cheap, free or less

This year’s unreliable [and at times non-existent] income came with a bonus: the realization that this city has an awful lot to offer at little to no cost. My better half enjoys laughing at the amount of things I’ve managed to add to our calendar and apartment at minimal cost. The best part might be the realization that these things aren’t going to disappear when I get a job. In fact, they’ll just be a great way for me to save my money to spend on something else…like travelling.

It often seems that the more money you make, the more you find to spend it on. And when you take a pay cut, you focus on all the things you can’t do instead of looking for things you can do. So here I offer you 10 tips on how to make a cash-strapped year more fun than any other.

1. Deal days : Venues around the city offer discounted admission on certain days of the week. The most well-known is movie theaters on Tuesdays, but some you might not know about:

  • AGO: Free Wednesdays, 6:00-8:30pm
  • ROM: Free Wednesdays 3:30-5:30pm AND half price Fridays, 4:30-8:30pm
  • Bata Shoe Museum : PWYC Thursdays, 5:00-8:00pm
  • Gardiner Museum : half price Fridays 4:00-9:00pm [or free if you’re 30 or under, until January 28]
  • And for free passes, try this :

2. Group Buying : The past year has seen a huge influx of sites promoting 1-day deals, offering huge discount on products and services. These are great ways to save cash on things you’d do anyway (think dinner dates), make something you want to so more affordable (see Spontaneity below) and can make for great gifts. These sites include:

3. Sales Galore : You’ll need a little will power to avoid buying things you don’t need just because they’re on sale. But with that under control, sales are a great way to do two things: 1) stock up on things you need that aren’t going bad quickly. Think toiletries, canned/frozen foods, most things from Shoppers. 2) purchase investment pieces. I was in need of a great trench. I’ll need it when I get a job and start seeing clients again – there’s no way around this. So when a beautiful coat was being sold at 70% off AND I had a gift card, you bet it was worth the small investment.

4. ContestsContestsContests : With brands jumping on the social media bandwagon, Twitter has become a great place to get your hands on things you may have had to pay for, or not even had to the chance to get at all. In the past few months, I’ve managed to snag movie passes, CDs, meals, gift certificates and even a phone.

5. PointsPointsPoints : Remember that points card sitting in your wallet? Yeah, all 5 of them. Think about cashing them in. Right now, my Optimum card has about $60 worth of points on it, my credit card has enough points to get me close to $200 in gift cards, and my Air Miles has a couple of magazine subscriptions waiting to be ordered. What do yours have to offer?

6. Open Invites : Joining email lists can get you invited to launches, parties, and any number of other gatherings. They’re a great way to meet interesting people and might even offer free nibbles or drinks. Galleries have parties to launch new exhibits this first Thursday or Friday of the month, stores have holiday parties for their customers, while products and stores have launch parties all year long.

7. Audience Participation : Television shows have free tickets to be a part of the audience, and if you’re lucky you might even win something! Why not check out what’s happening at Strombo, or check out Marilyn Denis‘ new show,  maybe Rick Mercer has something funny to say, see something useful on CityLine, or catch some tunes at MTV Live.

8. Cheap dates : I love going to dinner as much as the next person, but that was one of my first cuts when the pay cheque went missing. Luckily, it made me realize the great number of ways to have cheap dates (be they romantic or platonic), things like:

  • Dumpling House and other cheap but fun foods
  • Coffee (consider the Indie Coffee Passport)
  • In-home Wine and Cheese
  • Picnic (with homemade goodies)
  • Transit ride to a new neighbourhood

9. Spontaneity : Often, the easiest way to save money is to simply take advantage of great opportunities. Our favourite has been Megabus‘ long running (and eternally loved) $1 bus tickets to Montreal and New York City. With cheap tickets, travel costs are cut way down. And with a bit of research, you can find cheap accommodations. Next thing you know, you have a super-affordable holiday that’s made extra exciting by the fact that you hadn’t even planned on it. Sure it means you’re spending more money than not going at all, but neglecting yourself some little spurges will make you resent your lack-of-funds far too quickly. And make no mistake, it’s not to say bus travels are your things – what I mean to say is that leaving yourself open to spontaneity will open doors to adventures you might have otherwise missed. Which leads me to…

10. Adventure : We all need a little adventure in our lives. The best adventures are the ones that aren’t pre-planned, but that happen naturally. So grab a partner in crime and head out. Take a walk. Jump on a bus. Just do something new without any expectations and see what the world gives you. Who knows where you’ll end up.


4 responses to “cheap, free or less

  1. Great post! Very useful & insightful. Thanks.

  2. Love love love it! Thanks for the tips!

  3. I want this phrase in vinyl letters on my wall.

    Also being as how I did many of these things with you I can attest to their joy and fun filled cheapness.

  4. The ROM’s Free Access Program/ Free Wednesday – Listings Change

    Please note – effective immediately: In order to significantly lower prices every day of the week for all visitors, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has discontinued its Wednesday free two-hour period. Resources will be redirected to serve those who require free access most. The ROMCAN program (ROM’s Community Access Network) has increased its free admission provided to marginalized community groups by 50 per cent to 75,000 free admissions.

    By discontinuing the Wednesday program, the ROM can now offer greater affordability to all visitors by reducing admission prices every day of the week. Effective immediately, the Museum now offers general admission at more than a third off the previous rates, as well as discounts on feature exhibitions. Adults, seniors, students and families will all benefit through significantly lower every day rates.

    For more information, visit

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