There was a time I vowed I would never live in Los Angeles. Ironically, that’s exactly what happened.

A single, creative woman explains how to enjoy big-city life on a modest income. Frugal Hacking My Way Through the City of Angels.

Somehow, I found myself uprooted from the leafy suburbs of Detroit and moving to L.A., embracing some of what Southern California had to offer.

L.A.’s cost of living is in stark contrast to Detroit’s. My dad owns a spacious two-bedroom home in the Detroit suburbs, and the cost of their mortgage is half of what I pay in rent for a no-frills, one-bedroom apartment.

The reason? A thing we like to call the “Paradise Tax.”

When I visit my folks, I have to drive 45 minutes to find the nearest Trader Joe’s. Planning a celebratory dinner? Your choice is limited to Chili's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, or Applebee’s. The part of Detroit where my parents live completely lacks any cultural activities whatsoever.

In comparison, living in L.A. can be great, provided you have a steady job or are making tons of money as a freelancer. It can be a downright drag if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, like I was after I was laid off from my steady, well-paying job.

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I started freelancing, but it wasn’t easy.

An unsteady income left me constantly stressed, keeping me away from the things that I wanted to do.

The situation forced me to be “creative,” and I soon found ways to get what I wanted out of life and the city for cheap or free.

Here are a few ways that I frugal hack my way through living in an expensive city.


While most people would advocate for getting a roommate or roommates, or moving to an area with a lower cost of living, I love where I live. And as someone in her 40s, I dread the thought of living with roommates again. But there are other, more creative ways to be frugal with your housing expenses.

The first thing I did was call my landlord and ask to get my rent reduced. I was paying $1,450, plus utilities. Because I was a good, long-term tenant, he took $50 off my rent. He also took over the gas bill, which saved me almost $100 a month.

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And speaking of rent, my place comes with a detached garage. Since I’m a quasi-minimalist, I never had anything to store, and it was much easier for me to park my car on the street, anyway. So I decided to rent it out. I charged $170 at first, but eventually raised it to $250 per month.

Now, I should mention that you do run a huge risk doing this. My landlord doesn’t know that I’m doing this, and I could probably get in trouble. But for me, it was a risk worth taking — and (knock on wood) it’s been smooth sailing for several years.

Tip: If you don’t want to risk a long-term renter, try a short-term situation where you rent out your couch, air mattress, or spare room for a set amount of time to earn a little extra income.


I’m one of those weirdos who loves to exercise, but I can’t justify paying for a gym. But there are frugal solutions here, too.

Through various connections, I got hooked up with an owner of a boutique gym, where I get unlimited classes in exchange for writing for the gym’s blog.

Another time, I wanted to get into yoga, but again, I couldn’t justify paying even $10 for community classes. A friend tipped me off that many yoga studios offer classes in exchange for working a shift, and I landed a two-hour shift in exchange for unlimited classes. In fact, part of that two hours was actually taking the yoga class!

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Social Life

My social life almost disappeared when I became frugal. I had to get creative if I didn't want to become a hermit.

I told various friends that if they ever needed extra help with their business, they should give me a call. They did, and I began to help out at networking events, corporate team-building events, and city-league sports. Not only did I get a chance to be social, I was also getting paid — and many of the gigs offered free food and drinks, too.

The bottom line? Life doesn't have to be a drag, even if you live in an expensive city and are struggling financially. You just need to get creative. Think about what you really want out of life and find ways to get it for cheap — or even for free — by thinking outside of the box. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to frugal hack your way through life!

*Name has been changed.