thus 14 cents worth of rice becomes 28 cents worth!

6) Instead of going to the movies, enter a church and pray. It’s free!

7) Stand outside a concert and see if someone gives you a free ticket. If they don’t, you’ve lost nothing. If they do, you have an evening of music — and a story.

8) Be generous. Give away bread, books, clothing. If the Law of Karma is true, you’ll soon be receiving lots of free goodies. If it isn’t, you’ll still be a nice person.

9) Don’t buy a watch; just ask everyone else what time it is. You’ll be surprised how nice most people are.

10) Think three times before you buy anything. Recently I was in a Dollar Store looking at picture frames. I almost bought one, for three dollars, then I put it back. I went home and discovered I had two extra picture frames!

11) Use dishwashing liquid sparingly. A little of it will clean many bowls and plates. My house wife and I rent out our house on Airbnb, and often I find that our guests use dishwashing liquid 10 times as fast as I do. Slow down with the dish soap, America!

12) And the same goes for shampoo!

13) If you find a pen on the ground, bring it home and write a poem with it. That pen may have good “vibes!”

14) Before going into a movie theater, stand outside and watch the previous audience leaving. If they look immensely happy, or deeply moved, go inside. If not, save your money.

15) If you see a bracelet on the sidewalk, pick it up and wear it. Why not? It will temporarily enhance your beauty.

16) Teach yourself to draw, and make birthday cards for your friends. Even if you draw awkwardly, your cards will be beloved. And it’s so much cheaper than buying soap and candles.

17) Visit a Buddhist monastery. Observe the nuns and monks. They spend almost no money, yet they seem quite happy. Perhaps they’re happy because they spend no money. Think about that.

18) Go to free concerts. You’ll find that everyone is smiling. The performers feel generous, and the audience is grateful. For some reason, a show without tickets makes human beings happy.

19) If your health permits, try fasting once a week. Even if you eat big meals before and after, you’ll probably save a little money.

20) Learn to cook. If your own cuisine tastes good, you need never visit a restaurant.

21) Go to yard sales just as they’re closing. You’ll find a heap of miscellaneous items free of charge. I got my favorite T-shirt at such a sale: a black shirt designed by the anarchist punk band Crass. (Then I found their music on YouTube and rather enjoyed it, especially “White Punks on Hope.”)

22) “Who would not to wish to be from wealth exempt, Since riches point to misery and contempt?” asks Flavius in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Write those words on a slip of paper and tack it to your refrigerator.

23) On a sunny day, put all your wet laundry on a clothesline. In two hours, your clothes will be dry — and aromatic. Gather them up appreciatively. The sun works for free.

24) See how long you can go without spending money — not even 3 cents. (I have gone as long as a week, but then I inhabit a small town where there’s nothing to buy, and my wife does all the food shopping. Nonetheless, it’s satisfying to have the same $20 bill in your wallet day after day after day.)

25) But treat yourself once in a while. Go to a museum, or take a short vacation to Hialeah. You don’t have to live like a Trappist monk (unless, by chance, you are a Trappist monk). The goal is not self-denial, just a sweet life unburdened by debt.

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