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Broke Game

Being broke is like jail with no free meals.  It’s a physical and mental torture.  And, like most painful events, it is an opportunity for tremendous personal growth.  We all handle it our own way.  Here are some of my tips for playing the Broke Game.


The twangs of true hunger mess with your head.  You can’t survive without a plan.  Make your plan quickly, before you lose brainpower.  Budget.  Make strict guidelines for what you are and are not willing to do to yourself.  After this, you are no longer allowed to be picky.

  • Eggs, pasta, rice — you can live very cheaply for a long time.  Only eat when you have to.  To clarify — Those first stabbing pains in your stomach are a total bluff.  The hunger is trying to intimidate you.  You have hours.  The pain takes a break, eventually, so don’t tap first.  I have survived for 4 days/nights on 1 bag of brown rice, 2 eggs, peanut butter, and a half sleeve of stale saltines.
  • Apples are cheap, hunger-assuaging ways to up your blood sugar.  USAID and other leading charity organizations believe peanuts are the key to eradicating hunger in Africa — forever.  Do some research.  Your palate has rich taste.  Knowledge is free.
  • You are not going to be eating much meat.  You are not going to be eating much anything.  Adjust.
  • There is going to be a very serious bitter taste in your mouth at some point.  It may sound poetic — but it is very real.  The lack of flavored foods in your diet, as well as the lack of sugar or carbonation, will leave a nice ashtray coat along your tongue.  This will decay your mood, among other things.  Get sweet mints if they are ever offered.  Check your medicine cabinet for any left over cough drops.
  • At some point, you may consider eating dog food.  You have either been this hungry before, or you haven’t.  I will be upfront with you here.  The afterburn is what’s going to get you.  Burp up murder.


The hardest part is not complaining.  What I do here is totally surrender.  Yes, I’m broke.  No, I can’t do anything about it.  Yes, I will survive – that’s the plan.  Okay.  What now?

  • First, I think about who to ask for cash.  I let my stomach curdle about that for a while.  Everyone else is hard up, too.  I rub my temples and remind myself, “I’m 26 years old.”
  • I stare at all my DVDs, books, and record albums.  Each one cost several days worth of food security.  I find myself mentally murdering the past version of my self that bought two copies of JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’.  Perhaps I can boil one down into a nice paste.  I stare at the clothes in the back of the closet — What’d those cost?  Go on, let in the self-loathing.  It is okay to think like this — for a little.  It’s not you, it’s the shame and worry talking.  Lurking in your stomach, growling — hunger stalking.
  • I continue to assign new values to the things I own — but now, to the things I love.  That bukowski book, which was leant to me, is now worth 3,000 matt value units.  The speakers are 14,000.  Under my bed, a bottle of vitamins one month from expiration might be a lifesaver.  I don’t have any expensive toys, but I am suddenly a rich man.
  • The word ‘cherish’ has supernatural significance in the 21st century.  At some point in your Broke Game, the fridge will not look as empty.  Is that a box of old pasta back there?  What’s that worth now?  Cliff bar from last July in an old backpack… Manna from heaven.  There’s a reason why Jesus, Buddah, and Mohammed found epiphanies isolated in the desert.  Tempting Devil, get behind me, and take your $199 iPhone and stick it up your ass. 
  • When the ‘cherish’ effect starts to happen, you are probably on your way back out of the darkness.  Make a thank-you list credits reel.  This will occupy all the time in the world, if you have any left.

One day, hopefully, you’ll have some money again. You’ll almost want to turn it away at first — because if you have it, you spend it.  But don’t deny your luck.  Don’t worry.  You’ll be broke again.

Thanks for playing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for my grandmother, Toronto Dominion, loud speakers, good friends, my own kitchen, new pens, warm clothes, peanut butter, bukowski poems, running water, socks with holes, a brown dog, being broke, a job, a soft chair to sit in, my parents, my bed, and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Published inMatt