What to do in Los Angeles without money?

VICE guide on how to live cheap or free in L.A.

Los Angeles is a very expensive city. Here’s how to survive in LA if you only have change in your pockets.

Keep an eye out on the street for free furniture. All photos by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete unless otherwise specified

Keep an eye out for free furniture on the streets (The red paint on the photo says “bedbugs”). All photos are by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete unless otherwise specified.

Los Angeles is a city full of broke adults who refuse to admit that they are broke. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that the city was built on theatricality. Performance art rules the city, and it’s hard not to pretend when that’s all everyone around you is doing.

So, instead of meeting a friend and complaining that you can’t afford coffee, you meet in a coffee shop to discuss the list of projects you’re working on over eight-dollar cups of hot milk.

You probably came here in pursuit of some dream. And if you clicked that link, you’re probably not doing well with the dream. In Iowa or Arizona, or wherever you come from, breakfast is never $30. But you have to put up with that. After all, it’s another opportunity to make connections.

Look, I’m not judging you. I’m just like you. I too had a wild fantasy that one day I would “do it,” and I still stubbornly follow it and don’t give up. But I guess, unlike you, I’ve stopped kidding myself. I’m broke. And that sucks.

Once I stopped playing around and accepted these facts myself, I realized that living here wasn’t so bad. It took a long time, but eventually I figured out how to live in L.A., even when I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to pay my rent next month. Here’s how.

Before I continue, I will say that this is not a guide for those in serious need. If you are in a bad place and desperately need housing and other services, consider contacting one of the facilities in the homeless shelter directory. Alternatively, you can also inquire about what the Department of Community Social Services can do for you.


(Photo caption: “Allison Stevenson Jan. 2 Los Angeles.

Even though it’s a new year, your girl is back to her old tricks! I can’t pay this month’s rent, so if anyone in LA needs help (needs to run some errands, babysit someone, clean something, help after plastic surgery) let me know and I can do it with a trade for money ($$$).

Or, if you’re just a noble person and want a place in heaven (I’m getting close, good friend of your God) then just transfer some to me on paypal and I’ll make sure your charitable donation comes back to you in extraterrestrial life: ////@gmail.com

“Sorry, I suck” – My morning mantra )

The first thing you need to do to survive being broke in this town is to leave any and all thoughts of your own dignity behind. When it’s the third day of the month and you’re still $200 short to pay last month’s rent, no assignment or job is beneath you (just so they’re safe and legal).

Accept the fact that you are desperate. In times like this, I’ve turned to social media. But don’t post on Facebook that you need money, thinking people will just give it to you. Offer to do some work for money. I’ve cleaned my acquaintances’ apartments, run errands for them, babysat their kids and pets, tutored other kids, and organized catering for their parties (to which I wasn’t invited).

I once got paid $100 just to go out with some guy who lived in Covina. I don’t know him at all, but he once saw me doing comedy and added me as a friend on Facebook. After I made sure he wasn’t using the term “hang out” as a euphemism for sex, we met in a public place for drinks. Sure, it’s an unusual occurrence, but it shows that thanks to the Internet, anything is possible. For better or worse.

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Another time, I sent a guy a picture of my foot for a $50 voucher from Amazon. Just give it a try and see what happens.


I’ll never understand why so few people take advantage of the luxury of “Everything for 99 Cents” stores. Virtually everything you need is available in these four walls, and will only cost you 99 cents (plus tax). That’s where I buy most of the things I need, like toilet paper, toothpaste, batteries, cleaning supplies, even food.

Sure, these things belong to brands you’ve never heard of, but brand loyalty is a privilege, not a right. If you’re still not thrilled, try going to similar dollar stores like Dollar Tree or my favorite, Daiso. Daiso is a Japanese discount store where groceries are $1.50. Nevertheless, the extra cost is worth it because everything is so much nicer here. Go ahead and spend an extra fifty cents on an alligator-shaped tack. I’ll allow it.


If your parents live in Los Angeles, you’re in luck. Never move out of their house. For everyone else, you’re left with the roommate option if you want to save money on rent. Get imaginative and think about how many people can actually fit in your house. You can think about setting up store in the living room. I did one of these for a while, and it only cost me $350 to rent. Sure, I had curtains instead of walls, and it was pretty hard to invite guys over, but I’ll say it again: it only cost me $350 to rent.

You’re better off avoiding neighborhoods where there is more than one store with a “craftsman” sign, unless you can settle somewhere where the rent is controlled.

Also, staying in your car has proven to be a cool thing lately. It’s not appropriate for those who have a bunch of the Daiso stuff I cluttered my apartment with, but if you can do that, you’ll save a huge amount of money.


Photo by Ben Carris.

Stop buying anything new. Buy things at thrift stores or discount stores like Urban Outfitters Surplus Store or that big department store that looks like Assyrian Castle when there are discounts.

It’s not so bad that in recent years it has become considered fashionable to dress at a flea market and, even more shocking, that it remains fashionable even in the hardest of times. One has to think that spending $20 on a blouse is outrageous. That is, you have to bypass places that call themselves “branded.” Brand is what wealthy people buy when they want to feel special. You’re too broke to be special.

A great way to get clothes for free is to set up a clothing swap. Gather people you know in one place and ask everyone (you included) to bring a garbage bag or two full of things they no longer wear. Go through each other’s stuff and take what you can. What’s left over can be given to charity.


When it comes to travel, know that you don’t always have to drive or take an Uber. Sometimes you can do the unthinkable – walk to where you need to go (also not bad as a charge). The bus is fine, and our subway system isn’t bad either. They keep adding routes, and it’s a great way to avoid traffic jams.

Sure, eating at fast food places is cheap, but being broke you can still eat healthy. It just takes more time and effort. Instead of buying $8 smoothies, you’ll have to make them yourself. The places that make smoothies boldly print a list of ingredients, most of which are just regular fruits and vegetables you have at home. You’re actually paying for someone to push the blender button and then clean up after you. You can’t afford something that makes your life easier. Just wash your damn blender.

It’s important to know all the grocery stores in your area. Again, saving money means you don’t have the luxury of buying everything you need in one place, no matter how convenient. You should know which grocery store has better prices on certain things. For example, meat and bread are usually cheaper at Von’s rather than Trader Joe’s, but cheese and eggs are cheaper at Trader Joe’s.

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When it comes to groceries, bypass the chain grocery stores. Take advantage of Just 99 Cents stores (I used to buy chia seeds here, guys) or wineries that are in town. The street-side spreads like Produce for Less on Melrose Boulevard sell all sorts of fruits and veggies at a greatly reduced price. The thing is, they’re not always the freshest, so you have to make sure you eat your kale for 50 cents the same day. There’s also this website, Fallen Fruit, which displays maps of public places in various parts of the city where fruit grows. And, of course, diving for trash.

In case you didn’t know, you can get a refund for food in most stores, so don’t throw away receipts and get your money back if you accidentally buy something you don’t need.


Drinking with friends is one of the fastest ways to spend money. Because as a society we have already come to the conclusion that alcohol usually causes people to be more tolerant, and bars have started charging $7 or more for a beer.

The only way to save money and go to bars: don’t drink or drink before you go to the bar.

The first, of course, will save you the most, but the second will still help you spend less. In college, we used to call the second option pre-game, but no one is allowed to call it that after graduation (read the fine print). Or, alternatively, secretly bring a bottle of liquor and just buy cocktails (only if it’s legal, otherwise I wouldn’t advise you anything like that).

You can also take advantage of discounts during happy hour. Most bars in Los Angeles make great deals during happy hour, many such deals can be found through Google or Yelp.

Convince your friends to start the night early. Not only will you save money that way, but you’ll be off to bed by 10 p.m. like a proper adult. I love the happy hours at Silverlake Lounge the most. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., this cash-only bar offers national beers for $3 and imported beers for $4. On Sundays, PBR beers are $7. So I come to my next point – go to non-cash bars. How do you know if you’re in a non-solid bar or a bar where prices are off the charts but it looks like a non-solid bar? Count how many customers are wearing wide-brimmed hats. If it’s more than zero, get out of there.

Aside from the unseemly bars, take advantage of the fame of the city’s holiest and most hidden jewels: chain restaurants. For example, the Monday margaritas at Acapulco. They offer $2 margaritas there all Monday.

If you’re lucky enough to be a freelancer in the glamorous media industry, like me, you may occasionally be invited to project launches or other promotional events where there is free alcohol. You may have to talk to a PR person about the product being promoted while you’re drinking that alcohol, but you can handle it. It’s like a YouTube ad, but for the purpose of getting drunk.

As an option, some brands will try to sweet-talk you into writing about them, so be polite to that PR person. (Crap. I guess I should have thought of that before I wrote about Acapulco’s margarita Mondays for free. Dear Acapulco PR person, Tweet me if this stuff blew up your Google Alert and you want to send me something free).


I’m not going to pull any movie jokes on you. We all know how expensive it is to go to the movies without my jokes about having to sell a kidney to see “Zveropolis”. If you really want to go to the movies, check out places like Valley 6 Plaza in North Hollywood. On Sundays and Tuesdays, regular admission is only $1.50. On other days, too, you can afford to pay $3. Most of the movies that are shown here are not new, so if you can’t wait a few months to see “Beastopolis” go to the Highland Theaters in Highland Park. They have $5 tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for recently released movies. Also, I have NEVER done this, but I have heard that there is such a thing as “torrents” that allows you to watch movies for free. I don’t know anything about it at all, so I guess I’ll have to google it.

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Speaking of live entertainment, I encourage you to take advantage of L.A.’s alternative comedy scene. Alternative comedy venues, unlike most comedy clubs, rarely charge admission and are very willing (I repeat, very willing) to have an audience. These are the places that definitely have free or cheap comedy shows at least once a week: The Virgil, The Clubhouse and Lab at the Hollywood Improv.

Use the EveryDayapp site, which lets you keep up with what’s happening in Los Angeles every day of the week. Each listing offers price information to help you determine if it’s worth going there or not.

Oh, you can also take a free boat ride to Catalina Island on your birthday, such a nice place to celebrate your birthday (alone, because none of your friends can afford to join you).


Getting exercise is important, but gyms are the biggest scam on the entire planet. There’s almost nothing in the gym that can’t be repeated for free outside of it.

You can swim in the ocean for free. You can walk around Griffith Park for free (and it looks so much nicer than any gym). You can run everywhere for free. You can find fitness classes and various exercises on YouTube. You can lift almost any object that weighs as much as you want for free.

Alternatively, there are enough gyms in Los Angeles that you can go to for the rest of your life and work out every day for free, supposedly trying out there.


The hardest part is saving money when you live from month to month, but nonetheless, we have to try to save so that maybe one day we can dig ourselves out of the nice little hole we’ve made for ourselves. I started on the sly to force myself to save by using the Acorns app. Acorns rounds up your spending to the dollar, then both saves and invests the remaining change for you. While investing isn’t the main thing, I’ve never had a greater feeling in my life that I’m a Monopoly.

You can also sign up for focus groups. There are plenty of focus groups all over town that need your valuable perspective on powder or beer commercials every week. If you qualify, you can get up to $300 for participating (though it’s usually around $75 to $125). Sign up for email alerts from places like Adler Weiner Research and Q Insights. They will send you surveys, and based on your responses (and how many participants they need), they will invite you to join. You won’t get into every focus group you want, but when you do, it’s a good way to make some money you didn’t plan on getting (i.e. money you can set aside).

I participated in focus groups for which I smoked cloves, tried candy, played games on my smartphone or went to kosher stores. Most of them weren’t bad fun (except the cloves).

Creative ways to cheat

Photo – Ben Carris

Remember that you’re too broke to have self-respect? Well, you’re also too broke to moralize.

Sometimes you will have to cheat and trick to get something. I’m talking about childish deceptions and little tricks. Nothing that can get you in jail (which can happen if you do that in a restaurant where you ask for a water glass and pour a Sprite in it, by the way). Don’t buy coffee, but get it for free at Trader Joe’s. Most banks also have free coffee in the waiting areas. If you want Starbucks, just buy one iced espresso and then drink it with their free milk. It’s the same as an iced latte, but about $2 cheaper. Create a new email address every time you order food using delivery apps like ” Grubhub,” and take advantage of the discount for the first order.

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You can also return items from your home that you haven’t used at stores like Target, CVS, and Wal-Mart, which will give you credit even if you don’t have a receipt (though CVS will only let you do this twice). Pick up a few more packets of ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce if you find yourself at a fast food place. This also applies to napkins and straws. If you haven’t already, ask a good friend or relative to give you their passwords to Netflix and Hulu. And also to HBO Go, if you’re lucky (then give the password to me).

Speaking of big stores. If the service isn’t up to standard, complain. You’ll usually get a free voucher from the company, and it doesn’t matter how stupid your complaint is.

Any time you can get something of value for free, but you don’t need it, take it and sell it. For example, my mom gave me an Android tablet, she didn’t need it, and I sold it on Craigslist for $100. Friends gave me designer clothes and shoes they wanted to get rid of, and I sold them on Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange. I once won an erection ring in a raffle and sold it for $80 on eBay. If you have something in new or nearly new condition, chances are good that someone will buy it for almost the original price. Even erection rings.

Basically, if you want to blow the hell out of the system, you should aim to create a barter system in your social circles, similar to the clothing exchange system I wrote about earlier. Find friends who can provide you with services (such as haircuts) and offer them something, but not money. Cook a meal for them, fix an appliance, clean their yard. Whatever you want to do.

10 Ways to Save Money in Los Angeles

Living in Los Angeles isn’t cheap. Portal “ZagraNica” has selected for you the top 10 successful ways to save money and still live life to the fullest!

To “live well” in Los Angeles, you need to make at least $350,000 a year – Esquire Magazine once wrote. You can wipe away your tears and relax: virtually 99% of residents don’t make that kind of money, writes ImMovingtoLA . But it’s still an expensive place to live, so get ready to tighten your belts a bit by moving here. Don’t let that discourage you, though; just pay attention to your habits and think about what will help you stay afloat.

Rethink your leisure time

Saving money doesn’t mean shutting yourself off from the world and going nowhere. But instead of splurging on drinks and snacks in bars, take a stroll through Griffith Park or lay on the beach. There are plenty of free but cool parties, concerts and standup shows in the evenings. There are also discount and promotional movie screenings, and admission is free.

Photo: shutterstock 2

Check out the prices.

Check out the local grocery stores more often. They’re much cheaper than the big chain supermarkets, but they’re just as good in quality. Compare prices and keep an eye on the selection! You may have to spend a little time running between outlets, but you can save a lot of money.

The same goes for fuel prices. A difference of 10 cents might not seem like much at first, but a small calculation will show you that you’ve saved a lot of money. Try downloading the Gas Buddy app – it will help you find the lowest fuel prices in Los Angeles. If you don’t have your own car, use Uber. It will save you money and not take much time. And when traveling short distances, you won’t even always have to pick up hitchhikers.

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Photo: shutterstock 3

Invite friends

Don’t have a hundred rubles, as the saying goes. And it really works! Traveling together, cooking, even using subscriptions to the same Netflix will save a lot of money. So invite your friends over for dinner more often. You can arrange in advance who will buy what groceries, and cooking itself is a matter of technique.

Photo: shutterstock

Take your coffee with you

If you’re a coffee addict and you’re constantly hitting up Starbucks, stop! We’re certainly by no means forcing you to give up going to coffee shops. But imagine how much money you could save if you grab a thermos of coffee to go. And if you’re short on time, local small coffee shops have the freshest pastries and the same quality hot drinks as Starbucks, but they’re cheaper. And you won’t need more than two minutes to “get it all done.

Photo: shutterstock 5

Cook your own food

Of course, buying convenience foods is much more convenient. But, trust me, you’re overpaying for someone to cut or peel regular foods for you. Check out the farmer’s fairs – there are plenty of fresh veggies! Spend a few minutes at home chopping and you’ll have a fresh salad or sandwich. Plus it will save you almost $100 a month!

Photo: shutterstock 6

Shop at cheap stores

Don’t forget about the existence of “All for a dollar” stores – you can buy cleaning products and detergents, toothpaste, wipes, candles and other useful little things there. Clothing can also be bought at second hand – especially if you need something for a basic closet or for sleep and rest. And not just because they’re cheap: you can often find exclusive clothes and things made of high quality, eco-friendly materials.

Photo: shutterstock 7

Decide whether you want to take a class for a fee

Let’s be honest: It’s not always possible to go to the gym or to a painting class regularly. And you end up losing a tidy sum when you pay a month in advance. So reconsider your schedule: if you have too much to do or plan to go away for a while, it is better to refuse prepaid subscriptions at all. Why pay for something you won’t use?

Photo: shutterstock

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Keep your friends and acquaintances in the loop. Need a Spanish tutor? Or looking for a job? Maybe you’re looking to move? Write about it on your social networking page. No one is suggesting that you beg, just write, for example: “Looking for an apartment, wish me luck. What if your friends can help? But don’t stay away, either, if someone you know needs help. It will be, as they say, “plus in karma”.

Photo: shutterstock 9

You’re better off overpaying for parking

Sometimes it’s better to pay a dollar more than a $60 fine at the parking meter. So think ahead about how long you’ll need to stay in parking and whether there are any force majeure situations expected to cause you to overpay.

Photo: shutterstock 10

Save electricity.

Drink more cold water, use the stove less often for cooking, remember to turn off lights in rooms you don’t need now, air out your apartment, and you’ll appreciate how much it all reduces your electricity costs. Yes, L.A. can sometimes be just catastrophically hot, so don’t go to extremes – air conditioning is very helpful in such cases. In cooler weather, on the other hand, it’s best not to use the heating. Westside residents sometimes get cold, humid air from the sea, but that’s no reason to panic. Just stock up on warm pajamas, socks, and blankets (don’t forget the delicious tea!). And then check out the internet and look at people who live in really cold climates!

Photo: shutterstock

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