50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime


By Dina Gachman

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In Brokenomics, author Dina Gachman shares the lessons she’s learned about how to live large in the cheap seats. Through stories both painfully honest and laugh-out-loud funny that anyone can relate to, Dina reveals all the tricks you need to live the good life without spending a ton of money.

Brokenomics covers the place where economics and everyday life collide. It includes: rules for changing your mindset ("There Will Always Be Someone Richer, Taller, Smarter, and Better Looking Than You”), wise words about making big decisions, like raising children—or not ("Why Have a Baby When You Can Just Get a Nice Potted Plant?”), clear-eyed relationship advice ("Do Not Date Anyone Who Loves Their Bong More Than They Love You”), solid guidance for renters ("The Freeloader's Guide to Housesitting”), and strategies for talking to your honey about money . . . without breaking up. 

This helpful and hilarious handbook has the answers for crafting your own version of the glamorous life without breaking the bank. Dina shares advice on every page while keeping things fresh, light, and fun. Written with the wisdom afforded by hindsight, Brokenomics will appeal to recent college grads, newly committed couples, and those facing career crises alike.




Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.


I’ve never been a millionaire, but I just know I’d be darling at it.

—Dorothy Parker



Brokenomics is all about tough (yet everlasting) love, so let’s just start off with a few basic truths. Like the fact that your finances are 100 percent your responsibility—unless you were robbed blind by the world’s cleverest cat burglars, who wiped out your entire bank account and took all your possessions before disappearing into thin air. Chances are this hasn’t happened to you, and if it has, that’s what the FBI is for, so let’s just move ahead.

Say you’ve done everything right: you studied hard, got a degree, created the world’s most irresistible résumé, and landed an entry-level dream job that pays peanuts but it’s a paycheck and you get medical and dental and a little magnetic swipey card that grants you access to the parking garage. You’re feeling pretty proud of yourself so you decide to celebrate—good for you! Then let’s say that celebration includes a pair of Louboutins and a six-course prix fixe dinner for five of your closest friends.

This behavior is:

       A.  Questionable, but understandable

       B.  Totally cool because you can put it all on your credit card

       C.  Psychotic

       D.  Irresponsible as hell

       E.  Both C & D

If you answered B, we have a long way to go, but that’s OK. If your answer is C, I like your passion. But the correct answer, according to the Laws of Brokenomics, is D. Irresponsible as hell. Answering E or C isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s a little judgy, and we’re not here to judge. It’s very generous that you want to treat your friends to a fancy dinner, but if that’s out of your budget range, you could instead treat them to a round at happy hour (still a little pricey, depending on how many people show up); make them cookies (cheap yet thoughtful); or just verbally tell them how much you love them, which is free yet still sweet. If they expect you to lavish them with gifts, you might need to look into making new friends.

I’m all about having fun. Happy hour is a wonderful time of day, and it’s definitely not a party if you’re sitting at home, staring at the stains in your popcorn ceiling, and hoarding money in your mattress. When taking responsibility for your finances, it’s important to learn when to splurge and when to save. So let’s examine another scenario.

You’ve just finished your fellowship year and you’re now a colorectal surgeon—you’re getting paid! You:

       A.  Immediately purchase a starter yacht, which you will never be able to use because you’re a busy surgeon

       B.  Pledge to never go out and to only eat canned peas and Melba toast so you can save up the millions you’ll need to really enjoy life when you’re in your eighties and rocking Depends

       C.  Take a close look at your finances, calculate whether you can finally afford that Mazda and get rid of the beat-up Pinto you inherited from your grandfather, realize it’s in your budget range and buy the Mazda, and then drive around town blaring Shakira

       D.  Google to see if the Taylor-Burton diamond is for sale

I’m guessing that you’re a smart or at least smart-ish person, so hopefully you chose C, since it’s the right answer. Being so frugal that you don’t enjoy life and you only eat Melba toast is almost as irresponsible as blowing your paycheck on a yacht. If you’re going to eat the same thing every day, at least make it something delicious yet affordable. It’s about balance. Sometimes things happen in life—you get laid-off; your deranged sociopath of a landlord raises your rent; your tuition spikes; your cable company sends a letter declaring you’ve been “enjoying a discounted rate” for the last four years and they’re suddenly jacking up the price because you are powerless and they are assholes. These infuriating scenarios are the reason that things like anger management classes and yoga retreats exist, but, in order to progress to the next stage of Brokenomics, you need to immediately pledge that you are the only one responsible for your finances. Do it right this second. You are the master of your fate. You can also do it later on today or even tomorrow. Whenever you’re ready.

Being so frugal that you don’t enjoy life and you only eat Melba toast is almost as irresponsible as blowing your paycheck on a yacht.

Needing to take responsibility in life starts much earlier than many of us would like, whether that means responsibility for our decisions about school, friendship, love, or money. It also means taking responsibility for the way we process and learn from obstacles, tough breaks, or financial challenges. One of the first lessons I learned about handling setbacks happened way back in elementary school, when my mom shared some age-old wisdom that has stayed with me into adulthood, although it took several years for me to appreciate what she was saying since I spent a good portion of my early years dismissing every word that came out of her mouth as the out-of-touch ramblings of a suburban lunatic. It all started, like many life lessons, on the playground.

It was fifth grade, and I had fallen madly in love with Ray Espinoza. I didn’t understand love then, but he looked good to me, and neurons and protons and whatever else were ping-ponging around in my cells every time he tied his shoe or kicked some dirt, so it was pretty clearly the real deal. One day, in a burst of passion, I decided to pledge my love via index card. Ray was beautiful—he wore tube socks and polyester shorts during recess. He was great at soccer—at least, from what I could tell. When you add all of that together, it’s easy to see that this was a guy who was very worthy of a daring, poetic gesture.

And so, that very night I hid in my bedroom closet with a stack of index cards. Wielding a blue marker, I mustered all my courage, summoned the muses, and wrote: I LIKE YOU. FROM DINA. The next day I carried the heartfelt ode around in the pocket of my disco-striped culottes, waiting for the right moment to make my move. I was a lone wolf at recess, watching Ray kick the soccer ball, imagining the smile that would bloom across his face as soon as he read my irresistible confession. Finally the teachers called us in, and everyone was heading back into school, so I knew it was now or never. Or else I’d have to wait twenty-four hours until the next recess, which seemed unbearable. And so I walked up to Ray, shoved the index card in his face, and stared, silently, in his general direction.

He looked so cute as he read my manifesto. His hair had fallen over his eyes, so I couldn’t read his expression, but I was sure it was one of sheer joy. Someday, hopefully starting today, Ray Espinoza and I would hold hands and pass notes to each other between classes. We would do whatever couples did—go on walks, share space, push each other into a swimming pool when we were feeling flirty. Then, just when I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty any longer, Ray folded the card in half, handed it back to me, and said, “I like Leslie P. I think she’s my girlfriend.” And then he headed back inside.

I stood and watched Ray and his tube socks walking away. How could this be happening? This is not how things went down in my imagination. I wrote a beautiful poem, had the courage to hand it over, and this guy wouldn’t love me back. He loved Leslie P. This was all wrong. My culottes may have had sparkly gold stripes on them, but they weren’t that bad. Were they? Recess was bullshit. Life was pain. And love could kiss my ten-year-old, culotte-covered ass.

After school I went home and told my mom what had happened. She was sweet and comforting at first, telling me that Ray was a fool and that I’d meet someone wonderful one day, when I had a little more life experience and had graduated from college. But when I wouldn’t let Ray’s betrayal go, and when I started walking around the house pinpointing all of Leslie’s flaws (“she has a pet duck and it swims in their pool!” and “she’s too tall for fifth grade!”), my mom sat me down, looked into my eyes, and laid it on me:

“Honey, there will always be someone richer, taller, smarter, and better looking than you. Do you understand what I mean? I love you, but you need to move on now.”

It might sound harsh, but now that I’m older, I realize this is a mantra everyone should adopt. It’s not meant to make you feel short or poor or homely or like your brain is pea-sized. Just the opposite: it’s empowering, and if you have the right attitude, it’ll help you realize that you need to be happy with where you are and stop making yourself miserable because you’re not a six-foot-tall model with fabulous hair, immense wealth, and a hot husband named Ray Espinoza. It doesn’t mean you can’t reach your ultimate life dream—it just means you need to enjoy the attempt and be smart about how you get there. Or, how about mostly smart. We’re not robots. We make mistakes. Just try to make wise decisions at least 72 percent of the time in your twenties, 87 percent of the time in your thirties, and 93.4 percent of the time from your forties until you reach the end of the line; do that, and you should be in pretty good shape.

Growing up, whenever my mom would throw that tough-love slogan my way, I would think (in an inner voice that was eerily similar to a female Napoleon Dynamite): “Geez, thanks Mom.” It was only years later, when the hormones settled and real life came pounding at my door, that I finally got it. There will always be someone taller, smarter, and richer—and that’s OK. If the cute soccer player doesn’t love you back, if some bozo who bakes brownies for the boss got the promotion instead of you, or if your bank account isn’t as impressive as Warren Buffett’s, you can cry and blame the universe for your situation, you can suck it up and work to try and change it, or you can accept where you’re at and move on. Life’s too short to mope around over strappy gold Louboutins. If strappy gold Louboutins are what you want, then go ahead and make that happen, but just be smart about it, and make sure you’re happy without them too. And don’t come crying to me when a crazed, fashion-conscious criminal comes along, knocks you out with a frying pan, and steals them off your feet, leaving you alone, barefoot, and bling-less. I might shed one crocodile tear for you and your gold shoes, but that’s it.

It’s always extremely annoying when you grow up and realize that your parents were right, but they usually are. Unless your mom’s mantra is: “Don’t worry about finances; blow all your money, and when you do go into debt it’ll be OK because you can sue someone or get a sugar daddy.” No disrespect, but that’s a mother who is:

       C.  Psychotic

On that note, before we move on to the next step in our quest to master the art of Brokenomics, let’s examine one more scenario.

Again, unless your bank account was emptied by the world’s stealthiest identity thieves, the person/place/thing responsible for your finances is:

       A.  The universe

       B.  Your parents

       C.  Your next-door-neighbor Barbara

       D.  Leslie P. Espinoza

       E.  You

I trust you picked the correct answer, so congratulations! You’ve passed Brokenomics 101. You chose E right? If you picked A–D, let’s just take a deep breath and continue. There is no judgment here. OK, maybe a little judgment, because E is the right answer. Whatever. Let’s move on.



I live in Los Angeles, a city that people love to hate. Usually their disdain comes from the fact that they believe the entire population of L.A. is made up of shallow, materialistic, annoying, flakey, narcissistic, money-hungry celebrities and wannabe celebrities. That’s just not true. Maybe 68 percent of the city is that way, but the other 32 percent is made up of normal, down-to-earth, sane people who have no desire to act, write, direct, produce, or star in anything, except maybe a FaceTime video with their great-aunt Edith who is at death’s door and in need of a little cheering up.

Living in a city like Los Angeles does grant you a front-row seat to the eccentricities and weird-ass habits of the super-rich, no matter what your bank statement reads. You might find yourself fashioning a voodoo doll out of your student loan bill one minute, and then wandering through a fancy house party with a bunch of actors and models and tubby bald men flanked by hot babes with fake boobs the next. These things happen. Examining the lifestyles of the rich and famous(ish) head-on has taught me a very important lesson when it comes to facing your financial situation, and that lesson is: you better have a freaking sense of humor.

As soon as possible, you need to learn to laugh it up. This is an ancient, fundamental law of the universe and a core tenet of Brokenomics. It will serve you well when dealing with finances, internships, jobs, relationships, and life as you know it. Obviously you shouldn’t start cracking jokes every time you bounce a check, but knowing how to take things in stride is essential. Let me elaborate.

You know that saying about poor people being crazy and rich people being eccentric? Don’t believe it. If you saw Big Edie and Little Edie from Grey Gardens walking down the street wearing couture turbans and eating cat food out of a tin, what word would pop into your head: “crazy” or “eccentric”? OK, probably both. We all love Lady Gaga, but the woman got rich and then bought a ghost-detecting machine. At least, that’s what the tabloids said. Whether she did or not, it’s important to realize that it is OK that you’re not a multimillionaire because, like the late, great Biggie Smalls warned us: more money sometimes means more problems. Mental problems.

Here’s one trick I’ve learned that might help when you feel yourself coveting someone’s car or purse or mansion: just imagine that the person is clinically insane. This is the same concept as when people tell you to imagine an audience in their underwear when you’re nervous about public speaking. It lightens the mood and keeps you from getting sucked into a downward spiral of jealousy and self-doubt and emptiness. Someone else’s pretty purse or souped-up car should never make you feel empty inside.

To prove this theory, let’s examine Exhibit A: the case of the well-to-do taxidermist. A few years back I found myself wandering around a gorgeous, Japanese-style house owned by a thirty-year-old millionaire. It was a friend-of-a-friend scenario. On the island in the center of the kitchen, where most people would place a nice cheese tray or some spinach dip, there was a naked actress/model covered in sushi. I know Samantha did this for Smith Jerrod in Sex and the City, but it’s not quite so cute in person, and it’s definitely not appetizing. I asked the actress/model how long she got paid to lie there and whether she wanted a drink. She was very cool. I have a ton of respect for actors because they have to do things like pose as human hors d’oeuvres on their path to fame and fortune. That’s a tough gig.

Back to Exhibit A. Eventually I wound up talking to the girlfriend of this millionaire host. She had a beautiful, unique purse, the kind you can’t find at Marshalls or Zara, and I admit it made me a little jealous. She told me she was a jewelry designer and shoved a necklace with a tiny bird-head charm toward my face before I could defend myself. This was no Neiman Marcus–worthy silver or gold bird head. This thing was real. As in: once alive, frolicking in the treetops and regurgitating worms into its baby’s beak.

“Oh. That’s . . . is it real?” I asked, terrified I’d just been given some horrible disease. Between this and the sushi display, it was becoming a pretty unpleasant party. “Yep! I find dead birds on the beach and taxidermy the heads at home. Aren’t they cute?” Just picture this bird necklace—do you think “cute” is the best way to describe it? I have nothing against taxidermy or jewelry designers, but come on. I had to laugh (inside, secretly, to myself). She told me she’d make me one of her bird-head necklaces, and, being a Southerner and thus prone to putting on a happy face and lying through my teeth in the most awkward of situations, I said, “I’d love that!” Then we parted ways, and suddenly her beautiful purse didn’t have such a hold on me anymore. Instead, I just laughed it off, decided that she was insane, blocked the little bird head out of my mind, and went to fill up on free champagne.

Now let’s look at Exhibit B, the closing argument in my Laugh It Up thesis. A few months after my run-in with the taxidermist, I found myself at a “truffle party in the hills” thrown by a photographer I’d met at the bird-head party. It was in the Hollywood Hills, and she made homemade chocolate truffles—hence the name. All of her photos were displayed around the house, which meant that everywhere you looked there were black-and-white shots of naked women on European rooftops. I was alone and adrift in a roomful of boobs.

After browsing the photos for a few minutes, I sat on the couch with my truffle and decided to strike up a conversation with a woman who was decked out in a floor-length, glittery pink 1960s ball gown. If Yoko Ono and a Cosmo model were thrown into a test tube and stirred around, this woman would pop out of the smoke. Her dress was a little bonkers (especially since everyone else at the party wore jeans and brought their dogs), but she was also wearing the most gorgeous bracelet I’d ever laid eyes on—it had gemstones I’d never seen and looked like it was once owned by Marie Antoinette. I was jealous. It was so unfair. I wasn’t even wearing a bracelet.

I decided to investigate.

“So, what do you do?” I asked. Where I’m from, this is a perfectly normal question. Maybe I should have cut to the chase and commented on the bracelet first, but she was a little intimidating.

“What do I do?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “You know, for work or for fun or . . . anything.”

She paused beneath her mane of black locks. I braced myself. Dramatic pauses are always so exciting.

“My life is very vivid,” she whisper-growled before turning away from me entirely. How rude! Plus, “My life is very vivid”? Is that a job? Or even a hobby? Does she sprinkle peyote into her morning oatmeal? Maybe she was a deep-sea diver, or an astronaut—the two most vivid jobs I can think of. I never got to find out what she meant since she was so snooty/crazy/tweaked on LSD, but whatever a “vivid life” is, I’m pretty sure you don’t have to be loaded to live one. And just like that, the Marie Antoinette bracelet didn’t seem as badass once I realized that it was wrapped around the wrist of a maniac.

So you see, when you’re feeling less than fancy and coveting someone’s bling, you need to laugh it off. And remember to imagine that the other person is completely insane, which she very well might be.

       Note. “Laugh It Off” is a healthy coping strategy for when you’re feeling crappy about your financial situation and someone with a gorgeous purse, house, or bracelet makes you feel like a hobo. It’s not saying that all multimillionaires are insane. Only some. Maybe 63 percent.



It seems to me that one day we all woke up and life coaches had suddenly become a thing. Throughout history we’ve had oracles and seers and therapists and Oprah, but somewhere along the way in the not-so-distant past, professional life coaches busted onto the scene to help us get organized, reach our goals, and uncover our hidden potential.

That’s all wonderful, but hiring a life coach can be a pricey ordeal. In 2011, Harvard Business Review reported that life coaching was a one-billion-a-year racket, ahem, I mean, industry. Evidently, a lot of us really need help getting our shit together. Sometimes life coaches will give you a free intro session, but beyond that you better get ready to pay them cash money. Or you could write a check or use PayPal or promise them your first-born child—your choice. If they’re new age-y, you might be able to pay them with a “love donation,” which, factoring in ethereal tolls like karma, shame, and guilt, equals roughly $5 to $60 dollars a session, depending on your moral compass.

Before you run out and start handing over your hard-earned wages to someone who uses words like “quantum healing” and “multi-dimensional third-eye meditation,” I suggest you first try and become your own life coach. Obviously you are not an unbiased outside party, but here are five tips that might help you save some cash and become your own guru:

       Get Off the Couch. If you’re slouching around your apartment day in and day out, complaining that nothing is happening for you and it’s so annoying that you’re not successful and rich and all-powerful, you need to get the hell off your ass, metaphorically speaking. Literally getting up from the couch is a good idea too. This also applies to barstools, beds, linoleum floors, ditches, and beanbags. There is nothing worse than a person who is all talk and no action. Ophelia drowned herself in a brook because Hamlet couldn’t get off his ass and get out of his own head. Don’t be a Hamlet. Get up.

       Master the Tao of the To-Do List. This sounds simple, and it is. It’s also extremely effective. I write a to-do list several times a week. (I usually have to rewrite them because I have a very serious doodling addiction and after a few hours I can’t read what I’ve written, but that’s another story.) To set goals, it helps to write them down, so think of it as a treasure map to your future awesomeness. Mark up a white board, type into your phone, or go old school and scribble on a notepad—doodles optional. The act of writing down both what you want to accomplish and the steps you’ll need to get there will help you reach your goal, inch by agonizing-yet-fulfilling little inch.

       Treat Yourself. Even though you shouldn’t buy yourself a mink stole every time you mark something off your to-do list, it’s important to reward yourself when you reach milestones. If you’ve spent the last six weeks sending out résumés and you finally got an interview, go reward yourself with a nice but reasonable dinner, a concert, or a new hairdo. If you finally got the guts to ask for that raise, go get those shoes you’ve been eyeballing. It’ll help make all the other steps in your journey much more tolerable. Just make sure the shoes are an affordable splurge, rather than an “I have to declare bankruptcy” splurge.

       Never Assume.


On Sale
Mar 24, 2015
Page Count
224 pages
Seal Press

Dina Gachman

About the Author

Dina Gachman’s comedic blog about the economy, Bureaucracy for Breakfast, has been featured on Marketplace, 20/20, and Chelsea Handler’s Borderline Amazing Comedy. She writes for Forbes, Salon, Hello Giggles, The Hairpin, xoJane, and Interview Magazine, and has published two comic books, about Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Gachman has a BA in English from UCLA and an MFA in film production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

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