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Having Fun on a VISTA Budget

By Ivy Estenson, Employment Specialist, Takoda Group

You did it! You scored a full-time job at a prestigious non-profit. You’ll be doing meaningful work for a whole year and just gained 10-15 new friends in your VISTA cohort. Life is looking pretty good. Then you see how much you’ll be getting paid.

VISTA’s salaries leave little wiggle room. It’s important to recognize the financial commitment this year means, but it’s also important to know that you can still do the things you love to do even if you are on a shoestring budget. Here are some ways I’ve found to keep up with my interests and hobbies while keeping my bank account happy:

  1. SNAP Benefits/EBT – First off, being an AmeriCorps VISTA member means you are eligible for SNAP benefits to cover the cost of groceries. Not only do SNAP benefits afford you to buy fresh, healthy foods, but you can feel freer to try new foods and different recipes. If cooking is a passion you don’t want to give up, you won’t have to this year. For more information on SNAP benefits, read fellow VISTA Daniel’s blog, Living the Snap Life, to get familiarized.
  2. Fare for All/Farmer’s Markets – Fare for All is an organization that collects excess foods from grocery stores and sells it at super low prices. They distribute all around the metro area and accept EBT. Sign up for their newsletter to find their locations.
  3. Groupon is Your Friend – When you need a night out, but can’t fathom paying full price for anything, see what deals Groupon has in your area. Many times you can find that a restaurant you have been wanting to try has a buy “$15 for $30 worth of food” deal or something similar. I’ve also found Groupon is a great place to find deals on haircuts, nail salons, or massages if you really need to splurge on some self-care. Just make sure to tip your service provider on the pre-discounted amount of the bill!
  4. My Favorite Hour is Happy Hour – To find great happy hours, download the MPLS Drinker app to find happy hours near you and your time frame. Another helpful resource is Thrifty Hipster.
  5. Skip the Coffee Shop (sometimes) – To save money on coffee stops, especially during the summer when I don’t want a hot cuppa Joe, I like to make my own cold brew. It’s really easy to make in the evening and have ready in the morning before work.
  6. Pet ALL the Dogs – If you’re an animal lover but can’t afford to take care of a new pet this year, go to the Humane Society! You can volunteer weekly, or just go visit the animals when you need some puppy lovin’. The Humane Society hangs buckets of the dogs’ food outside of the kennel so visitors are able to hand-feed them, which socializes the dogs and eases their shyness, getting them ready for adoption. Even if you aren’t planning to adopt, petting and feeding the animals helps to get them used to human interaction. It’s a win-win!
  7. Go on Nature Walks If you’re in Minneapolis or St. Paul, chances are you’re not far from a lake, which means you’re not far from a walking or biking trail. Take advantage of the abundant green space in the city and get your exercise in while taking in the scenic views of Lake Harriet, Calhoun, Minnehaha, or Lake of the Isles. Find biking or walking paths here.
  8. Workout for Free – Speaking of exercise, perhaps you need an indoor workout space. Gym memberships can get expensive, but a lot of health insurance providers will reimburse a portion of the cost of your gym membership if you make it to the gym a set amount of times per month. Give a gym or studio in your neighborhood a call and ask if they have a work-for-trade program. I clean once a week at a nearby yoga studio and can take as many classes as I want for free. It’s been a great way to get in shape, relax after work, and meet new people!

This year of service will pay off for you in so many tangible and intangible ways. Hopefully these tips make your VISTA year that much more memorable and rewarding.

Phillips Family Foundation

Author Phillips Family Foundation

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