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How to Get by on Less Than $20 for Two Days

On this season of Downsized, Laura and Todd Bruce decide it’s time for the kids to fend for themselves. They give them each $20 to get through two days, and ask them to chip in for their own room and board.

This financial decision poses an interesting question: Is it possible to live on just $20 for two days of expenses?

Here are some tips on how to rise to (and even beat) the challenge:


The gal in the next cubicle over from yours is probably looking for ways to save a buck or two, just like you are. So why not carpool with her? It will save you money on gas, buy you more time between tune-ups and allow you to get to know your co-worker a little bit better along the way.

Approximate cost for two days of gas: $6.32

Skip the Specialty Coffee

Many people are tempted to swing by Starbucks for a specialty coffee in the morning. But most well-stocked offices have a coffeemaker that will save you the almost $4 you shell out for that fancy latte or macchiato — and shave time off your morning commute.

Approximate cost for two days of coffee at the office: Free!

Make a Meal Plan

In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to run out and grab something for lunch and order takeout for dinner. In fact, the average American is said to spend about $225 a month eating food away from home. But packing a lunch and looking in your refrigerator for leftovers will keep you on the $10-a-day track. And don’t forget to clip coupons and sign up for websites like, which keep subscribers up to date on the latest discounts from all kinds of manufacturers and retailers.

Approximate cost for two days of homemade food: $14.28

Ditch the Gym and Go for a Walk

Gym memberships can be extremely expensive, and lots of facilities charge extra for classes like yoga and Pilates. So rather than put a ding in your bank account, why not look for free ways to exercise? There’s no charge at all for taking a walk in the park, or going for a jog.

Cost: Free!

Have Date Night at Home

The price of dinner and a movie (and a babysitter, if you have kids) can break the bank. But there are so many alternative ways to have an enjoyable night on a budget. Lots of cable services have free on-demand movies, or you can search sites like to see which flicks they’re offering at no cost. And if you really want to indulge, you can go to a kiosk like Redbox to rent a more recent release for just $1 plus tax.

Cost: $2.18 for two movies

Seek Out Free Stuff

There’s no better way to save money than to take advantage of free giveaways. Stop by your local beauty counter or store and ask for samples of your favorite products. Keep your eyes open for promotional events like free ice cream cone days and free donuts at national stores. And “Like” your favorite companies and restaurants on Facebook to stay on top of their fan exclusive freebies.

Cost: Free!

Use the Local Library

You’ll be lucky if your kid reads that book for his school assignment from cover to cover once. So why spend the money to pay for a copy that’s just going to collect dust once the book report is written? Instead, go down to the local library and check out the classic that they’ll no doubt have on hand. And while you’re at it, grab a copy of the latest best-seller for yourself, or even rent a movie with your library card.

Cost: Free!

Reevaluate Your Habits

If you really want to live lean and mean, it’s time to reevaluate some of your favorite indulgences. By cutting back on unnecessary and often unhealthy habits (like that after-work cocktail or ordering dessert when you’re already full), you might find that these “extras” don’t mean that much to you after all.

Savings: -$6

Grand tally: $16.78!