In the summer, students forget that frugality exists. Tuition becomes a distant memory. Sunshine and spirits numb the pain. In September, the shit hits the fan.
But living on a tight budget doesn't have to mean becoming an anti-social miser. Saving money works best if you approach it as a game. Are you able to go into a ritzy restaurant and spend only a few dollars? Can you orchestrate a lucrative textbook buy/sell scheme? Nothing feels more awesome than having fun all week and having money left over at the end.
Halifax is a great place to live on the cheap. The city's economy is built around government offices and hospitals, slow and steady without the extreme wealth that comes with big financial sectors like Toronto or Calgary. So we have less of the rich assholes and snobbery, too. Everybody loves bargains here, and even high-end restaurants find ways for people to scratch their itch for savings.
It makes for a bustling deal economy that students naturally thrive in. There is value to be found all over the place. This guide could only ever be the tip of the iceberg. Half the joy of the saving game is finding that next great deal---and sharing it with the rest of us bargain hunters in the comments on this story at thecoast.ca.
Think hard about what you're going to spend your money on, and how long the post-purchase endorphin boost will last. Shopping turns to regrets very quickly, but creating things never does. Clay Cafe (6413 Quinpool Road, 429-2994) will sell you an unfinished piece of pottery, and then provide the space, materials and kiln for you to paint and fire it. The prices for pieces start at $5 and quickly move up to the $20 to $30 range, but it makes a terrific date or hangout, and you can spend many visits toiling over a single work. Better still, they offer lumps of clay that you can sculpt on the first date and paint on the second.
Tuesday means $6.50 for movies at all Empire Theatres locations. Pair that film with a meal, and you've gone from good time to great time. Dhaba Express (8 Oland Crescent, 444-4411) Indian restaurant sells $6.99 take-out lunch combos, which go well with a matinee at Empire Bayers Lake (190 Chain Lake Drive, 876-4800). The Westcliffe Restaurant (3089 Oxford Street, 454-8140), which often wins gold as Best Bargain in The Coast's annual Best of Food poll, has a $4.75 burger-and-fries combo that will set you up for a show at Oxford Theatre (6408 Quinpool Road, 423-7488). Or see the movie first, then go across the street for sushi at Wasabi House (6403 Quinpool Road, 429-8858), where happy hour is 9-11pm.
When you go downtown to Empire Park Lane (5657 Spring Garden Road, 423-4860) for your movie, there are more value eating options than we have room for here. Especially when you remember to consider the high-end and low-end eateries. At the higher end, for example, both the French Bistro Le Coq (1584 Argyle Street, 407-4564) and Il Mercato (5650 Spring Garden Road, 422-2866) Italian restaurant offer generously portioned side dishes from $5 to $7, or knock at the back door to Fid Resto (1569 Dresden Row, 422-9162, the door's on Queen Street), and order a heaping serving of Pad Thai to go from one of Halifax's best restaurants for $10. If you're still hungry when the movie's over, check out the Happy Maki Hour sushi specials at Hamachi House (5190 Morris Street, 425-7711).
At the lower end, the food courts of downtown don't get the credit they deserve as culinary cornucopias. They're usually serving a lunch or early dinner crowd, which is fine when your class schedule lets you hit a matinee, and the blend of small price and big taste is hard to beat. Standouts at three food courts are Ko Doraku (5640 Spring Garden, 423-8787) in Spring Garden Place, with big sushi-and-salad combos starting at $5.50; A Taste of India (5201 Duke Street, 492-9232) in Scotia Square, where you can get a huge plate of curry for $4.75 and Just Spring Roll (5657 Spring Garden, 446-3536) right beside the theatre in Park Lane, featuring Thai and Vietnamese platters like tofu curry with steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables and a spring roll for $6.99.
The great buys outdoors
The outdoors seem arduous, cold and dirty. But it's inexpensive to be outside, and you'll be surprised at how much fun you have.
A student's U-Pass is their best friend for navigating for free on Metro Transit. Get some day-old cupcakes at Susie's Shortbreads (1589 Dresden Row, 406-7075) for half-price, and then take off on an adventure out of the city! You can do a day hike through the Cole Harbour Salt Marshes by catching bus #59 to Cole Harbour Road. Take the #15 to Frog Pond for a hike or get off at Purcell's Pond for swimming in the beautiful middle of nowhere. See a list of trails at halifax.ca/trails.
On weekends, the St. Mary's Boat Club (1641 Fairfield Road, 490-4538) rents canoes for $10/hour. The paddle over to Sir Sanford Fleming Park is priceless. On Monday and Wednesday evenings, the club does two-hour kayak rentals for $15.
If not by bus or kayak, then go by bike. Bike Again (2786 Agricola Street), a volunteer-run bike maintenance organization, can help you rebuild or maintain a bike. They offer their free services on Monday and Wednesday nights, with nights for women and trans people twice a month. In the springtime, watch for the Halifax Bike Auction for cheap bikes.
There are public outdoor gyms all over Halifax (see Halifax.ca/outdoorgyms), and an exercise station in Point Pleasant Park. These are a just-as-free alternative to using your school's gym, and if you jog to the outdoor version it might be a better workout. NSCAD students don't have a school gym, so public gyms are their primary no-money-down athletic option. For NSCADers and anyone else who wants more options, check out different yoga studios' introductory offers, which range from $30 to $50 a month for an unlimited pass. And get aquatic at Centennial Pool (1970 Gottingen Street, 490-7219) and the Canada Games Centre (26 Thomas Raddall Drive, 490-2400), which have diving towers and regular $3 swims. The latter also has a sauna, hot tub and waterslides. Pool parties should come back into style.
Look like a million bucks for less
It's not too hard fitting in in the north end without breaking the bank on garments. Clothing swaps (if you don't hear of any around campus, host your own) and the Salvation Army (5280 Green Street, 425-7684) are good for new-to-you clothes. For something more up-market, the bargain basement at Biscuit General Store (1661 Argyle Street, 425-5436) is famous for its deals.
Mountain Equipment Co-op (1550 Granville Street, 421-2667) hosts a gear swap twice a year, where they sell gently-used goods. You can bring yours to sell or swap as well. The next one is September 29.
You can save money on your grooming at Halifax's hairstyling schools. The Hair Design Centre (278 Lacewood Drive, 455-0535) does men's haircuts for $10.99 and women's for $12.99. Concepts School of Cosmetology (3660 Commission Street, 492-2444) does men's for $13 and women's for $18, and they offer inexpensive spa services, like manicures, pedicures and facials.
For a full-body treat, get a 75-minute massage for $25 at the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy (6960 Mumford Road, 832-3268). It's great after a workout, or after not bothering with a workout.
If you're following this advice, by now you're in good shape, you've made some friends, you're well dressed, you look great and you've got money in the bank. Time to drink.
Growlers are the cheapest libations in town. A growler is a refillable two-litre beer jug. After paying the deposit ($8 to $9), you can get it filled with beer at Propeller (2015 Gottingen Street, 422-7767, $9 to fill or $8 on Wednesdays), Garrison (1149 Marginal Road, 453-5343, $9.50), Granite (6054 Stairs Street, 422-4954, $10), Rogues Roost (5435 Spring Garden Road, 492-2337, $11.95) or Rockbottom (5686 Spring Garden, 423-2938, $13 to $14). Rockbottom requires a drop-off/pick-up, and Rogues Roost won't fill another brewery's growler, though all the rest will.
On Wednesday nights, Onyx (5680 Spring Garden Road, 428-5680) has half-priced appetizers and no corkage fee when you BYOB. If you and a friend share a cheap bottle of wine and split a couple appetizers, your cost each will run under $15. Brooklyn Warehouse (2795 Windsor Street, 446-8181), gold-awarded Best Restaurant in the Best of Food survey, also reduces its corkage fee on Wednesdays, to $1.
Leicester's Deli (6253 Quinpool Road, 431-3771) has just started offering drinks at "aggressive" prices, with beer and wine at $3.04 and $3.48, plus tax.
If you just want to party downtown and stretch your dollar, there's no shortage of opportunity. The Palace (1721 Brunswick Street, 420-0015) and Pacifico (1505 Barrington Street, 422-3633) have drinks for $2.50 and $3, respectively, on Friday and Saturday. Reflections (5184 Sackville Street, 422-2957) has $2.75 drinks from 10pm-1am most nights. Oasis (5675 Spring Garden Road, 422-2227) has pints from $3. For lots more info, get The Coast's happy hour app Cocktail Compass (free in the iTunes and Android app stores), and chase the well shots around town.
Hangover breakfast bargains
Breakfast is the most important meal of the morning. If you're a student, it has to be nutritious, portable and just-greasy-enough to soak last night's vodka out of your bloodstream, plus cost less than the five-dollar bill that represents the remainder of your estate.
One task well suited to the hungry and hungover is hunting down the best breakfast sandwich in town. Here are a few of the many options (and remember that value-conscious vegetarians can usually sub out the meat for a veggie). Pete's Frootique's Gluten-Free Eatery (1515 Dresden Row, 425-5700) sells one with egg, cheese and bacon on a gluten-free English muffin for $2.39. Healthy Habit (1505 Barrington Street, 422-4347), in the Maritime Centre food court, has a similar one for $2.95. Ciboulette (1541 Barrington Street, 423-5282) and Dalhousie's University Club (1 Alumni Crescent, 494-6511) both offer breakfast-wrap-and-coffee deals, for $6 and $5.25 respectively, tax included. Steve-o-Reno's (1536 Brunswick Street, 429-3034) is home to the famous Egg-o-Reno, another egg-on-English muffin creation, which starts at $3.50.
On Saturday mornings at the Seaport Farmers' Market (1209 Marginal Road, 429-6256), Bramoso Gournet Pizzeria has slices of breakfast pizza---a works or vegetarian pizza, sometimes with a gluten-free crust, with a fried egg on top---for $5, taxes in. Starting September 9, they'll be selling the bizarre (and scrumptious) creation at their Quinpool location (6169 Quinpool Road, 425-2222) for Sunday brunch with Laughing Whale coffee.
To quickly treat the hangover, you'll need a hair of the dog that bit you. You can get the right amount of booze for the right price by doing an informal alcohol tour of the Seaport Farmers' Market on Saturdays. Begin by sampling spirits at the Ironworks Distillery table, and be sure to try the beers at the Granite Brewery Stand. Then go upstairs and check out all the Nova Scotia wineries, before ending your visit with a taste of Glenora Whiskey.
For really bad mornings-after, The Maxwell's Plum (1600 Grafton Street, 423-5090) offers the industrial-strength cure on Saturdays. Breakfast---5 strips of bacon, 3 eggs, fries and toast---for $2.50, with the purchase of a drink.
If you can eat well at home, you eliminate most of your major expenses. Shopping can be an art, too. Stocking up on the right items, without letting them go bad, requires some strategy. Especially if you're working with a mini-fridge and a hot plate.
At Superstore (1075 Barrington Street, 492-3240 and 6139 Quinpool Road, 425-1498), watch for items with pink triangles on them; at Sobeys (1120 Queen Street, 422-9884 and 2651 Windsor Street, 455-8508), look for little yellow squares. These are 50-percent-off stickers, often applied to produce that is a bit past its peak. And check your calendar before heading to the store: Both give students 10 percent off everything on Tuesdays.
There are also discount racks at Pete's and the bigger stores, and weekly specials on all kinds of things. You can't live off of them, but if you limit your indulgences to sale items---fancy meat, yogurt, chocolate and cheese---you can mitigate your grocery bill.
If you're just moving into a new apartment, check out the Dalhousie Procurement Office website for surplus materials (purchasing.dal.ca, 494-6570). They auction off chairs for as cheap as $5, computers for $25 and solid wood desks for $50.
Online classified ad sites are great, whether it's our own Coast Classifieds (thecoastclassifieds.ca) or Kijiji (silly us, we misplaced the url, but there's always Coast Classifieds). It's often easy to find your textbooks through classifieds for a fraction of the sticker price, and you can try to sell them back during the end-of-semester textbook buyback. It's possible (and awesome) to break even or even turn a profit.
If you're not from Halifax, take the train home. Yes, it takes longer than flying, but it's the most amazing way to see the country and Via Rail (1161 Hollis Street, viarail.ca) puts a 50-percent-off sale on its website every few months. They also just announced discounted six-packs of tickets on the Halifax-Montreal line.
Halifax is diverse and interesting enough that you can perpetually make an adventure and a game out of doing awesome things cheaply. Don't just budget---strategize. This is where everything you learned from Monopoly comes into play. Buy everything you can while keeping enough money to pay your rent. And stay out of jail.