"Why don't you move back to Hamilton?" your parents say. "It's up-and-coming! And you could probably afford to buy a house here one day too!" You don't want to move back to Hamilton, you tell your parents, there's very little going on there. "Or Peterborough, how about Peterborough?" Not Peterborough, you say, anywhere but Peterborough.
You came to Toronto because stuff happens here, didn't you? But it's also very expensive and you are young and broke and can't afford to do any of the stuff that happens here, can you? Unless, you wonder, there is a way to live in Toronto with little cash and still enjoy life. Perhaps, you think, there is some great advice courtesy of this English VICE writer, if only you could make your way past this clearly phoned-in introduction, there might be salvation. Well, good news, buddy, you have arrived.
Actually Do the Goddamn Free Stuff There Is to Do
GREAT ADVICE, JERK, I NEVER WOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT. But for real: do this. I appreciate the fact that going to High Park Zoo doesn't put food in your mouth or help you pay the bills but it can be a vital act of self-care; when you're young and broke in a city that's really not cut out for being young and broke in, your mental health is going to suffer. Your anxiety is pushed through the roof over fears you won't be able to pay next month's rent, depression exacerbated by being stuck in the apartment all day every day–so it's genuinely important to take advantage of what the city has to offer for no cover charge. Some museums and galleries, such as the AGO, open their doors up for free evenings once a week or month, and most do discounts for students and other young folks, and let me tell you: it's a great way to escape the horrors of the world in which we live/Twitter, at least for an hour or two.
In Fact, Get into Art in General
Art shows, regardless of the calibre of the artists exhibiting, almost always have some form of free refreshments and literally the only condition for consuming said refreshments is a willingness to pretend you give a shit about the inner workings of the human psyche thrown onto a canvas.
Become an 'Influencer'
I'm going to let you in on a little secret: literally the only reason anyone does anything online is to get free stuff. Step forward, The Influencers. If you can string together a couple of written sentences or take a nice photo or sit in front of a webcam and talk passionately about nothing for 10 minutes then you, too, can be an influencer! Don't wanna pay for concerts? You don't have to! It's the same thing whether you're a music blogger or an Instagram foodie or a YouTube makeup artist–as long as you can fudge your hits to make it look like you're vaguely important, they'll keep sending you free shit or putting you on the list for shows and, hell, if you make them happy enough, they might even buy you a couple of beers, too. If you actually pull it off and hit the big time, you don't even have to pretend you'll post about these events. You're an internet celebrity now, baby, the world is your oyster!
Get the Best Cheap Bike You Can Afford
At least for the summer months, a bike is a necessity for every thrifty, able-bodied, young Torontonian. Craigslist is a good start for the budget-conscious, but you have to prepared to invest hours into making it vaguely road-safe and, inevitably, are forced to spend every minute you're riding it terrified that the owner from whom it was definitely stolen is going to reclaim what's rightfully theirs. For a hundred or so extra bucks you can get a brand new, entry-level fixie (no gears means significantly less maintenance) and, aside from the odd bit of grease, the occasional tube change and annual brake pad replacement, you can get a good few years of life from that initial investment. Granted, you have to be able to scrape together around $400 for this option and that's not possible for everyone, but if you're someone who takes the TTC twice a day, switching to a bike is a fiscally sound plan: after two months the bike will have already paid for itself, and anything beyond that is basically making you $6.50 a day, which soon adds up. Pro-tip: wear a helmet and have a sturdy lock handy should you need to fight off the angry, angry drivers that Toronto for some reason breeds. And thanks to Foodora and Favour, you can use that bike to make a few extra bucks too.
Alternatively, Just Walk Everywhere
Toronto—and I mean actual Toronto with the stuff, none of this inclusive-of-the-suburbs, GTA bullshit—is relatively small, geographically speaking. There is absolutely no reason to ever venture west of Roncesvalles, east of Spadina, or north of Bloor and, consequently, most of the city is within walking distance.
Make Friends in the Service Industry
When I first moved to Toronto, my partner worked at one of the top restaurants in Canada, a job that brought with it a not-insignificant 50 percent discount on all food. Now, obviously, if you're actually trying to save money you'd be better off never eating out at all, but if your weirdly out-of-touch lifestyle demands you treat yourself every now and again, you can do yourself a big favour by never paying full price. Make buddies out of people who work in the industry and
rinse them for all they're worth enjoy a fulfilling, reciprocal friendship.
Make Friends with People Who Have Rich Parents Preferably with a Nice Cottage You Can Visit for Free in the Summer
You absolutely do not want to be friends with the sort of person who can afford property in their twenties; you absolutely do want to be friends with someone whose parents can afford a sweet holiday home and are totally chill about you using it for free. You don't want to be the guy doing mushrooms in an urban centre.
Make Friends Who Are as Broke as You
Being friends with people who have money when you do not have money never works out well, unless they are exceedingly generous with their cash (which, unfortunately, people who have money rarely are). Find yourself a good group of people who prefer to get wasted on homebrew than sip $15 cocktails; who'd rather watch Mean Girls on a laptop for the 19th time than check out a new non-Lindsay Lohan release at the cinema because frankly no movie released this year or any other will be nearly as good as Mean Girls and I will fight you if you try to tell me otherwise.
Go Back in Time About 18 months and Get on Bunz Trading Zone While It Was Still Useful
Bunz is Toronto's worst-kept secret. In fact, I'm pretty sure it existed previously under a different name but the founder deleted that group and started again after VICE (and others) covered it and it became overrun with VICE (and other) readers, so apologies for ruining everything that's good in this world. It used to be a genuinely great asset: You could find pretty much anything you needed in exchange for a few tall cans or subway tokens. Now it has well over 50,000 members and the majority of the posts and comments are no longer actual trades, but instead self-righteous, holier-than-thou jabs at other members of the group—a wonderful microcosm of the city itself.
If there's one thing I've learned from being effectively unemployed and watching House Hunters every day, it's that you're not going to be able to live in a nice place, in a good location, for a reasonable price. Figure out what's more important to you—where you live, or how you live—and prepare to make sacrifices. I will say this: when you're young and broke, there's a lot more free stuff to do if you live in an actual, populated urban space. And, at least while you have no dependents, living in poorly-insulated, damp, pest-infested accommodation in the city can be a lot of fun. It's what you're meant to do in your twenties and, hey, at least the rent's cheap!
Move Back to Hamilton
Hey, at least the rent's cheap!
Follow Jack Urwin on Twitter.