Expensive Socializing: How to Cope When You’re Broke

As a twenty-something, there is nothing quite as unpredictable and fickle as the student account balance. One day you’re making it rain like Donald Trump paying hush money, then two weeks later you’re trying to figure out how to buy a pint with IOUs and monopoly money. Many of us splurge during our turn at the top of the financial wheel. We bask in five-euro coffees and stuffed Amazon Prime boxes, only to humbly shed a tear when we fall to the bottom again, canceling social plans and Netflix subscriptions when our funds run low. However, in the friend group, it seems there is always someone with a heavier wallet, endless vacations, and new Doc Martens every other week. Someone will always be able to spend more. This is the inevitable clash of a consumerist world. So how do we keep up when our balance is going down?


Being the “broke friend” in the group can be daunting and discouraging. You want to keep up socially, but adult friendships are dependent on swiping yourself into a post-spend anxiety attack. A lunch date, a festival ticket, club entrance fees, and drinks after work cause some painful financial deficits. Having an active social life is simply an expensive lifestyle choice in 2019. How is one to survive?

Canceling plans and staying home causes the formidable FOMO, yet going out means counting change in the corner while feeling guilty every time a friend has to spot you. Dealing with your “broke friend” status requires mental tenacity and considerable penny-pinching in order to come to terms with the social imbalances. A dual solution of a change in attitude and spending habits is all anyone can really do.

For starters, the way we decide to view our situation can completely change the experience of our financial condition. For most of us this means actually applying a cliche as old as time – taking a step back and looking at all the things we do have, rather than what we do not. Many of us are fortunate enough to attend university in a beautiful city, have friends from around the world and safely rest our heads at night. Finding some happiness in the wonder of those simple things can release much anxiety.

On the practical side of things, there is a lot, particularly in the Netherlands, that a student can do to save money and ease the strain on their budget. Spending less, attending free and low cost events, while applying for financial support can greatly change a student’s lifestyle.

When it comes to the shopping necessities of student life, there is always a cheaper alternative than the obvious commercial mainstays. Grocery shopping at stores like Aldi and Lidl over Albert Heijn can double the bang for your buck. If one is in need of new clothes, flea markets and thrift shops can save tens to hundreds of Euros. At IJ-Hallen, the largest flea market in Europe, it is easy to purchase expensive labels and gently used items for pocket change. A new, cheaper bike can be found on Marktplaats or the Waterlooplein market than at the traditional stores. The basic lesson is that for every type of shop in Amsterdam, there is a used or generic version that can help maintain the student wallet.

As for dealing with the social dollar, Amsterdam and other cities often provide more affordable entertainment than meets the eye. Take a break from the traditional bar or club scene and drag your friends to the many free events around the city. The Tollhouse Garden and IJzaal, both at the cultural center Tolhuistuin in Noord, have ticket-free music and social events to enjoy in the park without spending money every weekend. Checking the sites for the parks and cultural centers of Amsterdam can always provide the friend group with some low cost entertainment. Kaskantine and Taste Before You Waste offer cheaper dinner alternatives, while allowing you to still meet up with friends and have an eco-conscious meal. Often, both venues host cultural events as well. The universities, museums, and even certain clubs all host free events from time to time, all a quick online search away. Sites like Eventbrite’s Amsterdam page or the I Amsterdam calendar can give a quick list of activities to do while providing a filter for free events. Right now, there are over 30 free events listed for March. The possibilities are endless if one takes a break from financial expectations and looks at something new.

“In a way, having a broke experience during the student journey is a rite of passage”

Cheap ways to meet your needs and cheap forms of entertainment are true saviors of the broke student, but this does not change the class divisions that often exist within friend circles. All of these alternatives will not change anyone’s income levels or debt collections, but they can ease the burden and help you develop a more waste-conscious and sustainable lifestyle. The last thing anyone can do to deal with their broke status is to halt any further comparisons. Another cliche, that comparison is the thief of joy, rings true. When your wallet is starving and your bank account cries in double digits, nothing will cause more anguish than comparing your scenario to others’. Countless variables have made their situation different than yours and focusing on what they may have more of will not help anyone. It is hard to tell your mind where not to go, but some mental reflexes can train your brain to avoid the negative and envy-green thoughts.

In a way, having a broke experience during the student journey is a rite of passage. Staying up all night and surviving on Ramen noodles and coffee while living on a blow-up mattress is more universally relatable than one may think. Bask in your broke-ness, laugh at yourself, enjoy the small victories, and one day the storm will pass. In the end, you’ll have the wisdom and stories of a broke champion to remember and laugh about. One day in the future, Cup Noodles and term papers will be fond memories. Smile at the beautiful mess of it all, as your future self will.


Ivy Wade is a Masters’ Student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer

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  • Columnist - Winter 2019
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