The Hard Times Handbook

Free food, music, and movies. Cheap drinks, dates, and dining. Plus much, much more in our guide to surviving these tough times in style
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We all have high hopes for the new administration. We'd all like to believe that the recession will end soon, that jobs will be plentiful, health care available to all, and affordable housing built in abundance.

But the grim reality is that hard times are probably around for a while longer, and it may get worse before it gets better.

Don't despair: the city is full of fun things to do on the cheap. There are ways to save money and enjoy life at the same time. If you're in trouble — out of work, out of food, facing eviction — there are resources around to help you. What follows is a collection of tips, techniques, and ideas for surviving the ongoing depression that's the last bitter legacy of George W. Bush.

BELOW YOU'LL FIND OUR TIPS ON SCORING FREE, CHEAP, AND LOW-COST WONDERS. (Click here for the full page version with jumps, if you can't see it.)

MUSIC AND MOVIES

CLOTHING

FOOD

CONCERTS

WHEELS

HEALTH CARE

SHELTER

MEALS

COCKTAILS

DATE NIGHTS

YOGA

PLUS:

HOW TO KEEP YOUR APARTMENT

HOW TO GET UNEMPLOYMENT

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FREE MUSIC AND MOVIES

For a little extra routine effort, I've managed to make San Francisco's library system my Netflix/GreenCine, rotating CD turntable, and bookstore, all rolled into one. And it's all free.

If you're a books-music-film whore like me, you find your home maxed out with piles of the stuff ... and not enough extra cash to feed your habits. So I've decided to only buy my favorites and to borrow the rest. We San Franciscans have quite a library system at our fingertips. You just have to learn how to use it.

Almost everyone thinks of a library as a place for books. And that's not wrong: you can read the latest fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, and I've checked out a slew of great mixology/cocktail recipe books when I want to try new drinks at home. I've hit up bios on my favorite musicians, or brought home stacks of travel books before a trip (they usually have the current year's edition of at least one travel series for a given place, whether it be Fodor's, Lonely Planet, or Frommer's).

But there's much more. For DVDs, I regularly check Rotten Tomatoes' New Releases page (www.rottentomatoes.com/dvd/new_releases.php) for new DVD releases. Anything I want to see, I keep on a list and search www.sfpl.org for those titles every week. About 90 percent of my list eventually comes to the library, and most within a few weeks of the release date.

And such a range! I recently checked out the Oscar-nominated animated foreign film, Persepolis, the entire first season of Mad Men, tons of documentaries, classics (like a Cyd Charisse musical or Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's catalog), even Baby Mama (sure, it sucked, but I can't resist Tina Fey).

A music fanatic can find virtually every style, and even dig into the history of a genre. I've found CDs of jazz and blues greats, including Jelly Roll Morton, John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, kitschy lounge like Martin Denny and singer Julie London, and have satiated rap cravings with the latest Talib Kwali, Lyrics Born, Missy Elliott, T.I. or Kanye (I won't tell if you won't).

Warning: there can be a long "holds" list for popular new releases (e.g., Iron Man just came out and has about 175).