“Chindi” has become a popular word among fellows. It means cheap or stingy in Urdu, which pretty much sums up our lifestyle as fellows on a stipend. While the meager monthly allowance has not forced us to go back to our college days when our source of cheap nourishment was instant ramen (oh wait, that was laziness), it meant living a frugal lifestyle. Luckily, wisdom from our own experience and that of fellows that have passed the great halls of the Wonderbread Factory meant a number of chindi tricks up our sleeves. To the incoming fellows, may these nuggets of wisdom help you navigate the challenges of living decently in this expensive country with less than two thousand dollars.
Top on the list would be food. I am based in DC, bear in mind that it might be different in other states.
- It’s always, always cheaper in the long run to cook your own food. Save time and money by cooking larger batches (be creative —- chili for dinner, and turn the leftovers to something else, like tacos or spaghetti) and bringing your own lunch. Strike a deal with your roomies and you can do group dinners at home too.
- A fellow mentioned that she does her groceries in Virginia, which would be 60% cheaper. Invest in a shopping cart so you can take the metro. There are cheaper options in DC such as Aldi’s. Walmart was always my go-to (schedule your grocery time with a friend or fellow so you can share the Lyft ride back home). I can bring home 6 bags of groceries from Walmart with $60; shopping at Safeway would only yield 2.5 bags of groceries for the same amount. Avoid Safeway like a plague, if you can.
- Of course, it’s nice to still eat out from time to time. Chinatown and downtown DC have cheap options. Ask for happy hour for cheap drinks and appetizers.
- Calculate the monthly total for your daily commute to work and compare that with the WMATA’s bus and metro monthly passes. I purchase the monthly pass ($81) as it would be cheaper for me in the long run.
- Do a lot of walking. Invest in great walking shoes.
- There are bike hires (around $100/year) or get your own.
- Install ride-sharing apps – Uber, Lyft and Via. You will need them.
- I can never stress this enough – get the Moviepass if you love the cinema. Seriously, we are eternally grateful to Luigi for introducing it to us. It’s $10 per month, and you could watch a movie a day.
- There are many free activities in DC (e.g. festivals at the Wharf; Afropolitan) so follow relevant pages on Facebook
- Smithsonian museums are free. And they’re amazing.
- Make sure you’re added to the DC bunch whatsapp group
- Fellows have a Facebook page where they sell or give stuff away before they leave.
- Craiglist is an option, though I never tried it.
- I bought some stuff on Amazon. To save on shipping, make a list and purchase in one go. Subscribe to Amazon prime for a month (free shipping) and cancel before the trial period expires. Hahaha. Same with Netflix =)
- For cheaper clothes, hit Forever 21 or H&M. Personally, I don’t like fast fashion – cheap items that are not high quality. For better quality items, you might find nice things that could fit your budget in Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
- There are nice secondhand boutiques like Secondi and Buffalo Exchange (though they won’t necessarily be cheaper).