How to be young, broke and beautiful

Broke-Ass Stuart.

For years, budget-bouncing impresario Broke-Ass Stuart has shared scores of secret power-ups and tips for stretching gold in the two poles of this country that matter most (if you’re the creative-pilgrim type) with guidebooks on San Francisco and New York City, and on his eponymous web log. Now Stuart (nee Schuffman) is aiming nationwide with a third book, Young, Broke & Beautiful, and a TV show of the same name on IFC that debuts tonight. Brokelyn had a chance to skim the book, preview a few episodes, and chat with our brokester-in-arms about the evolution of his hobo wisdom and hustler ingenuity. We’ve got a few copies to give away to Brokelyn readers too before it even hits the shelves.

It’s not that Stuart is (circle one) a. “blowing up;” b. “selling out;” c. all of the above, but that the gauge-earringed Colonel of Cheap has expanded beyond serving local cheat sheets to highlights of the low life—toward synthesizing his Broke-Ass expertise into an open-source worldview; an ethos we certainly share at Brokelyn.

YBB offers delightfully creative suggestions such as sitting in on trials (the chapter on Free Entertainment), and motherly advice like how to de-frizz humidity-ravaged hair using honey. The TV show doesn’t so much reveal cheap restaurants and budget transport options in a half-dozen cities (though there is that too) as remind the viewer there are kick-ass things to do everywhere for free, even if it’s as simple as scraping up a skate park in San Diego or looking at the map of Baltimore and giggling over place names like Hoes Heights.

Think “No Reservations” but with tandem bicycles, boombox museums and women who cuss in John Waters films.

Your earlier guides were so city-specific that they were largely consumed with creating an index of free food and other local secrets. YBB is more about how to think like a Broke-Ass and snort out those things even after your sensei gets killed. Was it harder to put that into words?

It was frustrating for a long time. I wanted something that could be accessible all around the U.S. But it’s so hard to get there because we don’t want it to turn it into a self-help book or a motivational book. So much of this lifestyle is second nature that putting it into words is kind of weird.

There’s people who are just learning how to be broke. Because of the recession or because of multiple reasons. There’s people who, everything has been easy for them and they’re now having to learn new skills. A lot of it, in a way, is changing those mindsets and moving them away from consumer culture. You really don’t need it, you know. Especially if you can’t afford it.

You offer cash-saving tips, yes, but you’re more likely to lead someone to a DIY circus than tell them how to repair cashmere gloves by cutting up an old sweater. What’s the difference between Broke-Ass and broke?

Stuart at Robb Field Skate Park in Ocean Beach in San Diego, CA. Sam Erickson/IFC..

Well first, the difference between being broke and being poor is a socioeconomic thing. It’s something that is often systematic, people are born into it. It’s a joke that we have to deal with it in this country. But being broke is not that. Being broke is a temporary thing. So you can work harder and hustle harder and use your intelligence to find your way out of the situation, or just live richly under the circumstances.

As for [the advice I give], there’s a difference between a book and a TV show. I mean no one’s going to watch me cut up a fucking sweater.

I’ve seen you say “compared to New York, where everything is so expensive, S.F. is so much cheaper,” but I lived in San Francisco for three years and found the opposite to be true. It’s definitely possible to spend way too much money here, but it seems like the Five Boroughs are so much bigger with so many more poor people than San Francisco, and there are a lot more choices for saving money.

A lot of that was in respect to rent. When you move to a place with only 50,000 rent-stabilized units and 10 million people, you’re probably not going to be lucky enough to get one. Unless you’re in a place since 1973 or something like that you’re not getting rent control. San Francisco has much more affordable housing, so in that respect San Francisco’s cheaper.

Do you know any good ways to live cheap in NYC that aren’t available anywhere else?

One thing New York has even more than San Francisco is so many more food choices. There are so many immigrant groups, and immigrants bring whole varieties of culture and their own kinds of food. There’s a glatt kosher restaurant from Uzbek in the Diamond District and you can eat there for like 9 bucks. Jesus Christ! I didn’t know that existed until I ran into it, you know.

On the show you flash a lot of cheap price tags and eat a lot of free meals, but often it kind of seems like you’re just getting hooked up because you’re making a TV show or you know the guy behind the counter. I wonder how accessible these deals are to everyone.

Having a camera crew around you makes things a lot easier. As with anything, whether it’s a play, TV show, pornography, it’s a matter of suspending your disbelief. At the same time, I get hooked up a lot in everyday life. You be a nice guy to people and they are nice to you. It’s a barter.

Then again, one of the points in your book is how to snag free stuff by posing as a member of the media. How much of being a Broke-Ass is fake-it-till-you-make-it?

Everything! [Laughs] It depends how comfortable you are with bullshitting. I don’t try to take advantage of people. You’ve got to hustle. It’s not about fucking people over. But if you can find an entry, it’s like yeah why not? They have those passes set aside [at concerts] anyway so it’s not like they’re losing any more money.

Looking at your episode summaries it seems like you hang out with a lot of rappers and gangsters on the show. What makes these people so good at being Broke-Ass?

Stuart explores the swamps of New Orleans. Sam Erickson/IFC.

Musicians in general are good at being broke. It doesn’t matter what they play. We hung out with guys in soul bands and Zydeco. We hung out with guys in Memphis and a lesbian rapper in Detroit. People ask me why I do so much music in the shows and it’s because anything that’s underground has a lot of music in it. It’s countercultural. A lot of guys in bands work in restaurants. Musicians are Broke-Asses too.

How did you figure out where to explore in each city?

Once you find one person doing something cool, you ask about other people doing cool things and one thing leads to another. In New Orleans I ended up meeting up with a guy in a bar who makes custom things for people. He’s a thingsmith. And I was talking to a guy in a graveyard and he said do you want to meet my friend. It’s about saying yes. If your spider senses aren’t going off, just say yes.

You’ve said you’re the kind of traveler comfortable wearing the same outfit day after day. If you were so broke you had to go without pants or without a shirt, which would you choose?

That’s a very good question. You need pockets in your pants, but it depends on the climate and it depends on the country. I’d probably go without a shirt.

Want a copy of “Young, Broke, and Beautiful: Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply” to call your own? We’ve got three fresh copies to give away to Brokelyn readers! Leave a comment below about what your favorite broke-friendly city is and why, and we’ll pick our favorites (You have to be an e-mail subscriber to win. Not an e-mail subscriber? It only takes two seconds to sign up. We promise only exclusive Brokelyn content — and no annoying spam!).

Young Broke & Beautiful debuts tonight at 11 on IFC and the book of the same name comes out July 19.

Follow Lars: @beat_valley.

12 Comment

  • For the record, I obviously agree about NYC being a ridiculously cheap place to live. I pay less for my apartment in BK than I did for a way less interesting place in South Carolina. There are indeed so many options in this city that it’s easy to avoid the $9 cocktail route and live exclusively in the $1 dumpling city. But as far as budget-friendly places to travel, have y’all been to Asheville, N.C.? It’s like a world of hippies who refused to acknowledge inflation.

  • If you aren’t homeless, New York City is a great place to be cheap, and totally easy if you stay on target. Some of my favorite days have been the ones where I spent little to no cash, when you get creative and are open to anything, things get fun.

  • I would concur that New York is a much, much, cheaper than it’s given credit for. Like said you can find a meal here for 100$ or 1$ its infinite latitude provides ultimate opportunity. But who are be kidding here? We all know the cheapest city is:”_____, where my parents live.”
    In ____ rent is free, the food is never-ending and the residents are always over-concerned about you employment, social life, and capacity to make babies.

    Word to your mother.

  • Yeah, there’s no place like NYC. I can always find free concerts, free drinks and a food giveaway nearly every day (hell, I just saw Javelin and Beach Fossils and had all the booze I could drink just last night and tonight I’m seeing Raphael Saadiq– all without having to spend my own cash), and I can’t imagine any other cities that are so generous on the regular. There’s no place else that I’d rather be a freeloader.

  • Look at all these Brooklyn boosters. You mind’s well just be Marty Markowitz’s bathroom attendants. As much as I love NYC, it is horribly overpriced and requires intensive budgeting if you want to enjoy yourself. Otherwise you’re stuck suckling down a pack of six dollar Milwaukee Motor Oil (better known as Pabst Blue Ribbon for those who are not blessedly hip).

    For a more dollar friendly city, I suggest our industrial wasteland neighbor to the South, Philadelphia. For all the disgust that is lumped onto the city of murderous hate, it is surprisingly affordable and is host a variety of neighborhoods with really good eats and most of the time, local breweries to boot. Like Brooklyn, it even has a controversial entertainment complex that is universally hated by the community, and of course, is rife with more art students than all of Pratt and Parsons combined.

    Most importantly, I’ve seen Andrew Bird there for next to nothing, (whatever Prospect Park) gotten drunk on a trolley, and ended up stealing plenty of beers from several house parties in good old Killadelphia. So, despite my eternal love for Brooklyn, Philly has just got more of a rugged vibe for those on a budget… unless you’re that one guy who lives in an abandoned house in Bushwick.

  • Worcester, Massachusetts.

    I’ve saved tens of thousands on health care.

    Y’all can take your discount cocktails and shove it.

  • Rent IS high in NYC, but once you have that taken care of, you can do everything else for free or really cheap. NYC has such high quality and variety in free things to do. Summers here never cease to amaze me (and I’ve been here for 20 years).

  • ++ Brokelyn Comment627

    Unfortunately, I can’t help but add to the pile on that is voting for NYC. I live close to (IMHO) one of the best city parks in the world (Prospect Park) and the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch (fight the library de-funding!); pay $500 for rent, utils included (yes, roommates, but better than living with parents, no?); I bike most everywhere, almost all the time, thus eliminating even the $104/month expense of transportation (and even exceptions only cost $4.50 r/t and you get to go wherever); and I shop at whatever grocery store will be cheapest for what I want: Trader Joe’s, Target, local bodega/Key/Met, hell even Whole Foods has decent deals, especially if you’re like me and need soy products b/c of dairy limitations. Oh, and for either $25 or $40 a month, I have an android-based smartphone on Virgin Mobile. Greatest coverage everywhere? Definitely not. Works in NYC and most places I currently travel to right now (and given my financial situation, that’s pretty limited). No contract, so I’m free to change if need be. And if I can’t swing the recharge for a couple of days, I’ve got a free Google voice number that works just fine (also a good # to give to strangers instead of your mobile).

    I’m biased, of course, because I’ve only ever lived four places–@ home, @ college (central PA), in NYC, and in DC. DC is far more expensive. Not in the extremes (there are no 10 million dollar apts and fewer if any 500 meals), but in your average daily/monthly expenditures DC blows. If you want cheap rent, good luck avoiding an area you wouldn’t want to walk around in the dark. Everyone I know in DC, and myself, has been mugged/accosted/assaulted on the street at least once, and they don’t live in high crime areas. Even middle-of-f$%*ing-nowhere PA was at least as expensive for basics: rent + car payment/gas/insurance cost about the same or more than rent and transportation in NYC.

    As for Philly: I like Philly, I’m sure it’s a great town to live in, but if you’re too cool for school to drink PBRs (or equivalent), I think you’ve got a different price range, even if it’s cheap(er) for good beers. Plus, check out the aggregated free movie list at and the free music list at Andrew Bird next to nothing? Again, that’s still more than free, right? Philly does not compare in that regard.

    To the Massachusetts commentor: touche. Hopefully Cuomo can make that happen here like he did with gay marriage.

  • (note: the beginning of my comment is what you get when you cut/paste from your wiki text editor because you have an unfortunate paranoia of internet swallowing your comments, especially when they really should be blog posts by themselves)

  • Gosh dangit, misspoke. This is where the Disqus commenting system is useful, but I digress. Edit: I realize Cuomo doesn’t need to enact the Mass. style system because it’s been enacted nationally. That’s easy to forget, though, when all of the changes won’t happen for another year or two, at which point (I friggin’ hope at least) I won’t need to worry to about the most important.

  • Moscow. I know it’s supposed to be one of the most expensive cities out there, but that’s just if you’re some kind of crazy Russian oil tycoon trying to live like an American pop star. For everybody else. Moscow is amazing. You can see shows at the Bolshoi theater for 3 bucks! If your Russian is perfect, or you can get an actual native to cover for you (to get the non-tourist rate) museums cost around a buck. If you can handle the sort-of-grizzled generic Soviet-holdover brands, you can clean your house and feed yourself for pennies. Plus, the Russian know what they’re doing when it comes to free entertainment. While there, I learned the art of the 8 hour dinner party, how to spend an afternoon walking, the importance of tea, and how to hail a gypsy cab. All crucial to the frugal lifestyle. So, yep. Moscow’s the place. I lived there happily on $500 a month. (Admittedly, my rent was free.)

  • Buenos Aires, provided you bravely venture beyond the endless circle jerk that is the English-speaking expat scene, since those people tend to get charged a whole lot more for housing/everything. 300 bucks a month for a one-bedroom apartment with terrace and the best nightlife in the world. It really can’t be beat.