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Living in the Twin Cities on a VISTA budget

VISTA life is about doing the most with as little as possible. Whether we’re in the office or the grocery store, creativity is key to surviving on poverty-level income. As a native Minnesotan, I’ve done my fair share of research on having fun in the Twin Cities without breaking the bank.

Here’s my guide to getting the most out of this vibrant (yes, I said vibrant) metropolis:

The Twin Cities has so many options to get around town. I don’t own a vehicle, but I do own a bike, a bus pass, and a car2go membership. With a brand new light rail line opening in June, there’s no good reason not to explore what these cities have to offer! Transportation doesn’t have to be expensive as long as you can plan in advance. And with websites like Google Maps and you don’t really need to plan that far in advance!

Food is one of the first expenses people cut back on when faced with financial difficulties. My advice: Don’t. Do. That. Food is what keeps you healthy and therefore happy. Do what you have to do to get your nutrients and cut back on anything else. With that said, don’t spend money when you don’t have to. Plan your happy hours, start drinking tall boys or Grain Belt and challenge your friends to find the cheapest pho in town (Quang has my vote forever).

  • Find your nearest farmer’s market! Many accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer or “food stamp” swipe card) and they all support local farmers. If you have roommates to share the goods with, fresh food is even less expensive.
  • If you’re going out: Eat Street (Nicollet Avenue), University Avenue in St. Paul (Frogtown), and Central Avenue in Northeast typically have some phenomenal and well-priced ethnic restaurants.
  • Yelp lets you filter results based on price-point, so plan ahead!
  • (still in beta, so not the best working app/website yet) and (my preference) are the sites and apps to use when looking for your nearest happy hour.

My personal favorite way to spend money. Luckily, there are lots of options in the Twin Cities:

  • Goodwill just opened their first Minneapolis location at 915 E Lake street a couple of months ago, there’s also one store in St. Paul and an outlet (meaning a lot of sifting through unsorted piles of clothes!) right on the border between the two cities.
  • Vintage stores canbegoldmines. My favorites are:
  • Consignment/thrift stores:

The more you know:

The possibilities truly are endless. First check with L’etoile Magazine’s “What’s What”, City Pages and the’s picks to know everything that’s going on. Fill in the gaps with any of these alternatives:

The more you know:

There you have it. No more excuses about being poor and bored! Let’s choose to be poor and engaged instead! If you’re unsatisfied with this list, go here for even more ideas.

Sally Nadeau
Workforce Development Coordinator
Aging Services

Phillips Family Foundation

Author Phillips Family Foundation

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